WIKWEMIKONG—Rosemary Wakegijig says she doesn’t volunteer so much these days, but had to reschedule her original interview. “I forgot we have a turkey dinner to raise money for the church (Holy Cross),” she said. How was the dinner? “It was excellent,” she laughs.
Currently, the fundraising is focussed on a new furnace for the church. “The old one packed it in during February,” she said. “Just when you need it the most.”
Like most volunteers approached for these articles, Ms. Wakegijig expressed misgivings about the interview. “I want to avoid the ‘I, I, I’ thing,” she said. “It isn’t why you volunteer.”
Often, volunteerism springs from a desperate last minute plea. “The phone rings and there isn’t anybody else who can help,” she said matter-of-factly. “So you do what you can do.”
These days, much of Ms. Wakegijig’s volunteerism happens at a more ad hoc level. “This will be a pretty short story,” she laughs when finally coaxed into discussing volunteerism. “A lot of what I do now happens when I see a young mother struggling with children or an elder walking along the road,” she said. “I give them a ride to their destination.”
So many of the elderly she picks up in her travels are struggling with their own demons. “Many are very addicted to alcohol,” she said. But although they may be challenged, most are still very interesting people with a lot to offer those who can see past their addictions.
“I picked up an elderly man the other day, people normally avoid him,” she said. “We starting chatting. He has a lot of difficulty with a speech impediment. I was amazed at how wise he was.”
As she dropped the elderly man off at his destination he said to her “‘paameh kaa mnach too naa maadsoowin’, that means ‘we must always celebrate life’,” she said. “It is so true.”
Ms. Wakegijig looks back with some satisfaction on the volunteerism in her life. “Back when I worked for the Board of Education, I helped coordinate the Contact North Distant Education Program,” she said. “It was on my own time, but it was really very rewarding.”
The program was based out of Pontiac School at first, but then moved into the basement of the band office. “We had 65 students at one point,” she said. “Art Jacko Jr. was our first graduate. I have always had a passion in helping people get their education.”
Ms. Wakegijig recalled her efforts with children in the community. “We started a children’s dance group,” she said. “Today there is a lot of powwow dancing, but we were involved in all kinds of dance, they learned square dancing, we went into Little Current to learn jazz, even disco dancing and clogging. Children are so wonderful; they are not shy at all to try new things.”
Ms. Wakegijig had a large van, so there was plenty of room to transport the children to the events. “I was the driver, and a lot of the time the referee,” she laughed. “I look back now and wonder how I was able to do all that without a chaperone. The square dancing was very popular, especially with the little ones. They were so cute.”
Children have also been a major focus of her volunteer efforts, but so has the church. In her community, the church building has been a focal point for many activities—but there is a lot involved in keeping that space in order. “Cleaning pews has been the most challenging, at least for my back,” she laughed. “But when you are working for people and for God, it is very rewarding for you.” A lot of that reward comes in the form of smiles.
Another important space in the community is the upstairs hall of the arena. “We do so much there, it is important that it look nice for the community members,” she said. “Back when I was on council I helped organize a painting team after hours to spruce it up.”
These days she finds herself joining the elders at the Amikook Centre with a quilting group. “Of course we work on things while we chat,” she said. “I am getting up there myself these days, although I still don’t consider myself an elder,” she adds with a laugh. “They built this community during their lives. I think it is important that they get to share time with people. Getting old can be a lonely business.”
Ms. Wakegijig still has a number of things that she volunteers with that she prefers not to publicize. “Some things are better left private,” she said.
“The joys of volunteerism come from helping other people with no thought of reward for yourself,” she said. “When you see the smiles on the faces of little children, or the gentle smile of an elderly person, they are so thankful for something that really hasn’t cost you very much. That is more than enough reward for anyone.”