McMurray Musings: Not Your Usual Suspect…Darlene Predham
Whether it’s a food drive for the Wood Buffalo Food Bank, the annual Easter Egg Hunt at Dunvegan Gardens, or another event relying on volunteers in our region, you’ve likely seen the lady with the smiling face and positive attitude. She is perhaps Fort McMurray’s best known and most active volunteer, and while you might not know her name you may know how much she has contributed to bringing hundreds of events to the community.
Darlene Predham arrived in Fort McMurray from Newfoundland in 1977. A long-term resident of the community, Predham readily admits her volunteerism began as a result of her recovery from her struggle with alcoholism.
“When I was at the point when I was comfortable in my sobriety I realized I needed more in my life. I had done some volunteering before my addiction took over and I enjoyed the experience. So in 2009 I began to volunteer again, initially with the Food Bank and the Northern Lights Health Foundation Festival of Trees,” says Predham. “Some of it was just to give back, like volunteering at Relay for Life given that I have been treated for cancer and I received excellent care. But some of it was for the social life aspect, too. I get out, I meet people, I get to attend events for free – volunteering is a whole package for me.”
Volunteering has changed Predham’s life in more ways than one. “It gets me out of the house, it keeps me involved, I have met so many really nice people, ones that maybe I wouldn’t normally interact with,” Predham says. “Fort McMurray is such a diverse community and I have the chance to meet people from all over the world and learn about their cultures just through volunteering with them.”
From events like winterPLAY to various local sports events and games, Predham embraces every opportunity to volunteer. Predham says learning about volunteer opportunities is easier than ever thanks to social media and technology. The “phone trees” of days past have been replaced with emails and social media reminders, allowing volunteers to sign up in advance and fill their calendars with event dates.
“Volunteering has changed because people have come to understand that if you want these services you need to be involved,” Predham says. “Decades ago it was common for parents with kids in sports to volunteer, but most people didn’t volunteer for other organizations. Now people know that if they want to have events for their family to enjoy or funding for these organizations they need to get involved and volunteer so those things continue to happen.”
“Seeing the smiles on the faces of the kids, being part of the events – that is my ‘pay’ for being a volunteer,” says Predham with a grin. “Sometimes you put in a lot of hard work, but you’re helping the community and you’re helping your friends. I’ve never volunteered and been disappointed by the experience. Tired, but not disappointed!”
Predham says volunteering has one other quality: it’s almost addictive. “Once you start you can’t stop. Everything I used to have an excuse not to do I now have an excuse to do. Once I started and saw the benefits to me – that’s the addictive part. That’s when I saw the value of volunteering, not just for the community but for me.”
So the next time you see that smiling face collecting food during a food drive or clearing glasses from tables at a gala event, say hello – and thank you - to just one of Wood Buffalo’s many unusual suspects and amazing volunteers: Darlene Predham.