Dave Mellin has called the Comox Valley home for the past 57 years and has a long history of work in the community to prove it.
In fact, as soon as you drive into the Valley on the Inland Island Highway, you are greeted by the ‘Welcome to the Comox Valley’ sign – a project which he worked on for 14 months with Comox Valley Economic Development.
Though his complete list of accomplishments would be too long for this bio, he has volunteered with many organizations such as Search and Rescue, the Mount Washington Ski Patrol and the Forbidden Plateau Reclamation Society.
From a young age, Dave had a passion for aviation, though his goal of joining the airforce were squashed early on.
“I got told on the morning of my 21st birthday I was too old to join the miltary to become a pilot,” he said with a laugh. But 49 years later, that hasn’t stopped him from getting involved with the aviation industry and even the military.
He has sat on a number of volunteer boards including the Courtenay Airpark Association, the Comox Valley Airport Commission and the Comox Air Force Museum. He even helped establish floatplane service between Comox and Vancouver, and was the lead on getting the Snowbird painted and installed on a pedestal at the Comox Valley Visitor Centre. He was also named an Honorary Colonel with the 407 Long Range Patrol Squadron with 19 Wing CFB Comox.
Habitat for Humanity is another organization where he dedicates his time and has been involved in three builds to date.
“To see the families that got a hand up to get started on their first home – that’s a pretty neat feeling to know that you had a small part to do with that,” he said.
However, the work that has had the largest impact on him was his 42 years as an RCMP Auxiliary.
He once saved a woman’s life using CPR during a dark period of her life.
“This lady went on and turned her life around and became an important part of our community,” he said.
And as for why he continues to volunteer, Dave just says he wants to give back to the place he calls home.
“The Comox Valley is a great place to live and I made a living here through my whole working career. I believe one should give back to their community.
Eleanor Phillips encompasses all the characteristics that make for a perfect Seniors Champion recipient.
The 90-year-old has the drive and enthusiasm that make her the envy of people half her age.
Eleanor first came to the Comox Valley very early on in her teaching career.
“I’m from Vancouver originally. I taught for four years in Alert Bay, and two years in Campbell River, before coming to the Valley,” she said.
She has been retired from teaching for 25 years, but continues to instruct and interact with students on a regular basis.
Eleanor is well-known in the Comox Valley as a speech arts instructor, having left her mark on hundreds of residents in or community, be they budding thespians, or immigrants working to master the English language.
She has been a speech coach for many of the local theatre production associations, including Rainbow Youth Theatre and the Comox Valley Youth Music Centre.
Her reason for continuing to teach is simple: “I love it. I love working with the children, and it keeps me going. It gives me something to get up for, in the morning.”
Although her instruction is limited to speech arts these days, she said she was also a phys ed instructor, “back in the day. I worked with the gym clubs.”
Eleanor said watching the children develop is what makes her speech arts instruction worthwhile.
“That’s it, that’s all. Just seeing their growth and their ability to communicate. It’s so satisfying.”
Eleanor said she is no longer active with the theatre groups per se – “I don’t drive anymore, but I was active with the groups until I gave up my driving licence” – but she still teaches on a one-on-one basis, in her home.
And she still gets out to see the local theatre productions.
“Of course. I love the theatre. It’s been my pleasure to work with some really great people. All of the Rainbow Youth plays, and working with (local director) Lori Mazey – she’s just amazing.”
Eleanor still lives at home, and has seven children, nine grandchildren and five great grandchildren.
Mel Springall, a volunteer for Habitat For Humanity Vancouver Island North, has helped to expand and refine the Comox Valley ReStore’s metal recycling program.
“It is a process that is constantly being adjusted to ensure less material goes to the landfill and more money is generated for the Habitat home builds,” Springall said. “The people who bring the material to the ReStore rather than the dump are the ones looking out for the environment.”
Since 2010, the metal recycling program, locally and in Campbell River, has raised more than $500,000 — enough money to build four Habitat homes — and diverted about five million pounds of metal from the landfill.
“There are many organizations and people doing great things for the environment in the Valley, and I am flattered to be considered in this group,” Springall said. “I have met and worked with many people from school students to senior citizens. We all appreciate the chance to work together to help the community. I am fortunate to have worked with them.”
Springall retired from the Canadian Armed Forces in 2005, and started volunteering with Habitat the following year.
“I was drawn to it because it is a good cause, but also because it provides a service to the community through the ReStore and reuses/recycles material.”
Several times a week, Springall works to ensure staff and volunteers at the Comox Valley ReStore are doing what’s needed to maximize money raised through metal recycling efforts. This has meant creating processes for identifying and sorting metals, and instigating training programs through a partnership with ABC Recycling in Campbell River.
Springall also raises money for the Girl Guides by collecting pop cans that can be returned to the bottle depot for cash. This started as a favour to his neighbour who was a Girl Guide leader.
