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Alta States

Kathy Podborski: Keeping the home fires

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The transition from Toronto to Whistler took a little adjustment in the beginning. “When we first moved here,” she says, “there were fewer than 3,500 full-time residents in Whistler. I felt like we were living in a fishbowl at first. But then I soon realized just how supportive the people were here. It was like being part of a huge extended family.”

It’s a Whistler trait, adds Kathy, that isn’t celebrated nearly enough. “Because most people have moved to Whistler from somewhere else, few have extended families within the community. So they create their own chosen extended families. And that has resulted in a really close-knit town. When something goes wrong — a death in the family, an illness, whatever — Whistlerites are quick to come together and offer help.”

Although it’s not sexy or cool (or even politically correct in some circles), Kathy totally embraced her role as stay-at-home mom in Whistler. “Because Steve travelled so much for his work, we decided that I would be the ‘at-home’ parent,” she explains. “And I was totally OK with it.”

No matter what activity Ben (now 18) or Maddi (16) chose to pursue, mum was onboard, often helping behind-the-scenes with no intention of getting publicity or attention for her volunteer work. Whether it was serving on the gymnastic committee or helping out at ski club races or putting in endless hours at her kids’ schools, Kathy was there. And the word got around fast. Need someone to help with fundraising for the new Whistler library? Ask Kathy Podborski. She’s always good at convincing people to donate money and services to a good cause…

She laughs when I tease her about her reputation as one of the fundraising “go-to-gals” in the valley. “Whistler is a very volunteer-driven town,” she says. “And it reminds me a lot of Calgary that way. So I feel totally comfortable getting involved. Besides, if people like me don’t step up, who will?”

And she doesn’t just limit her volunteer work to sports and education. A member of the board of directors for the Kelty Patrick Dennehy Foundation, she is quick to remind me that depression-related suicide is the second leading cause of death among teenagers. “It’s a silent epidemic in our communities,” she says. “And it’s devastating to those who are touched by it. It’s kind of like cancer in the 1950s. You don’t talk about it. You don’t acknowledge it. You just bury it.” The foundation, she tells me, is all about fostering education, research and public awareness on that issue. “You can’t change things if you hide behind ignorance,” she says.

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