A volunteer is a “person who does something for other people or for an organization, willingly and without being forced or paid to do it” according to the American Dictionary.
In this case, Shawn Bradford would be the embodiment of this definition.
When he moved to the Bulkley Valley with his family when he was six years old, he didn’t know what a volunteer was. What he did know was he liked helping people.
Encouraged by his parents to “help others,” early in his life, Bradford now says it’s in his DNA.
“Sometimes helping others as a young person was as simple as helping in the yard for a neighbour. It made me feel good, especially helping older people, so I would go back to see what else I could do.”
As he grew up, the circle of people he volunteered to help grew and so did the span of what he was doing.
From shovelling neighborhood driveways to stocking shelves and running the till at the local grocery store to helping run a paper route to helping build the Telkwa Skating Rink as a 16-year-old member of the Telkwa Junior Volunteer Fire Department, Bradford enjoyed every minute, and didn’t get paid a dime.
Maybe the odd sandwich, but not money.
“What I receive in return for volunteering, is new skills, new friends, a sense of achievement, free education by way of training, a bond with my community and a feeling of accomplishment in helping bring others’ good ideas forward and getting things done. I’m not interested in the monetary returns, although a thank you is always nice, all the other rewards are enough.”
Bradford has found himself in some unique situations while volunteering too.
While attending Washington State University, and as a member of a Greek fraternity, Bradford volunteered continued to volunteer.
“Someone had to fix things and maintain the physical house and grounds for the fraternity, so I was the “frat dad” for a year and then the next year someone had to do the food planning and shopping every day and coordinate meals, so I was “frat mom.”
It was fun and a little crazy, Bradford laughs as he thinks of it, but said he learned a lot.
When he returned to the valley after university, he began to volunteer with more community groups, although he continued to always help out, and does to this day, people who need a hand.
Bradford found himself volunteering for various youth sports teams, band boosters, political campaigns and as a driver for various clubs, since he holds a Class 1 licence.
As the owner and operator of a full-time trucking company, Bradford feels it is important people use the skills they have in a volunteer capacity.
“They should teach it in schools, so kids connect with their community, they can learn new skills, find a career by doing what they love, they will find a sense of accomplishment in meeting new challenges and it improves their resumes.”
As Bradford reflects on all of his experiences, he does recognize it is not always easy to volunteer these days.
“It used to be groups like the Kinsmen, Cub Scouts and Sea Cadets would go on community outings to help. Like building a playground or building the community rink in Telkwa, but we didn’t have to deal with all the litigation issues that people and organizations face today.”
People tend to argue over who owns what, and who is liable, before you can even start a project, he noted.
Bradford feels that after dealing with all of those kinds of issues, it can drive away even the most dedicated of volunteers.
As an example, in Telkwa a few years ago a notice was put out for volunteers called “Snow Angels” to help shovel out driveways for older residents. Bradford was the only one to step forward. He didn’t even live in Telkwa at the time but was willing to show up and help. He feels people were too worried about the possibility of falling and getting hurt, and then who would pay?
‘It clearly annoys him that the legality takes priority, when it should be the right thing to do in helping others, especially the elderly.
Being a volunteer in this past year has been especially difficult with many groups not operating, and the ones who do, having to deal with considerable regulations due to Covid-19.
“It’s frustrating right now, as so many people and organizations need help.”
It is not all doom and gloom though, as Bradford points out, it just takes a lot of planning and preparation.
As a volunteer firefighter in Telkwa, the preparation Bradford speaks of, comes into play every time they go on a call.
“We have masks and face shields, gloves, and all the PPE required, but it hasn’t stopped any of the group from showing up to every call.”
Bradford’s eyes light up at being a volunteer firefighter. He started in the most unlikely of ways.
“When they put the call out for more volunteers, I showed up. Not for any of the traditional reasons at first, but because I knew I could help on the trucks. To wash, clean and maintain them, and to be there to help at three, four or five o’clock in the morning.”
He then went through all the training and specialized skills that the fire house offers.
“It’s a big commitment of time.” Bradford commented.
There are training weekends, travel to other firehalls for specialized training, live fire exercises, and every Wednesday the group meets in the eventing for more education.
“It is rewarding, and you learn so much all the time. Each call we go on, we learn from.”
Is it difficult to go on calls in a community where he basically grew up, knowing it could be someone he knows?
“Not really,” Bradford is quick to answer,
“When we get a call, we know someone is having possibly the worst day of their life, and we want to get there to help.”
When it turns out to be a call where there is trauma or tragedy, Bradford said the whole firehall feels it and have each other and professionals to help them debrief.
Bradford recalled a call to where his childhood home in Telkwa burned to the ground.
“Everyone was there for me. We are a brotherhood and sisterhood that support each other through it all.”
In the end, Bradford said the rewards are more important than the heart-wrenching times.
The firehall recently received a thank you letter from a person that would have died, if the men and women of the Telkwa Fire Hall and first responders had not arrived in time.
You could plainly see how much the letter meant to Bradford, and all the men and women that show up to help.
“It’s in those moments we feel we all made a difference when it counted, and someone is alive because of it. That is all the reward any of us need.”
As Bradford continues to volunteer and help the community, he strongly encourages others to do the same.
“Try joining a group you find interesting, or one you might have considered but wondered [what] you could do. Get in there and try it, be willing to learn, make new friends and help make the communities we live in be a better place.”
“People need each other, communities need help, be willing to try.”