Citizen/Volunteer of the Year; a $14,500 donation to the Bulkley Valley Community Cancer Care Team (CCCT); and donating his hair to make wigs for children who have lost their own hair to cancer, was more, considerably more, than Luke Smith thought was possible a year ago.
In 2019, Smith came up with an idea and decided to do something about it.
“When Luke decides to do something, watch out,” said his mother Donna Smith.
In the beginning, Luke’s idea was simple, to help kids with cancer.
Specifically, kids in the Bulkley Valley. He wanted to raise money and make sure it benefited people who needed it most “right here at home.”
Taking his idea; determining his goals; developing, refining, and researching it into a plan; setting his plan into action; and finally, seeing it through took many levels of commitment on Luke’s part to accomplish.
It took desire and determination. A willingness to learn. Certain levels of risk. It took support from family, his employer at Safeway and eventually the whole community.
It required many hours of work, of paperwork and physical legwork.
It required patience, creativity and unique solutions to roadblocks.
That was the beginning of a year-long journey.
The first step in his research, was a trip to the Bulkley Valley District Hospital. There he discussed his idea with registered nurse Carla Zilkowsky.
Thinking it was a great idea, Zilkowski advised Luke one of the things he could do, was grow his hair long and get donations for when he cut it off.
The next thing Zilkowski did was to introduce Luke and his Donna to the CCCT members at the hospital.
The CCCT is a local group committed to “offering support to Bulkley Valley cancer patients, and their families, in need of financial assistance for travel and accommodation at cancer care centres in B.C. and Alberta,” according to their website.
With the help and suggestions of the CCCT, the planning all started to gel.
The CCCT members suggested Luke get in touch with the Wigs for Kids BC (W4K) to donate his hair once it had grown out.
The W4K program raises money and takes donations of hair to provide free custom-fitted human hair wigs for children who have lost theirs due to cancer or other serious illnesses.
Luke began to talk to people and businesses, telling them what he was doing, and cash donations started to come in.
He was not satisfied, however; he wanted to do more.
After discussing what more he could do with his family, the CCCT and local business co-op the Out of Hand store, where they sell locally produced and crafted items, Smith and his mom decided to make antipasto, sell it from the store, and donate the profits to the CCCT.
The Bulkley Valley Credit Union paid for ingredients and supplies.
Momentum was growing, which further inspired Luke.
He once again posed the question: “What more can I do?” to his growing circle of supporters.
They decided an online auction would be the culmination to Smith’s year-long fund-raising efforts.
Mother and son teamed up to write letters to the business community to solicit donations for the auction, and for two weeks, for two hours a day Luke took letters to businesses, talked with the owners and picked up items and donations.
Donna drove Luke to all the businesses, catalogued items and relayed information to the volunteers running the auction site.
Word had spread about the auction and Smith’s unrelenting efforts to raise money, and momentum was growing fast.
In all, more than 125 items were up for bid on the auction site.
In 14 days Luke’s auction raised $10,005, cash donations tallied $3,335 and the antipasto sales brought in more than $1,200.
“Luke was ecstatic,” said Donna.
“He was hopeful the auction would go well, but as the money totals increased, Luke was both shocked and overjoyed.
“As a family, we have always told Luke he could do whatever he put his mind to, and this just showed him how much he could achieve!”
Donna noted that Luke has special needs, but his family has always told him that does not limit him.
“He does everything other people do; he works, he’s on sports teams, he loves to run in his off time, and loves his family and friends,” she said.
“This was never about what a special needs person could do. It was about what anyone can do!”
She also hopes it might be inspirational to others with special needs.
“The fact that Luke may encourage others with special needs to try things, to believe in their own dreams and ideas and work hard to make them come true, would be an added bonus to Luke’s accomplishments.”
Along with the heartfelt thank yous for all the support from the community, to those who donated, bid and helped in so many ways, the Smith family is incredibly grateful for everyone who supported Luke, said his mother.
“We are incredibly proud of Luke and for all the people he has been able to help.”
When Smith presented the CCCT with a cheque for $14,500, board members present were visibly moved.
“We are all in awe of what Luke has accomplished, the number of people this donation will be able to help and the ways it will help people’s lives is more than we could ever express,” the board later said in a statement via email.
One member of the board, Stacey VanderLee Stolte, teared up while giving her thanks to Luke. She has seen first-hand what such generosity can make possible, as her family was helped by the CCCT when her son Noah battled cancer in his childhood.
“Luke’s gift is incredible, and people will be thanking him for a very long time for all the ways his generosity will be helping in the lives of those dealing with cancer in the Bulkley Valley,” VanderLee Stolte said.
To end his year of incredible accomplishments, there was an honour waiting for Smith he did not expect.
Smith was nominated in the Smithers District Chamber of Commerce 2020 Community and Business Awards for Citizen/Volunteer of the Year Award, and he won.
“This award acknowledges outstanding contribution to the community by someone who offers help, support and guidance in a volunteer capacity – who may be involved in one or more non-profit organizations and demonstrates dedication with enjoyment and pride to a cause.”
In accepting his award via Zoom, Smith said “I am very happy, I did not expect this award. I just really wanted to help.”
Smith’s genuine smile after being thanked by his community, brought full circle the beauty and goodness of what the pursuit of an idea can achieve.