“I mentioned what I was doing to the Habitat workers and they immediately spread the word. Everyone’s generous support has helped the local Courtenay group supplement their income, allowing them to visit such places as the Vancouver Aquarium, Science World and the Victoria Museum.”
It was not the arts and culture scene that drew Kate Brown from Vancouver to the Comox Valley in 2010, but she fits right into the Valley’s rich cultural community.
“It (the local arts scene) was an unexpected bonus, but it really amazed me once I got here.”
Kate immersed herself into the local scene immediately upon arrival, producing and hosting “Arts Beat with Kate,” on the local Shaw television channel.
“It was a monthly program surrounding the arts in the Comox Valley,” she said. “It was a great way to find out more about all the different artists in the Valley. Many times I would approach (people) not knowing the full story but by getting them to open up, you learn an awful lot more about the Valley.”
Kate is the founder, president and hostess of the Artsphere Comox Valley Society – a group of about 40 members, including not only painters, but also photographers, jewellers, writers, glass artists and fabric artists.
The group evolved from the Comox Valley Newcomers Club roughly eight yeas ago.
“I started an art club within the Newcomers and we grew very quickly, to the point that we became an independent group,” explained Kate. “we do exhibits, workshops and art activities, all the while giving back to the community for the past eight years.”
Kate is a constant promoter of the arts in the community, and works tirelessly, hanging art displays in restaurants and coffee shops throughout the Valley.
She said her reason for promoting art is to get the message out that anyone can be creative.
“That’s the main purpose is to encourage people who are a bit shy from doing art that yes, you can. Just getting people to try something out of their comfort zone, and then when they see that they can do it, they get hooked.”
When she is not promoting others, she is busy either producing her own original pieces, or illustrating children’s books, including the Marlet Ashley series, Revelry on the Estuary.
She said she and Marlet are now working on a “comic book for adults, about a trip of two crumblies, to Paris.”
Individuals and organizations comprising the Comox Valley Early Years Collaborative are committed to supporting young families, and improving the life chances of children.
Formed in 2015, the network includes Comox Valley Aboriginal Head Start, CV Family Services, Island Health, School District 71, local governments and the Wachiay Friendship Society, among others.
“Our activities are focused on making the Comox Valley the best place possible to raise children,” said Joanne Schroeder, executive director of the CV Child Development Association. “The collaborative recognizes that if we want to make a difference for children and families, we need to work together. Often, early childhood services are fragmented and hard for families to access.”
She said the collaborative wants to change this by ensuring “all children have access to the kinds of support that will help them thrive.”
SD71 hosts Welcome to Kindergarten events for new families. The recent Valley Child Family Resource Fair showcased the strength of the CVEYC, offering families a chance to learn about available resources.
Another project, dubbed 25 x 25, aims to reduce vulnerability rates for children entering kindergarten to 25 per cent by 2025. Statistics indicate the Valley’s overall vulnerability rate, at 40 per cent, was above the provincial average — meaning 40 per cent of children are facing some challenges as they enter kindergarten.
“Vulnerability exists in all areas of our community, although there is more disparity between neighbourhoods in the Comox Valley than in most communities in the province and the percentage of low income families here is greater than the provincial level,” Schroeder said.
In 2016, she notes, 22 per cent of local children under six were living in poverty.
“Our community is growing, with many families moving here to escape the high cost of living in B.C’s metropolitan areas. This has challenged our existing infrastructure, creating high demand for affordable housing, child care and transportation.”
In response to the need for more child care spaces, the collaborative has encouraged local governments to apply for funding to create a Valley-wide child care plan.
While his volunteerism may have started as a school requirement, Jack Plant’s continued dedication to his community has far exceeded school expectations.
“Although I have surpassed the number of hours I need to graduate, I still volunteer,” said Jack. “Volunteering keeps me involved in the community. It keeps me busy in a way that feels better than working because it’s intrinsically rewarding.”
Jack has selflessly donated his time, talent and sometimes his own savings to help people and causes in the Comox Valley that matter to him.
A guitar player, Jack has busked downtown to raise money for the SPCA, played at Relay for Life – as well as donated his own money and participated in the relay – and brings his instrument to the Views to put on shows for the seniors. While he’s there, he also takes time to play games with the residents.
Jack is currently a Grade 11 student participating in the Explore Program at G.P. Vanier Secondary School, an integrated outdoor education program that teaches leadership, learning and outdoor skills. In the fall, he will return to Mark R. Isfeld to complete his final year of high school.
Jack is a valuable member of the school community as well, having volunteered with the school’s International Program, both taking photos and helping as an english speaker and teacher’s aid.
A supportive friend, Jack shaved his head and raised money for a classmate who had leukemia.
