Paul Thompson, left, and Mark Dawson started Port Alberni’s Army of Problem Solvers, an informal group that takes a different approach to community volunteerism. MIKE YOUDS PHOTO

Port Alberni’s ‘Army of Problem Solvers’ to the rescue

Facebook group gathers people who just want to help their neighbours

BY MIKE YOUDS

Special to the News

After a day of volunteering, the prime movers and shakers behind Port Alberni’s Army of Problem Solvers crossed the street to a potluck dinner to talk about — what else? — solving problems.

At the invitation of Pastor Brenda Nestegaard Paul of Trinity Community Church, Paul Thompson and Mark Dawson dropped by to explain a fresh approach to community volunteerism.

Not long after relocating from Toronto to Port Alberni, where they operate a guest hostel, the pair attended a talk by Shaun Loney, a Winnipeg social enterprise advocate. Loney, who wrote the book An Army of Problem Solvers, believes that “social entrepreneurs” can be effective at addressing community issues at the grass roots. This inspired Dawson to take up the cause in his own neighbourhood.

“It’s so good to be in a community where so many are willing to work together,” Dawson said, adding that volunteerism is more common in smaller communities.

Nestegaard Paul, who regularly hosts potluck dinners under the banner of “South Port Proud,” joined other guests in applauding the initiative.

As a volunteer group, Problem Solvers continually encounter seniors who want to remain in their own homes but can no longer do necessary maintenance. More Canadians are living alone, Dawson said. They often lack supports once commonly provided through traditional community groups such as service clubs and churches, which have seen gradual declines in members and parishioners.

Dawson decided to rally likeminded volunteers through a Facebook page, Port Alberni’s Army of Problem Solvers, a virtual group that can be called upon at short notice.

“There is no membership fee, no long meetings. That’s part of the appeal. This is more of an informal group,” he explained. “People can choose their level of commitment.”

They helped one woman, a 40-year resident of a local mobile home park, to keep her home.

“She can now stay there. She doesn’t have to leave. It’s in our best interests to let her stay there. That’s where our group comes in.”

In the first 18 months, 341 people signed up to serve in the “army,” expressing a willingness to help with projects.

Projects vary from yard maintenance, building a new stage for a local bar, reroofing Char’s Landing, a business based on social enterprise, and serving soup for the Alberni Valley Seedy Saturday event in March.

“By definition, it’s probably one of the largest groups in town,” Dawson said. “I’m quite proud of that. But having said that, it’s one of the easiest groups to be part of.”

Often the projects wind up with a half-dozen volunteers “doing the heavy lifting,” but they are a diverse group, “slightly skewed to women.” They also welcome donations of materials for the various projects.

“Every little bit helps,” Thompson said. “That’s the beauty of it.”

Just Posted

Bus crash survivor petitions Justin Trudeau to fix road where classmates died

UVic student’s petition well over halfway to 5k signature goal

Expect rain in normal Vancouver Island intervals, but bigger buckets

Weather Network predicts a typical amount of rainy days this fall on Vancouver Island

Rain raises water levels in Cowichan Lake

Possibility that pumps could be shut down soon

Central Saanich strawberry farmer reports bumper crop

Strawberry season could last well into October

Victoria author nominated for prestigious Scotiabank Giller Prize

Steven Price’s book, Lampedusa, is a historical fiction novel about an an Italian author

Shambhala named best music festival in North America

Shambhala Music Festival is held at the Salmo River Ranch in B.C.

B.C. MLA calls on province to restrict vaping as first related illness appears in Canada

Todd Stone, Liberal MLA for Kamloops-South Thompson, introduced an anti-vaping bill in April

Chilliwack woman wins right to medically assisted death after three-year court battle

Julia Lamb has been the lead plaintiff in a legal battle to ease restrictions on Canada’s assisted dying laws

Man faces 11 charges after accidentally discharging bear spray around Victoria cops

Drugs, weapons found in wake of unintended downtown discharge

Break out the tiki torches: Open fires allowed again in B.C.’s coastal region

All open fires allowed effective at noon on Sept. 18

Ogden Point officially rebranded as The Breakwater District

New signage and logos accompany plans for Victoria port area’s future

NDP, Liberals promise more spending, while Tories promise spending cuts

Making life more affordable for Canadians a focus in the 2019 election

UPDATE: Police probe third threat against a Kamloops high school in eight days

Police have not released any further details into what the threat includes

B.C. Interior caribou protection area big enough, minister says

Proposals sparked protest in Kootenays, Williams Lake region

Most Read