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.
Stephen Davids has helped several local institutions immensely, thanks to his untiring volunteer efforts over the past seven years.
“I grew up in Canada and we had a cottage at Bass Lake for years, since I was a teenager. When my mom was wanting to move away from that, I arranged to take it over and built a year-round home there,” he explained.
“The timing was perfect, with my family and my paid work, to come back here and live. Now, the whole family, including grown children and grandchildren, are all in Canada.”
Davids figured the best way to meet people in his new neighbourhood was to get involved in his community as a volunteer. He started with the Bass Lake Ratepayers’ Association.
“I went to the association and said, ‘What do you need help with?’ So, that led to me being secretary. Then they wondered if I might be interested in vice-president, which let to president. Typically, there is a progression in these types of things,” he said. “If you have a certain skill set, have the time and inclination, you can move your way up the hierarchy.”
Involvement with the association has led to Davids meeting all kinds of people.
“With the association, you’re meeting other cottagers at other associations, you’re working with law enforcement, with the OPP and the Township of Oro-Medonte, township officials ... local politicians, other municipalities,” he said. “Of course, we had to deal with the pandemic, and now the possible expansion of Orillia, the growth of West Ridge. There are a lot of forces in play right now.”
Davids wasn’t content with just volunteering for the ratepayers’ association. He had completed a master’s degree in creative writing and was able to obtain a contract position teaching a creative writing course at Lakehead University.
“That position exposed me to another side of things: social, cultural, that kind of thing. Talking to people like Linda Rodenberg, I began to think about what other way could I give back. Jayne Poolton-Turvey had been running a great memoir writing group at the library, so I wondered if I could keep that going forward as she was ready to step back. So, I took that on,” Davids said.
He also joined the board of the Stephen Leacock Associates at that time.
The writing group has evolved and changed, and gone onto Zoom thanks to the pandemic. But it is still going, five years later, giving budding writers an opportunity to hear gentle, positive critiques about their works in progress.
Davids stepped down from the Leacock Associates board and his teaching contract ended, so he started looking for another volunteer opportunity.
“I got involved with the Orillia Museum of Art and History (OMAH) initially because they were starting OMAH Press and I thought I could help with that, with my creative writing background. The mandate was to find and publish local works about Orillia and area, and that we did,” he said.
His involvement with OMAH grew until he became vice-president of the board, and now he serves as president. He has helped stickhandle OMAH’s new strategic plan and its emphasis on inclusion and accessibility.
“I’ve gone from being a committee member to, eventually, a vice-president and then, unfortunately, Ted Duncan, our president, wasn’t well and so I started taking over running the board meetings while he was convalescing. Now, I am president and Ted is past president so he can still be involved in the board,” Davids said.
Davids started all this volunteering as a way to meet people, but why does he continue?
“Well, two things, really. I really think it is important to give back, to keep the things going that matter and change the things that need to change, and, second, I just really love people,” he said.
“I’m interested in most everybody around me. What are they going through? How do they feel about life? I naturally gravitate to other people or groups. I love striving together to try to achieve something," he explained. "I’m thrilled when we achieve it mostly or completely. I love the idea of mentoring or assisting. It doesn’t have to be younger people; just helping anybody achieve their potential.”
The community so appreciated Davids and his work, he was a finalist for Orillia Citizen of the Year in 2023.
“I was so humbled to be included in that incredible group of people. When Mayor (Don) McIsaac was reading everything that those people had done, I really did feel like I didn’t belong there. I mean, those people had been volunteering for decades. It was a real honour to be there with them,” he said.
“I just try and contribute as best I can. I try to work hard, to be reliable, non-contentious, and an active listener. I try to be a positive participant in the group. It’s been so rewarding to be a volunteer here in this community.”