Feature - Spirit of Giving 

The spirit of giving

It’s alive, in Whistler, 365 days a year

By Kara-Leah Grant

Despite all the Season’s Greetings and Peace on Earth for All there is no denying Christmas is a stressful time of year. It’s tough for families struggling to make ends meet while still meeting their kids’ television-induced expectations of Christmas gifts. It’s hard for people estranged from their families because of distance or family rifts. It’s trying for people who struggle with addictions, whether to food, alcohol or drugs. It is easy to forget that Christmas is a celebration of the birth of Christ. Whether or not you believe he was the Son of God, the historical facts say Christ was first and foremost a volunteer and a community worker. He counselled, he provided hope and he healed.

This is the true spirit of Christmas. It is a spirit flourishing in Whistler, where there are people quietly going about their business, doing what they always do without making much of a fuss. These are the volunteers and community workers who spend their time helping out at the Re-Use-It Centre and the food bank, counselling people within the community or providing support for those who need it most. These are the people who exemplify what Christmas is all about.

Christmas is a time of family, a time of presents and a time of partying. But in Whistler, where the population tends to be younger and often transient, family support is missing, the funds for presents are lacking and partying can easily turn into excess.

Supported by Whistler Community Services, Greg McDonnell, Youth Outreach Worker, has set up a program called Peer Educators. It’s been running for a few years now and aims to take advantage of the fact that most people seek help from their peers before turning to professionals.

"We selected 12 young adults between the ages of 19 and 29 and right now they are taking part in a 10-session workshop training which covers different topics, including community resources and referral, anger management, conflict resolution, abuse in relationships, healthy sexuality and drug and alcohol training," said McDonnell.

"The peer educators then have all this knowledge so if they meet anyone struggling with any of those topics or issues they talk to them and they can refer them to local resources for help. It’s great because it helps me do my job, because I have these 12 trained people out there who are able to refer people that I am not able to meet."

Some of the peer educators live in staff housing, or work for companies with hundreds of employees, and they have access to Whistler’s youth population, those who often need that little bit of extra support but won’t seek professional help.

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