Bringing Communities Together Through Dragon Boating
Volunteer of the Week
As we near the 20th Anniversary of the Victoria Dragon Boat Festival we are taking time to reflect upon one of the most important aspects of our festival – the people. Without the thousands of volunteers, paddlers, and spectators that come year after year to our event, it wouldn’t be possible. Each year up to 500 volunteers are recruited for the weekend event, averaging 5000 hours throughout the weekend. The whole community comes together to help out and make a difference in support of the festival and our Charity Partner, the BC Cancer Foundation.
The diversity of our volunteers is beyond comprehension, which is why our festival has become such a well-loved community event. It brings people together in an environment where volunteers value each other, because, like clockwork, the function of every piece is essential to the other and to the whole. It’s the passion for volunteering and service to the community that our volunteers share, and that becomes the ground for the many friendships that are built over the festival weekend. Just as volunteers build connections with each other, many have also built a strong connection to the festival, seeking out more ways to get involved.
In appreciation of these people who have given numerous hours throughout the festival weekend and throughout the year in preparation, we will be doing a small “Volunteer of the Week” feature on some of our key volunteers.
Week 4: Rick Armour, Festival Official for Announcers
Rick Armour exemplifies how personal connections and a few simple words can change one’s life. As volunteer recruitment goes, each year a large number of volunteers are recruited through personal connections and simply asking people you know to help out. With his history as a community coordinator for Cops for Cancer Tour de Rock, Sooke’s Canada Day Celebrations, and a long list of public speaking and MC experience, Rick was a star candidate as a go-to when the festival was in search of announcers. The next year Rick stepped up when asked to become the official in charge of the newly created position of Key Official for Announcing. In the past three years he has kept the festival running smoothly, keeping spectators informed, and making sponsors more than happy. The creation of the announcer’s binder is an incredibly tedious process, but as one that is absolutely essential to the festival, Rick ensures it is done right.
Having been involved in many events, Rick has seen ranging levels of organization and believes he steps taken by the Victoria Dragon Boat Festival Society over the years towards developing the Festival Organizer committee and it’s direct involvement in the planning of the festival has been one of the biggest accomplishments he’s seen.
Week 5: Loreli Urquhart, Festival Official for Beer Garden, Chair of Festival Official Committee
Loreli has been with the festival as a volunteer since 2010.
Tony Joe, a board member and friend who knew she was a paddler and loved festivals, invited Loreli to come to an Organizing Committee Meeting, where she learned that a volunteer position was open to be the Key Official for the Beer Garden. Although she had every intention of NOT volunteering for a key position . . . when that one was announced, she couldn’t help but jump. As a paddler, she had been to many festivals over the years and saw the Beer Garden as one of THE most important aspects of a successful festival and Victoria was known to not always have very good beer gardens. She knew, with the right management and know how, we could. She went home and told her husband Ron that she was the Beer Garden Chair and he just smiled, knowing that was a job she would not only be good at, but also be passionate about.
Glenys, the now General Manager, was also brought in at that meeting to see if she would volunteer as well. Both of them were there to see how we could help make this fabulous Festival greater – and both of them walked away with very key official jobs!
In the past, before her involvement in the organizing/volunteering part, she was a paddler who loved festivals, who loved to fully involve herself as a paddler, with her crew, in the racing and the partaking of all fun stuff!
Since volunteering, Loreli has been working with the office to help change around the beer garden, working with the entertainment committee to seek out a great line up of music on the main stage, changing up how the beer garden was to be set up, having a system that made sure product was cold and served quickly, making it clean and feel like a place you want to relax and have fun. She knew the festival needed a more upscale, but still comfortable, Beer Garden since restaurants and pubs surrounded and with experience as a paddler, she knew many teams just walked up the street to eat and drink. She wanted to give them a choice – stay in the Village, be comfortable, and have fun.
Last year (2013) she was asked to take on the new role of Festival Committee Chair. In this committee, they brought together all the volunteers who work tirelessly and all weekend long (and many hours before) during the Festival. By bringing these passionate people together, they were all able to learn more about other aspects of the Festival and ultimately be able to help out in other areas when needed. Understanding how everything comes together helps all the volunteer festival officials work together more efficiently and that makes the festival as a whole work better, giving everyone involved and those enjoying as spectators and paddlers, a better time.
