“Volunteering is something that I have always enjoyed,” says Ursula Holmes. An active resident of Port Alberni, Holmes has given decades of her time and efforts to her community; she has not slowed down.
Ursula (Steinbach) Holmes arrived in Canada from Germany with her Mum, Evelyn, to join her father in Ocean Falls. “It was a great place to be a child growing up in the outdoors,” she says.
The family, which included two younger brothers, settled in Port Alberni in 1969.
Evelyn was born in Edinburgh, Scotland, and Holmes’ father, Papa Bob, in Minden, West Germany. “Every time we moved, my Mum used to say that it was ‘the gypsy in Papa!’”
In 1969 Ursula met Don Holmes, a “local boy” from Port Alberni. The young couple married in 1972 and had two boys (born in 1975 and 1979).
Ursula began her ongoing volunteering activities back in 1976 by joining the Block Parent Program and eventually coordinating the local chapter for three years. Later she joined the Victim/Witness Program and became a liaison between victims or witnesses of crimes, and the RCMP.
As her children were growing up, she would always be involved in their school activities by supporting the various programs the school had to offer. She was part of several committees related to the students’ functions, from academics tosports competitions, to activities related to Cubs, Beavers, etc.
In the 1990s, Port Alberni hosted two major successful sporting events: the BC Seniors Games and the BC Summer Games. These two important city sports milestones, held at the Bob Dailey Stadium, counted on the support and dedication of dozens of volunteers; among them was Ursula Holmes.
“When the Track Classic was held at Bob Dailey Stadium, I also helped organize and serve food for the officials and some of the athletes,” she adds. “Such a great way to meet people from all walks of life.”
Holmes worked as a receptionist at CJAV radio (now known as 93.3 The PEAK) for a year with a great team and upgraded her bookkeeping and accounting clerk certificates at NIC.
She also worked at the Port Alberni Optical/Valley Vision for almost 20 years and retired in 2008.
“During that time I had to slow down on my volunteering but was always available to help out at my grandson’s school when extra help was needed for special events.”
After retirement Ursula found many things “to keep her mind busy,” as she puts it. She did year-end inventory in a department store; became a team leader for the Canada Census in 2011 and also a marriage commissioner for five years. “All jobs that I thoroughly enjoyed.”
Her interest in advocating for children and the elderly led her to help them by using her social skills and compassionate approach. “One day, after reading in the newspaper that Abbeyfield was looking for someone to volunteer a day a week to run their little convenience store, I joined my Mum doing this job,” Holmes said. Evelyn Steinbach was already volunteering at Abbeyfield House. Steinbach continued doing this volunteer job even after she became a resident of this home.
“Once Mum had joined the volunteers at Abbeyfield, it was only natural that I would join them, too,” Holmes said. “I started by going in Wednesday evenings to visit with the residents and we worked that into having tea, hot chocolate and snacks along with a lot of chatter and laughter.”
Soon after, she was invited to join the Abbeyfield board of directors. She became the secretary and stayed on for about 10 years, until her mother died and Holmes decided it was time to move on.
Her interest in serving her community did not stop there. She joined the Block Watch Program in her neighbourhood, a great Community Policing Program sponsored by the RCMP to help make neighbourhoods safer. “I am our neighbourhood co-captain,” said Holmes.
Currently, she is volunteering with the Alberni Health Care Auxiliary and works at The Attic Thrift Shop. All funds made through the auxiliary—both the thrift shop and West Coast General Hospital gift shop—are kept in the Valley and provide much needed items for WCGH. “(The Attic is) a great secondhand store. We have customers from all walks of life and have a great time visiting and helping others find a needed or special item.”
Holmes recently become the auxiliary’s first vice-president.
“If you have a spare day or two or even a few hours a month, consider volunteering,” she said. “It is so very satisfying for all involved. There are so many volunteer organizations in our city and they are all in need of volunteers.”