Liz Jones was 12 years old when she caught the volunteering bug.
It all began when she was participating in a Lower Mainland parks program. The leader was overwhelmed with the number of youth who had shown up for the arts project and needed another set of hands.
“They looked around and said ‘is there anybody here who would like to help me?’” Jones recalled. “I looked around and nobody else was holding their hand up so I said ‘I’ll help.’”
That initial effort triggered a lifetime of volunteering for Jones, who continued to add to her list of accomplishments over the next few decades. After helping out with the arts program, she moved on to the Jericho Hill School for the Deaf and Blind, where she read bedtime stories to visually disabled children, and, later, got involved in the Jericho swim program.
“We got to ring bells at the end of the pool and the kids would swim toward the sound so that was pretty cool, actually,” she said.
Jones then moved to a larger pool in the Lower Mainland, where she helped special needs people suffering from cerebral palsy and brain injuries. When her mother decided to move the family to Lac La Hache in 1975, Jones – still a teenager – carried on her work by helping to offer therapeutic horseback riding.
“I honestly don’t know how I got interested with that group of people. It just seemed like something that was being asked for and it sounded interesting and I thought it was something I could do,” Jones said. “It’s fascinating because everybody’s got a story. It doesn’t matter what you look like or what your abilities are – everybody’s got a story and each one is individual and fascinating.”
Jones’ volunteerism, which also included the Girl Guides and Boy Scouts, continued to grow and expand even after she got married and had two children. Over the years, she has had a hand in local minor softball and theatre programs, as well as the Cariboo Calico Quilters, and is now secretary-treasurer and pasture manager for the 108 Greenbelt Commission and director of Emergency Support Services.
She sandwiches her volunteer work in between a full-time job as an activity worker for Interior Health’s adult day service program.
“Volunteering is a disease for me,” Jones said.
Jones initially got involved with ESS during the 2003 wildfires in Barriere. After a few weeks on the job, she was sent for director training.
As the director of Emergency Society Services, Jones manages a team of volunteers, who work to support people in the midst of a disaster. During the recent wildfires, ESS helped 1,178 evacuees plus 125 kids from across the province, offering them 72-hour support as well as food, clothing and incidentals. They also try to aid the evacuees in finding new accommodations.
“I will tell you teddy bears are very handy whether you’re an adult or an older gentleman or a child,” she said. “You would think normally that a man doesn’t want a teddy bear but when you’ve got somebody in front of you that has lost everything and their family depends on them…”
ESS falls under 100 Mile Fire Rescue and is funded each year with $3,000 from the District of 100 Mile and $3,000 from the Cariboo Regional District to provide training and purchase items for house fire victims and others, such as water, a care kit and blankets, as well as some teddy bears.
“ESS deals with people when they’re struggling the most. When you’ve been kicked out of your home for whatever reason it’s stressful,” Jones said. “If you can make somebody smile in the middle of a disaster, then you’ve accomplished a really big job and you’ve taken a tiny piece of stress away from them. Making people feel good, makes you feel good. It’s a reciprocal effect.”
Jones said it’s rewarding to help people and plans to continue with ESS for a while longer until somebody wants to be a director and take it over. When she does have spare time, she likes to go out in her kayak or “walks in the woods when it’s quiet and enjoy nature.”
“I loved Eeyore in Winnie the Pooh, he was always going along doing his thing. He always had a lot of friends and he was nice to everybody,” Jones said.
“When you look at society, there’s a lot of Eeyores out there and they’re amazing people inside those shells and if you can make a difference in someone’s life then you’ve done a good deed for the day.”