By Kelley Greene
“Our local paper used to hire school kids to fold the printed four-paged sheets off the press. I was eleven years old but still can’t stand the smell of printer’s ink!”
Thus Darcy Topinka revealed in our chat at the James Bay School Centre where he is the Community School Coordinator. An accommodating and engaging personality, he supervises, among others, a host of volunteers.
In a previous column I suggested volunteers were analogous to pearls, individuals enhancing lives other than their own. Carrying that idea forward, suppose a man’s aptitudes and choices in his lifetime to be the transformative ‘oyster-like’ process to a meaningful career. Darcy is such a man and although even his very early experiences did foretell his future it wasn’t obviously as a journalist!
Growing up as one of three children in a small Saskatchewan community, and “lots of cousins” Darcy’s life was a wholesome combination of some after-school activities with a religious focus and energetic sports, particularly baseball. Likely his first foray into volunteering was at the age of twelve when he mucked out stables at a quarter-horse ranch: “This was a means to an end, “ he assured me. “Riding was my goal. It is hard to describe the communication, the positive energy, that develops between a horse and its rider.” Then again, his enthusiasm for swimming led to becoming an accredited lifeguard by the age of sixteen.
It is not a stretch to discover the degree he achieved at the University of Manitoba in 1989 was Recreation (with a focus in Business Administration). But he also, at this time, involved himself as a volunteer for Special Olympics Manitoba, an annual event which promotes respect for the intellectually challenged through sports, and as a volunteer in a municipal election campaign for a candidate (Glenn Murray) whose values he admired, among them support for indigenous people. Today Darcy Topinka avows what motivates him is “protecting vulnerable families”. Understandable.
His interest in municipal politics was still an attraction when Darcy later moved to Edmonton, Alberta. The candidate for whom he campaigned this time had a “vision of urbanization that aligned with my own—he was a proponent of parks and arts and recreation.” Edmonton, or at least Fort Saskatchewan, also presented a unique work experience: the managing of recreation facilities for a multi-housing complex serving a population of 12,000.
His migration west ended in Victoria twenty years ago. After a brief exposure to the service industry Darcy had “his first experience with a not-for-profit organization” by joining the staff at the Fernwood Community Centre working with youth and seniors, and subsequently at the James Bay Community School Centre, where he took advantage of a temporary position at one time to become licensed for child care. Currently as the Community School Coordinator, he oversees programs for all ages:
“Jesse’s Place” umbrellas the Seniors’ Dinner Program and the School Meal Program. Food is prepared by paid staff, but volunteers serve beverages and cleanup for the seniors. Special needs young people volunteer through their schools for work experience to bag school lunches and deliver them to classrooms.
Volunteers in the Daycare and Preschool Program accumulate needed hours of experience to qualify for early education certificates.
Volunteers for special events come with a satchel of special expertise, perhaps arts and crafts or organizational skills. Drivers for outings and support for readers are welcomed as volunteers. A Parent Advisory Council offers time in both the school and the Centre.
Darcy Topinka has no doubt that the success of his programs is heavily dependent on the level and quality of volunteerism. Although as a not-for-profit agency there is eligibility for grants, and fee for services may add to the coffers, he estimated the monetary worth of in-kind services for 2018 was $56,000.00. He values his ‘pearls’.
A nimble manipulator of time and focus in his role as Coordinator, Darcy still has energy for a life outside the Centre. A home owner, he admits to being an avid gardener, hostage to a menagerie of three dogs and two cats and a passion for cycling that extends to training for the rigorous cycling tours in Europe. As to retirement, “I think any volunteering would be sitting on a Board. Or,” with a slight smile, “I am aware of how autistic children respond to horses. That program might be enticing.”