By Becky Benoit
If you build it, they will come. That’s the approach Steve Kelly has always taken when it comes to volunteerism in Wood Buffalo. The 35-year old equipment operator has been instrumental in the formation of some of Wood Buffalo’s most visible not-for-profits, including Volunteer Wood Buffalo, the Wood BuffaloCommunity Village and most recently, Social Prosperity Wood Buffalo.
When he and his wife began volunteering for Volunteer Wood Buffalo, the organization consisted of only a few volunteers checking mail nd answering phone messages. Today, thanks largely in part to Kelly and volunteers like him, VWB is a thriving and highly-respected organization that has played an important role in the formation of Wood Buffalo Community Village and bringing the idea of shared space and resources to the region’s nonprofit sector.
“This is what Volunteer Wood Buffalo is, at the heart of its identity, and this is what it provides the community: support and celebration of volunteerism, collaboration amongst peers and a grassroots attitude about creating change and ideas that can be successful,” Kelly says.
Kelly is more than just a voice on a board of directors. He’s also the kind of volunteer who never hesitates to roll up his sleeves and jump in where he’s needed, whether it’s building a kennel at the SPCA, taking his Little Brother to a hockey game, working a casino or visiting seniors for pet therapy with his feline partner.
“I have two philosophies in life: protect those with no voice and no choice, and be the change you expect to see,” Kelly says.
Both guiding philosophies trace their beginnings back to Kelly’s long affiliation with the Fort McMurray SPCA, which he began as a kennel worker at the young age of 20 and ended with Kelly sitting on the board of directors.
The animal shelter taught him some of his most
valuable life lessons, Kelly says. “To be great in life, you need to surround yourself with greatness,” he explains, referencing his boss Carmen Conejo as a great influence in this regard. “I realized that if I really wanted to see change, whether it be in my personal or professional life, I needed to lead by example.”
This year saw Kelly win the United Way’s Cornerstone Award for his many volunteer contributions. What advice does he have to offer those who wish to make a difference in their community? His words of wisdom are simple but profound: “Find a cause, step up and support it.