For Cheryl Thomas, it took a little bit of coaxing from her stepmother to open her eyes to the joys of community involvement, but it led her to a lifetime of volunteering and is something she said she’s continually grateful for.
“In Chilliwack, where we moved from when I was a kid, my new mom decided we should get involved with the community and I signed up as a candy striper at the hospital and that got me interested in all of the health-related things afterward in my life,” Thomas said.
“Then I found out about the church and I liked the youth work. I was put on the church board as the youth representative; we raised funds and went on little trips, and that was the start of the whole thing.”
Thomas moved to Clearwater in 1991 and has been lending her time to various organizations in the community since her arrival and currently wears so many different hats, she has a hard time counting them all.
Her two main organizations are the North Thompson Communities Foundation, which recently spread $30,000 across several causes in the North Thompson Valley (the cheques were personally and enthusiastically delivered by Thomas herself) as well as the North Thompson Aboriginal Cultural Centre Society, that put together an online contest for National Indigenous Peoples Day this year and is giving out hundreds of dollars worth of prizes.
Thomas is also part of the Royal Purple and is a regular member of the Dr. Helmcken Memorial Hospital Auxiliary, a group she’s been with for more than 20 years, after doing a stint as the group’s chairperson.
“I think what really makes me the happiest is just to see people’s lives be enriched by something I can do,” Thomas said.
“I may not have a lot of talents but I do have some talents and I’m sort of a biblical person, so I believe if you have talents and don’t use them they’ll slowly be taken away from you.”
Some of the work Thomas finds most memorable is the work she did with Emergency Social Services where she helped people in situations like wildfires with finding accommodations, meals and providing them with necessities.
She helped register disaster victims during the wildfires in 2003, the ice jams in 2006, as well as the wildfires of 2017 and has been helping with the service for about 25 years.
“I also volunteered to sit on the public advisory group for solid waste management and was there for about 10 years,” said Thomas.
“I want to more plastic recycled and see an outlet for clothing to be recycled other than just giving it to the thrift stores. Locally those are the things that bother me.”
The next issue Thomas said she wants to tackle is helping small businesses because the current economy is making it a struggle to operate and the fact that she’s a director for the Chamber of Commerce might provide an avenue for her to do that.
All in all, though, she just wants to encourage others to volunteer and lend their time to help the community thrive.
“I think that if everybody did just a little bit like we always used to, for free, then our community would be one of the most vibrant communities in the whole world,” she said, adding it’s just as beneficial to the volunteer as it is to the cause they help with.
“Everyone should give it a try and find out it just gives you joy, and joy goes a long way towards good health.”