Kamsack volunteers quietly serve community in times of need

Volunteer Canada, a charitable organization, defines National Volunteer Week (NVW) which runs from April 18 – 24, 2021, as a time to celebrate and thank Canada’s 12.7 million volunteers.

The NVW theme for 2021, The Value of One, The Power of Many, reflects on the awe-inspiring acts of kindness by millions of individuals and the magic that happens when we work together towards a common purpose. 

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Here in Kamsack and the surrounding area, almost every club, organization and community event relies on the hearts and souls of volunteers who step forward and serve in caring and compassionate ways. However, sometimes the very nature of those who volunteer is so humble and so behind-the-scenes, that the general public may not even realize the incredible work that is going on. Kamsack’s Victim Services Volunteer Team is just one perfect example of this.

Unfortunately, it seems none of us are exempt from experiencing some sort of traumatic incident in our lifetime. A sudden loss of a family member or a devastating accident can blindside anyone. During times like this, we humans are prone to an unforeseeable list of responses including shock, numbness, disbelief and anxiety.

At times like this, Kamsack RCMP members proudly draw on the talents of a group of five, highly-trained community volunteers who have made it their mission to assist friends and neighbours facing sudden and devastating life changes. Working under the leadership of Parkland Victim Services Co-ordinator, Carol Marriott - Sylvia Boychuk, Anita Klochko, Dianne Smutt, Nancy Klempp, and Shannon Broda-Vanin are the local unsung heroes who may not need gratitude or recognition, but undoubtedly deserve it.

In total, the Parkland Victim Services team consists of 21 community volunteers, plus a board of directors who serve the areas around Yorkton, Wynyard, Broadview and Kamsack. The team at large is overseen by Co-ordinator of Parkland Victims Services Inc., Leonard Keshane.

In Kamsack, the local team of five stands ready to assist RCMP members who respond to life-altering events. A cell phone is occasionally passed between the members who take turns being “on-call” to respond to local tragedies – anytime, day or night. At the request of RCMP members, the trained volunteers will arrive on scene, sit with victims, and offer compassionate support or connection to resources.

Back in the 1990s, Sylvia Boychuk was travelling from her home in Kamsack with her husband on route to the village of Rhein, when they came upon the scene of a head-on collision. As a fire department volunteer, Boychuk’s husband was able to provide emergency assistance at the scene, which included a fatality. Boychuk observed the actions of the emergency responders, feeling both overwhelmed and helpless.

As a result of that experience, Boychuk was inspired to take part in some training of her own. She joined a class of 10 students in 1998 who engaged in a 12-week course of victim services training. Boychuk was soon hired in the role of Assistant Co-ordinator of Parkland Victim Services. She would serve for nine years until her retirement, at which point, she continued her work as a volunteer.

Today, Boychuk is 80 years old. She has been a Kamsack resident for 63 years, and continues to offer her skills as a volunteer for victim services. This spring, Boychuk will be receiving an award plaque that commemorates 25 years of service.

“I have enjoyed the work,” shared Boychuk. “I had to quit for a while when my daughter-in-law was terminally ill, and also when my husband passed away. But I always come back. I do enjoy helping people in need. I have formed bonds and acquired some wonderful friends along the way. It’s a good feeling to know that you are out there to help people, and I hope it will be the same when I am in need.”

Another Kamsack resident who participated in the 1998 volunteer training with Boychuk was her good friend, Anita Klochko.

“Sylvia and I were friends and she invited me to join her in taking the class in 1998. Over the years we have seen a lot of sadness,” explained Klochko. “But there have also been times that were just so heartwarming.”

Klochko said that volunteers aim to arrive on scene in pairs, but there are times when the entire group shows up.

“We generally stay until family members arrive. Sometimes it just helps to have someone there so victims don’t feel alone.”

Klochko said after the initial visit, volunteers will follow up and check in with victims. Sometimes further assistance is required, sometimes not. Aside from directing victims to counselling or other community resources, Klochko reports that volunteers have also been known to help with pets whose owners have been suddenly incapacitated or deceased.

Diane Smutt is another member of the Parkland Victim Services Volunteer team who was born and raised in Kamsack.

“I guess you could say I am a professional volunteer,” joked Smutt. “I didn’t work and I have always wanted to help out. I have always felt the need to give back.”

Smutt told the Kamsack Times that her training has helped her know what things to say to victims, and also – what not to say.

“Sometimes all we need to do is listen. Often, people won’t remember a thing you said at the time anyway. It’s just important that you were there. It doesn’t seem like a big deal, but there are times when you don’t realize the impact you have had on a person.”

Boychuk recalls pre-COVID times when Victim Services was able to connect with the community in happier ways.

“In years past, we would host an annual pancake and sausage breakfast for all of the seniors in town. For the first year, we just started calling people in the phone book and inviting them personally. Then we would see 200 to 300 seniors come out. The RCMP members would set up a cooking area in the garage and serve plates from the detachment’s parking lot. We also had some very successful hot dog fundraisers with RCMP members attending in uniform. From positive events like this, I believe people could better understand how we worked with the local police department. During one of the breakfast events, one senior lady was moved to tears and said, “They really do care about us.”

As the current Assistant Co-ordinator for Parkland Victim Services, Carol Marriott says if anyone out there is interested in this type of volunteer work, the organization is always open to new recruits. Security clearance is required, which can take some time. New volunteers can begin the in-depth training which can be spread over a number of weekends. Once certified, volunteers can commit to the amount of time that is personally comfortable.

“The beauty of having a strong, local team is that we can always step away when we need to,” explained Boychuk. “If we are going through challenging times in our own lives or wanting to book travel dates, there is always someone to cover the need. People tend to think it takes a lot of your time, but you can volunteer once a month or once every few months if you want to. Every little bit helps.”