Just one cog in the machine is how Sandy Jones describes herself and her contributions to life in the Prince Rupert community.
Recently a volunteer at the community COVID-19 vaccination clinics, Jones has also given her time and her heart in many ways to the place she and her husband Larry from the USA chose as home more than 40-years ago as newlyweds from Australia.
“We came for adventure for a couple of years and stayed forever,” she said.
Her view on life is as crisp as the view out of her living room window in the victorian styled house that overlooks the city harbour and courthouse green. The couple purchased the home many years and have been renovating it over the past couple of decades.
“I love being downtown. I love the walkability. All the things that people want in cities, I have here.”
”In a [large] city, you’re an observer, you watch other people doing things, you go to the theatre or whatever. In a small town, you do things. You are a participant. You are a participant in the life of the community. I love that. I feel that is a really great thing.”
After landing their lives on the North Coast, Sandy worked her way up through the school system from an on-call teacher, to principal of Charles Hays Secondary School, to the school board office eventually becoming the superintendent of SD 52. Sandy retired in 2017, but not for long. In 2020 she returned for eight months to help out during a transitional period between superintendents.
She said while she is enjoying the slower pace of her days she still likes to keep busy and fill her life.
“You know … as I retire, I’m nobody in the school system. You go from being sort of ‘the boss’ to nobody,” she said. “But I don’t need to be ‘someone’. I just like to have jobs.”
She has been in charge of major events and organizations like the Skeena River Relay organizing the volunteers for nigh on 10 years, and she has been just one person helping out, like at the community vaccination clinics. She knows the difference both positions mean.
“[By] just being someone who’s really important to the organization, but not in charge, you’re doing a small part, but it is integral. If you’re not there, that part doesn’t get done,” she said.
Being a part of a community and supporting it by volunteering is one thing that Sandy took pride in when teaching high school students the value of giving back to the community.
“Volunteering has always been a big part of working in the schools. Kids need to volunteer for them to have that experience.”
She said it was sometimes challenging to get the students to volunteer because if they hadn’t done it before and they saw it as unpaid work. However, it’s part of the student’s graduation requirements.
Sandy said a highlight of organizing volunteers in the school was sharing the feelings the students had and their reactions afterward.
“The best thing for me about organizing volunteers in school was when the kids did it. They would invariably say ‘oh my gosh this was the best experience’, or ‘I just had fun. I really enjoyed it. I’d do that again.”
“The motivation for me is internal. I feel good about being part of something, seeing an event take place and knowing I had just a small part, a teeny, teeny, piece of that. I don’t need recognition for that — and in fact, why am I even talking to you? It’s a bit embarrassing in some ways.”
Sandy said she is more intrinsically motivated just for the joy of doing a job.
“It’s like even having this interview is a bit shameful because the whole notion of volunteering is to just do it. I do it for no credit. I don’t need a T-shirt. I don’t want to get paid. When people used to say to me, so am I’m going to get paid for this volunteering? Well … That’s not volunteering.”
“It’s payback to the community. You’re paying back to this community. This community has been super good to me. So if I want it to remain the community I love, it means participating in it and giving back to it.”
Sandy said she saw with clear vision just how deep the community pool of volunteer essence truly was in our populace when the volunteer list for the immunization clinic was full in less and than 24 hours after being posted. She said it was an extraordinary event and something outside of the norm that people would be asked to volunteer for.
She said she felt she had to be part of it as COVID-19 has affected so many in the region leaving grief behind and stalled even for her.
COVID-19 has narrowed life, she said with the pandemic affecting her own life on a personal level. Her mom passed away during the year and she was not able to return to Australia.
“Not being able to go back and be by her side as she was failing was horrible. I felt quite trapped. I looked into trying to get back there in time, but I couldn’t — there was no way to get home,” Sandy said.
“So, you know, I would say that’s the most significant thing that impacted me. It was months ago and I’m still not able to go.”
The grief process during COVID-19 has been different from what the community is used to she said. She has had to mentally grieve differently and as with some in bereavement she may have ‘stuffed it back’.
“When I do get to go over, getting together with my family is important in that grieving process, which is currently just stalled, right?”
“I don’t dislike the smallness of my life right now … But I have to match that against the tragedy of the illness for people in this community. The elders who died in Acropolis Manor or the other people who are currently really really sick. It has impacted so many in such dreadful ways.”
K-J Millar | Journalist
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