Murray Casey loves to meet new people and form meaningful connections.
It’s what brings him back every week to Stemete7uw’i Friendship Centre, a welcoming place for the community on Birch Avenue.
“Right now it’s working well. It’s nice, cozy and welcoming,” said Casey, 46, the centre’s manager and host coordinator. “That’s what we need right now, that connection. Most people are in such a rush to get things done but here you can just sit down, visit and get a little bit of peace.”
Casey spends four days a week at the centre writing grants, stocking the kitchen, playing host to its users and everything else that makes it run smoothly. Although he is the manager, his involvement with the centre goes back years, having served as a volunteer since 2017.
At the time, former manager Rob Diether had put out a plea for volunteers to help run a lunch for some Canim Lake Elders. Casey signed on and became hooked. He became the manager in July 2021 when Diether retired, and found it is a huge responsibility.
“When I was volunteering, I could come and go as I please and I didn’t have to worry about the paperwork side of things,” Casey said. “You have to be flexible and open to change, every day is different.”
But it’s worth it to Casey, who has deep roots in the South Cariboo. A member of the Stswecem’c Xgat’tem First (Canoe Creek/Dog Creek) Nation, Casey was born and raised in the area, learning to speak Secwepemctsin with his grandparents. He lived in Williams Lake and Kamloops, where he studied to be a teacher, before returning to his home community in 2014.
At the time his grandmother Eunice Casey was sick and he wanted to spend more time with her before she died in March of 2015.
“I ended up just staying and decided it was time to get out of teaching,” Casey said. “I loved teaching, it was incredible. I miss it at times but I figured my 20-plus years was a good amount of time. I made my impact.”
Casey is now using those skills to offer workshops at the centre to teach Secwepemctsin. He said his adult students are more eager to learn than the teenagers he taught in Kamloops.
“It’s fun because I can joke around in different ways. With adults, you can say things differently and everyone can just relax and just enjoy themselves. That’s my style of teaching, keep everyone relaxed so they can just enjoy their time,” Casey said.
“A lot of people seem to think this place is only for First Nations and it’s not at all. It’s a friendship centre. You come, have a coffee and visit, that’s what it’s all about.”
Casey said he plans to keep on improving the friendship centre’s current home in downtown 100 Mile House and would like to see it grow. He’d like to bring on more young people to volunteer and find a regular host so he can spend a bit more time behind the scenes planning the future.
One day he hopes the friendship centre will be able to own its own building with room for a restaurant, a conference room and a small movie theatre.
“Obviously it will come to a point where it will change. Willams Lake’s Cariboo Friendship Society had a drop-in at one point but now they’ve moved into a restaurant sort of situation,” Casey said. “We could actually have our own restaurant and money would come in to support the centre.
“This is my living, this is my life and this is my job.”