For Val Severin, volunteering is like spending time with a second family.
Born and raised in 100 Mile, Severin was a young mother when she started volunteering with the RCMP’s Citizens on Patrol. Fighting crime in the evenings by patrolling rural areas with summer residences gave Severin a break from family while giving back to the community.
But then a girl went missing at Gustafsen Lake in 2001 and everything changed. The Central Cariboo Search and Rescue from Williams Lake and the Canadian Rangers were called in. The time delay and the difficulty of coordinating the two different agencies didn’t work very well, Severin said, and the RCMP noted it would have been more effective to have a local team in place.
Severin and 13 others got together to found the South Cariboo Search and Rescue, with help from the RCMP and then-Mayor Donna Barnett. She has since watched the team evolve from a handful of volunteers into a fully functioning team with multiple specialty rescue teams numbering 52 strong.
“It’s amazing. It’s such a really unique collection of people and it has become a second family for me. We recreate together, train together and, of course, attend emergency responses together,” said Severin, a funeral director with the Cariboo-Chilcotin Funeral Service. “To watch each member grow and develop down their search and rescue career is just amazing.”
As the group trained, they also developed a board of directors and began to fundraise to buy equipment for operations. Severin said that as they got more equipment from purchases and donations, they eventually needed to find a place to store them and Larry Pinkney provided them with an empty building on his complex.
“We had just our personal items there was no building for storage, no equipment so we relied heavily on Williams Lake to get things started. Then there were actually groups from around the province who came in to teach us search and rescue, including Prince George, Kamloops, Clearwater, Barriere at the time and Williams Lake, of course, had instructors come to meet us,” Severin said.
Eventually, through fundraising and volunteer labour, Severin said they were able to build their own facility on the ground of the Horse Lake Youth Training Centre.
Severin now serves as treasurer at the local SAR, though over the years she’s rotated into the position of president, secretary and a number of other board roles. When it comes to actual operations, she serves as the senior search manager, which is a title she jokes is “not relative to age.”
Severin also sits as treasurer on the board of directors for the Horse Lake Youth Training Centre, which is home to the cadets who commonly use it as well as multiple different groups and users. She is also an active member of the new South Cariboo Track and Trail Association as their treasurer and served as the treasurer for the 100 Mile Mural Society while it was active.
She prefers to hold the position of treasurer, Severin said, saying she’s a numbers person.
“It’s the foundation. Without good finances and good organization, budgeting and grant applications no organization can function. It’s key,” Severin said.
Severin maintains she keeps volunteering each year because of the people, especially in SAR. The team and the friendships she has within them are irreplaceable to her and she enjoys being able to play a role in helping them progress down their own careers.
Next to SAR she said it’s hard to pick a favourite volunteer group but said if she had to it’d likely be the mural society, even though it no longer exists due to a lack of volunteers and the fact that they ran out of wall space to add more murals.
“Volunteering is the best way to expand your bubble, meeting new people and learning new things and always challenging yourself with things that make you nervous,” Severin said, adding that there’s always a position available for people at SAR be it in administration or on one of the search teams.
The chance to give back is something she feels is invaluable to the place she calls home.
“The people here are amazing and it feels like a family when you walk into every store to see a familiar face and everyone says hi and is ready to help. It feels like home and I don’t see any reason to leave.”
An earlier version of this story suggested Citizens on Patrol was defunct. It is in fact still operating in 100 Mile, Canim Lake and Deka Lake while a new patrol is being set up in Clinton.