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

Cowichan Mountie cleared of wrongdoing after woman’s arm broken during arrest

Police were called around 10 p.m. on Dec. 30, 2019 to remove a “severely intoxicated” woman

Duncan using empty streetscape to move forward with public works downtown

Some projects scheduled for later in the year accelerated due to COVID-19 quiet

Investigators seek witnesses in Langford shooting death of Angela Dalman

Police seek out dash cam footage, home security videos and neighbourhood witnesses

VIDEO: More than 85 people displaced by Campbell River apartment fire

Traffic is being diverted around Dogwood Street and 9th Avenue

‘Langford Cares’ campaign to cover hotel expenses for frontline health care workers

Initiative gives back to health care staff living on the West Shore

UPDATE: Canadians awake to extra COVID-19 emergency benefit money, feds clarify changes

The CRA and federal officials are working to clarify the confusion around payments

Canoe found in men’s public bathroom in Cadboro-Gyro Park

‘Please do not park your canoe in our bathrooms,’ say Saanich parks staff

Judge rejects pandemic as reason to grant bail to immunocompromised prisoner

Esquimalt man told there are more health risks for addicts on the street than there are in jail

B.C. sorting medical equipment sales, donation offers for COVID-19

Supply hub has call out for masks, gowns, coronavirus swabs

B.C. records five more deaths due to COVID-19, 45 new cases

A total of 838 people have recovered from the virus

Major crimes investigating sudden death of North Okanagan child

The 8 year old was flown to Kelowna General Hospital and died hours later

VicPD asks for help finding owner of recovered camera

Camera contained images of a family celebrating a wedding

Easter Bunny added to B.C.’s list of essential workers

Premier John Horgan authorizes bunny to spread “eggs-ellent cheer” throughout province

Island recreation sites with camping facilities closed until June

Trail sites still open, provided safety can be ensured

Most Read