At home, he even takes time to help his younger brother and his friends with their homework.
Not looking for any recognition or reward, Jack is happy to work behind the scenes to benefit the people and organizations in his community.
“I just like helping people,” he said.
After retiring from his teaching career, Ken Manning still wears many hats in the community.
Four years ago, Ken started volunteering on his first Habitat for Humanity build and now, is back at their construction site. For the past 15 months, he has been putting in 40 hours of labour each week to get the current build finished. In 2018 alone, he volunteered over 1,300 hours on the construction site.
Though he puts in long, hard days, seeing the families move in at the end of the project makes it all worth it.
He describes watching a single mom and her young son move out of their one bedroom basement suite into a Habitat home. The mom had a mortgage she could afford and the son got to have a pet dog.
“It was just a wonderful feeling to see a family get a great helping hand up and get established in their own home, rather than living in a single one room basement suite,” he said.
But if Ken drops his tools and makes a bee-line to his truck, other crew members know he is off to an accident scene or fire as a volunteer firefighter.
Since 2011, Ken has been a consistent face at emergencies and is the only member of the Comox Valley Fire Department to have achieved 100 per cent call attendance in a single year.
“At the firehall, we see people who are having the worst day of their life. It’s a helping profession,” he said. “It’s just helping people in a crisis and trying to make their day a little bit better.”
For the past two summers, Ken has also volunteered to head to the BC interior to help fight forest fires.
Even Sundays are not a day of rest for Ken. His third volunteer commitment is with St. George’s United Church. For three years, Ken has been a part of the Ministry and Personnel Committee, leading small groups and adult education sessions. He says working with the church has exposed him to different viewpoints.
“It’s important to be a good listener and you discover that there are many different points of view on any given topic,” he said.
Ken says he has always preferred team sports over individual sports and loves working with others towards a common goal.
Born and raised in Union Bay, Lane MacDonald has dedicated 55 years of his life to the volunteer fire service in the Comox Valley.
MacDonald began his firefighting career when he was 18 years old and joined the Union Bay Fire Department in a volunteer capacity.
“I thought it would be good community service,” explained the 74-year-old.
After five years with the department in Union Bay, MacDonald moved to Courtenay following his marriage and became a volunteer fireman with the Courtenay Fire Department in August 1971.
He moved up the ranks, becoming a lieutenant in 1984, then a captain in 1988. He was promoted to training officer in 1989, and retired from active firefighting duty in Dec. 2003 after 32 years.
Despite the retirement, MacDonald continues to this day as a training officer for new recruits to the Courtenay department.
MacDonald’s devotion to the fire service in British Columbia lead him to the duties of Zone Representation for Vancouver Island with the British Columbia Fire Training Officers Association. As a rep, he shared his years of experience in fire suppression and training to benefit other departments.
He said he’s been honoured to work for three chiefs, but said one particular generational highlight stands out in particular throughout the course of his firefighting career.
“I got to train my son (current Courtenay Deputy Fire Chief Kurt MacDonald) and my grandson.”
MacDonald said the nomination for the award “is most humbling, and I know there were always someone there before me (doing the work).”
He credits his great teachers throughout his years in the fire service, and noted “it has been a pleasure to serve the community.”
He added much credit should go toward his wife and family “who really deserve the honour,” as they always stood by his side when he had to rush off to a call during family dinners or was on call or had to leave during Easter or Christmas mornings.
“They are a very understanding family.”
Doug Hoon believes volunteering is “the best job I’ve never had.”
Seven years ago, Hoon began, following the suggestion of a friend, to volunteer at St. George’s United Church. His plan was to volunteer in the pantry as part of the Sonshine Lunch Program, but found himself in the kitchen, and since then, he’s never left.
Hoon can be found in the kitchen helping out every Tuesday. When he’s not cooking or preparing food, he’s picking up vegetables and donations from stores and producers.
Growing up on a farm taught him both the value of food and the resourcefulness of using every last drop.
“I grew up on a homestead and we always used everything,” he explained.
About three years ago following a large donation of ham, Hoon saved the bones to produce ham and split pea soup at home which helped produce around 30 pots of soup (enough for about six months).
After picking up the leftovers from the Earl Naswell Community Christmas Dinner, Hoon used the turkey bones to create turkey veggie soup and turkey stock.
Other food items that he gets in abundance are carefully cleaned, washed and frozen for later use. Fresh items such as squash, fruit and greens are left out so customers can help themselves and take them home, as may families are served by the program.
Hoon also spends time volunteering doing lawn and garden work at Comox United Church, and offers assistance to many in his neighbourhood doing repairs, running errands and repurposing objects.
Additionally, he assists at the Auxiliary Society for Comox Valley Healthcare thrift store at the former site of St. Joseph’s Hospital.
He noted the best part about volunteering is the ability to give back to those who need assistance.