National Volunteer Week in Canada is April 16 to 22. In recognition of this week, OrilliaMatters is shining the spotlight on local volunteers who make a difference in their community. If you would like to become a volunteer, contact Information Orillia.
Local volunteer extraordinaire Sylvia Smith was inspired by her mother to give her time to local causes.
“My mom volunteered at the Legion, Branch 34, for years in the ladies’ auxiliary,” Smith explained. “She was the longest-serving member and received an award for it. I guess I had that example to look up to.”
Smith has followed in her mom’s footsteps, but also blazed her own trail, volunteering her time and talents with several local organizations and causes over the last two decades.
Most recently, she has worked tirelessly to help Mariposa House Hospice go from a dream to a reality.
“Sylvia is passionate, determined and tenacious,” said Lynn Thomas, donor relations manager for Mariposa House Hospice.
“Her no-nonsense, go-to attitude helped drive and complete the successful capital campaign to build our area’s first residential hospice. Anyone who knows Sylvia sees her contagious passion for Mariposa House Hospice and joins her in supporting it," Thomas explained.
Smith said helping the hospice was a no-brainer.
“Mariposa House Hospice was such a rewarding project to get involved with. I was involved from the very beginning, with doctors (Erika) Catford and (Si) Lowry. We saw there was such a need in our community,” she said.
“We started a capital campaign and raised $3.5 million to build that lovely building. Now, it is well used and very well occupied. I still volunteer there as a greeter on Friday mornings.”
Lowry said Smith was critical to the project's success.
"Her tireless worth ethic from 2015-2023 has been invaluable," say Lowry, noting she epitomizes Mariposa House Hospice's mission statement of "honouring every moment of life."
Smith also volunteers at the Hike for Hospice every year, helping with registrations, obtaining sponsors, and participating in the walk.
“I’m a retired nurse. I like to help, and I guess I have trouble saying no,” she said with a laugh.
Over the years, she has helped various causes and was a driving force in the campaign that raised $500,000 for Couchiching Jubilee House's new home in 2009.
She was also a member of the Orillia YMCA fundraising campaign for the new Skid Watson YMCA building, has sat on the Orillia Soldiers' Memorial Hospital board and has served as a patient co-ordinator for the Canadian Cancer Society.
Smith also volunteered at St. James’ Anglican Church as an alderperson before the pandemic, and she hopes to get back to that soon.
“I like volunteering. It makes me feel good to help the community,” she said.
She received a nomination, and was a finalist, for Orillia’s Citizen of the Year in 2022 for her volunteering efforts.
“I was born and raised in Orillia. I just went away to school and then came back, and I guess I really started volunteering after that. Orillia is a great town. I am lucky. I have a husband and children who have always been supportive of my volunteering, and I have the time to contribute,” she said.
Smith encourages everyone to find a passion project and give volunteering a try.
“Anybody who has the time would probably enjoy volunteering if they like to meet and help people,” she said.
“Orillia is blessed with a lot of volunteers. They help a lot of businesses and organizations, non-profits. Volunteering is important and volunteers are the real backbone of our community.”