One of the biggest accomplishments of the Victoria Festival is their Beer Garden (we even get tourists in our Beer Garden) and the Paddler’s Experience while participating. The festival does so many things to ensure the paddlers have a good time from running races efficiently to the Air Band Contest to the Beer Garden to the handing out of bling on Sunday to celebrating all weekend long!
In reflection, Loreli comments that they couldn’t have accomplished the big change in the success of the Beer Garden without the help and understanding of what I was trying to do from the office and the Board of Directors. So for all of those people, she is truly grateful!
When walking through the site, things appear more organized, clean and professional. As a clear measure of success, it’s a place that would put on my list of things to do! There is something there for everyone! So, we have accomplished the ability to host to anyone and everyone.
Loreli continues her involvement and enthusiasm for the festival, knowing there is always tweaking and improvement still to be done, and regardless of the hard work, she absolutely “LOVES being part of something so spectacular!” Secretly, she enjoys teaching spectators and tourists the difference between paddling and rowing and giving them some insight into the sport. This year Loreli will be taking her drumming skills to Italy for the World Club Crew Championships with the Gorging Dragons Team, she wants to educate people into how one can just have fun or go all the way in this sport and that there is something for everyone!
We do have one of the best venues to watch dragon boat racing. We are one of only 2 in the world where we host racing in a working Inner Harbour. Lastly, she remarks that she is “extremely proud to be a part of this event!”
Week 2: Doug Smith – Festival Official, Event Safety
Doug Smith and his wife Susan are both veteran volunteers, entering their 8th year with our festival in 2014 on our 20th Anniversary year. After retiring in 2005, Susan and Doug planned to spend time working with worthy causes in their community, and it was through Doug’s cousin, Kathy Cropp, another long-time volunteer, that they were introduced to the Victoria Dragon Boat Festival in 2007.
Since day one Doug has been volunteering on the same crew – Event Safety, which previously started out as “security”. As a retired police officer, this was right up his alley, and goes to show that volunteers with unique skill sets and experiences compliment every volunteer position in the festival. Starting first as a volunteer, Doug followed by serving as the Assistant Festival Official the following three years, and has now been the Festival Official of Event Safety for the past four years, spending many hours outside of the festival weekend year round to ensure that everyone is safe and that any emergency situations, should they arise, are dealt with appropriately.
The safety of everyone at the event is important to people like Doug and Susan, who regard many of the festival staff and fellow volunteers as family, and are dedicated to ensuring the well being of everyone on site, paddlers, volunteers, and spectators included. Just as much as they look forward to every returning volunteer and continuing their relationships with them, Doug and Susan welcome new volunteers with open arms and value new interactions with the general public in a unique and positive way through the festival, with the added bonus of the whole festival being a way for people to raise awareness and donations for a very worthy cause.
Week 1: Mathew Yee – Festival Official, Equipment Crew
Starting first as an avid paddler, Festival Official Mathew Yee began volunteering for the Victoria Dragon Boat Festival in 2012 to maintain his connection to the dragon boating community that grew around him throughout his many times participating in festivals. Although starting as a general festival volunteer, Mathew’s spirit and enthusiasm caught the eye of one of the festival’s organizing committees and he was asked to return the next year as a committee member. Mathew now runs the Equipment Crew with Kyle Chow, another enthusiastic paddler and volunteer, and together they ensure that all of the areas of the festival have what they need to function – it’s a stressful job, but the festival couldn’t have anyone better to fill this task.
Mathew met an incredible amount of people and developing many friendships over his years paddling, and through volunteering he continues to meet more amazing people; it’s the fuel that keeps him running. Since his involvement spans across a broad time period and number of roles, his perspective of how the festival has grown in the community takes a similar approach: he sees how more more people become involved over time and that the presence of the festival is now seen as a hallmark summer event in the City of Victoria.
It’s for all these reasons we are thankful for what Mathew has done for the festival, and we hope his enthusiasm will continue to spread to all the volunteers he works with each year, and to the rest of the paddling community looking for other ways to become involved.