Giving a thumb’s up for a roofing job well done, Army of Problem Solvers volunteers, from left, Paul Thompson, Mark Dawson, Steven Ross, Karl Kjorven and Greg Guilman at Char’s Landing. CHARLENE PATTERSON 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.”

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

ARTS AROUND: Rollin Art Centre garden opening June 16

Virtual art exhibits and gift shop to come

A LOOK BACK: maritime history of Alberni Inlet

Take a peek at Alberni Valley history with Alberni Valley Museum

EDITORIAL: It’s time for Canada to admit to its own racism

Make no mistake, racism exists in Canada.

UPDATE: Highway 4 reopens after police incident near Port Alberni

Highway between Port Alberni and the West Coast was briefly closed in both directions

ALBERNI GOLF: First scramble of the 2020 season a success

60 golfers participated in the J & L Mixed Scramble

If Trudeau won’t stand up to Trump, how will regular people: Singh

Trudeau did not directly answer a question about Trump’s actions amid protests

An ongoing updated list of Alberni Valley events affected by COVID-19

Has your event been cancelled or postponed? Check here

VIDEO: Internal investigation into aggressive arrest by Kelowna Mountie

A video allegedly shows a Kelowna Mountie striking a man several times

22 new COVID-19 test-positives, one death following days of low case counts in B.C.

Health officials urged British Columbians to ‘stand together while staying apart’

John Horgan says COVID-19 restrictions won’t be eased regionally

B.C. Liberals urge ‘tailored’ response based on infections

Feds get failing grade for lack of action plan on anniversary of MMIWG report

‘Instead of a National Action Plan, we have been left with a Lack-of-Action Plan’

Search and rescue crews help locate 62-year-old Nanoose Bay mountain biker

RCMP: Man got lost on trail and did right thing by calling for assistance

B.C. ranchers, lodge operators say Indigenous land title shuts them out

Tsilhqot’in jurisdiction affects grazing, access to private property

As two B.C. offices see outbreaks, Dr. Henry warns tests don’t replace other measures

Physical distancing, PPE and sanitizing remain key to reduce COVID-19 spread

Most Read