Sunday, June 16, 2024
June 16, 2024

New volunteer Ambassador Program begins in Ganges

If you’ve spotted friendly islanders strolling through Ganges in green vests, you’ve seen the “soft” roll-out of Salt Spring’s newest volunteer force: it’s the Ambassador Program, and they’re here to help.

The initial team is an assortment of dedicated Salt Spring volunteers many islanders might already know: Alexander Fischer-Jean from the Salt Spring Island Chamber of Commerce, clinical counsellor David Norget from the Salt Spring Health Advancement Network, RCMP Salt Spring detachment commander Sgt. Clive Seabrook, Karen Olsson from the board of the Salt Spring Community Health Society, peer support volunteers Grant Fredrickson (also a Canadian National Baptist Convention pastor) and Stephen Wright, Gayle Baker from the Salt Spring Community Alliance and William MacPherson from the Mental Wellness Initiative.

Recent months have been spent pulling all the pieces together — recruiting volunteers, creating agreements, training, setting up liability insurance coverage (through the Community Health Society) and background checks, according to Baker, adding the group’s custom-sewn vests were an 11th-hour response to market limitations — no one liked the “tacky” polyester ones they’d found pre-made.

Wearing name tags and with a plan to be as helpful as possible, Ambassadors will be out in pairs, MacPherson said, with the goal of being approachable — but also approaching anyone in the community who looks like they could use a hand.

“The lens we’ll be using is seeing everybody as a community member,” said MacPherson. “We’re not targeting anyone for the program. It doesn’t matter if you live on a boat or a big house on the hill. It’s about getting to know each other, building community, talking to everyone we can. We’re going to learn by doing.”

Seabrook said one of the things that struck him when he began police work on Salt Spring was the compassion; when conflicts bubbled up between people downtown that called for police response, for example, there was a marked absence of real “ill will” from islanders.

“They were angry and frustrated about the broken window or whatever was going on,” said Seabrook, “but when you went to talk to businesses, they didn’t want anybody to be locked up, they wanted to know what they could do to help. And on the other side of whatever conflict, they were equally frustrated — they didn’t want whatever happened to have happened at all, they had no intention of it. It was just something going on in their lives in that moment, that day, maybe even that second — maybe someone just said the wrong thing — there was just no malice, on either side of things.”

And while there were obviously people who didn’t feel that way, they were the exception rather than the rule. Seabrook saw an opportunity to help build a formal framework to a practice that will seem familiar to long-time islanders: community members helping one another sort out small problems before they become big ones.

“It seemed reasonable that we could get back to that,” said Seabrook. “Especially when everybody was already compassionate toward one another, even when they were angry and upset.”

MacPherson said the RCMP deserve a lot of credit for their work building trust.

“We’re able to do this because of Clive and his department’s investment in community policing,” said MacPherson. “I’ve seen a constable here be as good a listener as any mental health professional I’ve worked with.”

And Norget said despite RCMP involvement, islanders should understand the Ambassador Program looks nothing like a “crime watch,” but rather that they’re there to spread goodwill.

“There are so many good people in this community who do great things,” said Norget. “The Ambassador Program is one way of tapping into this.”

The Chamber of Commerce jumped at the chance to be part of a community initiative like this, said Fischer-Jean; it was an obvious fit.

“Businesses always ask what they can do to improve the well-being of the community, and to improve the image for visitors coming in,” said Fischer-Jean. “We want to help and show what we’re doing to be helpful.”

Baker emphasized the volunteers were creating their own schedules and support structure — a way to debrief on the events of each week.

“There will be a regular get-together to find out what’s working, and what’s not,” said Baker. “There are plenty of models for something like this to be successful. Rather than being a CRD service, it’s the community that’s come together.”

Anyone interested in helping — by volunteering to be trained as an Ambassador or with financial contributions toward program costs — or who has questions or feedback about the program, can stop by the Chamber office or email ssiambassadors@gmail.com.

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1 COMMENT

  1. Community building within our population is the most important work we can be doing in stepping towards the changes humans need to be able to survive on our planet and “save the world.” Pretty well all of our problems and dysfunctions are the result of our over-ripe civilizations with high value given to greed and power as dominant traits. Time to change.
    Best wishes to all the Ambassadors,
    Amanda

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