June 14, 2010


Yarrow volunteers win Betty Urquhart award

Released by Carol Bell, YVS


Carol Bell presents flowers to Hank and Kay Geiesbrecht at 2015 Yarrow Days.


here is a popular saying that goes: ‘if you build it, they will come.’ In Yarrow, they built it, they came, and now it’s the perfect example of a thriving community enterprise.


Years back, the village of Yarrow – a tiny burg, population about 2,200, nestled between Abbotsford and Chilliwack – needed a new Community Hall. It was a costly venture and the residents raised money through a number of activities including weekly bingos. Eventually the old, damp, leaky hall was replaced with a new building that now houses the Yarrow library, a preschool, a seniors group, several meeting rooms, and an industrial kitchen that has been called a caterer’s delight.


The hall has proven to be so popular for community events and wedding rentals, it’s a well-known fact that if you want get married there, you need to book years ahead, or plan for Tuesday.                                                              


Yarrow Community Hall is managed by the Yarrow Ratepayers Association, but money to pay the mortgage and keep the building in good repair is raised through the Yarrow Volunteer Society. This society, made up of about 10 active residents, organizes events that raise funds to pay the bills while keeping community spirit alive. It is for their years of dedication, and endless hours of volunteer time, that the Yarrow Volunteer Society has been named this year’s Betty Urquhart Community Service Award winner.


Each spring the University of the Fraser Valley presents the award to people, or groups, who have made extraordinary contributions to their communities in the UFV region. Betty Urquhart was one of the first employees at Fraser Valley College. She embodied the dream of lifelong learning and dedicating oneself to better one’s community. That’s why the Yarrow group is the perfect recipient of this award.


“I just about fell through the floor when I heard the news that we had won,” says society member Carol Bell. “It was such a surprise and such an honour. We are very thankful to be recognized.”


In an ideal world, most people would like to be involved in their communities and make them vibrant, caring places to live. But pressure from today’s high-tech, fast-paced rat race makes it hard for people to contribute to volunteer groups. Yarrow resident Deborah Greenfield recognizes this and nominated the volunteer society to acknowledge the work that goes into organizing community events year after year.


“This group of dedicated volunteers has made a huge difference to the spirit of Yarrow,” says Greenfield. “There’s a strong sense of belonging to a community that cares, and these people have all given countless hours of their time to make Yarrow so much more than the dormitory community it might have become without their efforts. This group does so much to make the place I’ve lived for 20 years the place I still want to be — and my hat is off to them all.”


It’s people like Bell, who works alongside volunteers Eileen and Cheryl Waslen, Marlene and Al Unruh, Everett Worth, Cheryl Tarbet, Corie and Graham Robinson, Del Klassen and Ervin Sawatsky, who keep the Yarrow Volunteer Society going and never expect to be recognized for what they do. They come up with a plan, or an event, put their noses to the grindstone, and work tirelessly until the event is complete. Each year, this group of determined volunteers organizes Yarrow Days, a spring and fall dinner, a plant sale, Christmas events, and many other activities including beautification projects, and monthly newsletters.


“We hadn’t the foggiest idea what we were getting into when we started all this,” says long-time lobbyist Eileen Waslen. “Back then, we needed a hall, now we have a mortgage so we need to fundraise constantly. But we have a beautiful hall that is booked constantly and is used by so many organizations and groups. It’s a thriving part of our community.”


On any given day you’ll find the Brownies or Girl Guides, a seniors group, local quilters, and even a fitness class taking place in one of the meeting rooms. The hall houses evening and weekend rentals and is consistently booked.


“It is nice to have a community hall, a place we can call ours,” says Marlene Unruh. She and her husband Al are retired and they enjoy being called to duty when helping hands are needed.


“It’s actually nice to have something that keeps us busy and we feel really good about the work we’re doing,” he adds.

Al and Everett, the group’s male members, say they are around to move chairs and tables, put up signs, and do whatever chores they are asked. For the spring and fall dinner, for example, they do lots of behind-the-scenes work, while Carol, Eileen, and others plan and organize everything down to the tiniest detail.


“If Carol says she wants 100 pounds of carrots peeled for the fall dinner, then we peel 100 pounds of carrots,” laughs Everett.


Events like Yarrow Days are the cement that binds what could become a fractured community. Each June, the entire town comes out for the pancake breakfast, parade, wheelbarrow races, crafts, musical entertainment, and dinner and dance. No easy feat to organize but an annual highlight and tradition that people look forward to each spring.


The Yarrow Volunteer Society gives back to its community in many ways, including a $500 bursary for a high school student who has volunteered in the area. Bell says it is all about fostering community spirit, something the society has mastered over the years.


“It has been a lot of work, but it’s funny because we all bonded way back when we were doing the bingo,” says Bell. “Friendships formed, and once you knew Eileen, she would call you if something needed to be done. Now we just do it. It is part of what makes this society work and why Yarrow is a great place to live.”




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