Letters to the Editor: May 20

Councils should listen to the input of the volunteers

Listen to the volunteers

I recently wrote about my pride as both a Kimberley and an East Kootenay resident. Our towns and cities all have many splendours to compare and share.

Also shared rather too often, sad to say, is disregard for volunteers and their immense impact. When Cambodia commitments took me from this area in 2004, my sustained frustration made the rift easier to bear. Now back here full-time, I see it again with the same dismay.

Two past Kimberley examples showed this thinking to poor effect. One was a Platzl redesign around 2003. Our previous gazebo could hold large performing groups. It served many groups and uses, and boosted our city profile. But planners for its replacement ignored our ideas and wishes. Yes, fire-access was one issue, but certainly not enough to block all comment from those with greatest needs and the most to offer. Today’s cutesy covered cupcake can fit a few people and instruments, but no more.

And in 1997, we performers were asked to “frame” a  fund-raising campaign to “Save McKim Theatre!” Superbly designed and our main performance hall, it was the envy of many a town. We volunteered gladly and gave our all to kick off, advance and complete the campaign. But the rebuilt hall collapsed, and then… were we consulted for a new design? Allowed any input? Not a jot!

The current hall’s defects of stage, backstage and lobby cripple it woefully, with revenue for both renter and the users reduced ever since it opened due to limited usefulness. That’s a self-inflicted wound that still festers while Kimberley struggles without the fine theatre it once enjoyed, and many productions at the tiny Centre 64 must run several days just to cover expenses.

Those old issues matter now because the attitude still exists. In Kimberley’s current “fee-for-all” City focus, new or raised fees are being levied against volunteer groups for use of City assets. The intense, no-cost commitment that provides so much is disregarded.

As for Cranbrook — a city so desperate for history that it rebuilt a lost entry arch and the clock tower — its historic Fire Hall is to be sold. Such blinkered folly! To call the squashed dollar-focus “responsibility to the taxpayer” seems a great backhand belt in the faces of eager volunteers whose work would have enhanced the city’s much-vaunted historic character.

City Councils and other managers must assess dollar-value for volunteer hours and the expertise that ensures up-to-code structures and well-chosen assets.

Committed volunteers are taxpayers. Their sweat equity enables and animates Sam Steele Days, First Saturdays (Kimberley), Focus on Youth (Creston), Rails-to-Trails, EK Performing Arts Festival, libraries and museums, disabled and special-needs service, splendid sports spectaculars, a zillion Boards of Directors, thrift shops and food banks, Symphony of the Kootenays, immigrant aid, support of youth and seniors…

Let’s do a quick tally. Send word of your personal and agency activities, quick time-commitment estimates and anything else that you think relevant to ekvol88@gmail.com – and I’ll report on the results.

Volunteer time, energy and expertise, if chalked up on pay-scales and balance sheets, would show up as monumental budget items. And imagine if we all got so fed up at last that we went on strike?

Arne Sahlen