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After the evacuation, giving back through volunteering

By Calli Forbes

Cindy Lahaise has called Williams Lake home for the past 18 years. A single mom of two grown daughters, Cindy said she couldn’t imagine having raised them anywhere else.

“I thought my daughters would move away and go to a big city after school but they came back and want to raise their children here – even though everyone says it’s a little redneck town,” she added with a laugh.

The comradery and hospitality is what makes the community special, said Cindy.

“You have people from all different walks of life here,” she explained. “I like the friendliness and being able to walk down the street and know people.”

Volunteer Cindy at the WIlliams Lake resiliency centreAfter this summer’s wildfires forced the community to evacuate in July, Cindy described it as a surreal moment when she found herself running into her Williams Lake neighbours.

“I couldn’t believe the people I saw from Williams Lake in Kamloops,” she recalls. After nearly two weeks of being away, the evacuation order was lifted on July 27. Cindy returned that very day.

“I wanted to be home.”

Upon returning, Cindy went to the Resiliency Centre in the community’s local shopping mall, where she was provided with financial assistance and cleaning supplies from the Canadian Red Cross.

“It was so amazing seeing all of the other Red Cross people from all over the country,” Cindy said. 
“That just opened my heart. It’s unbelievable to give your life to people who need help with no expectation.”

Wanting to give back to her community however she could, Cindy jumped at the opportunity to serve as a walk-in volunteer with the Red Cross at the centre, where she distributed cleaning supplies and hygiene products to residents. However, Cindy said it’s also about being a listening ear for people.

Cindy helps distribute clean up kits at Williams Lake resiliency centre“Sometimes people just want people to be heard to know that this (wildfire) has uprooted our lives,” she says. “I found I was able to really have compassion for people.”

Cindy said she knows her community will come back from this summer’s wildfires – making reference to the popular ‘Cariboo Strong’ tagline used to signify the region’s resilience this summer.

“With something like this comes new growth – new growth for everybody,” she said. “It’s a new start. I think it’s changed everybody’s views on what’s important in life too.” 

On a personal level, Cindy said the weeks spent volunteering at the Resiliency Centre has brought about an unexpected change in her own life.

“It’s made me feel needed and it’s just a rich reward in my heart,” she said.  “It brings everything more alive in your life.” 
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