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Alta States

Greg McDonnell - speaking out for those who can't



"If we are to live not just for the moment but in true consciousness of our existence, then our greatest need and most difficult achievement is to find meaning in our lives."

Bruno Bettelheim, Child Psychologist

It's not like he has a booming voice or anything. And he's not combative one little bit. Soft of tone, easy-going and courteous to the extreme, the 39-year old executive director of the Whistler Community Services Society (WCSS) seems a most unlikely candidate for social-warrior status. The guy looks more like a young accountant than a community crusader.

But dig a little deeper and you'll quickly discover just what kind of mettle Greg McDonnell really possesses...

Since his arrival at Whistler in 1997, the man has been tireless in his quest to provide help to those individuals - mostly young and mostly migrant - who fall through the cracks in our system. With a laser-like vision and a near-magical way of making "impossible" things happen, McDonnell has managed to patch together a strong social net for Whistler's growing underclass. Yet, if it were up to him, there'd be even more done for our "invisible" citizens.

"The problem," says Greg, "is that we get these (mostly) well-educated kids who come here with limited life skills; they find a low-paying job, live in high density housing and suddenly fall in love with Whistler. The question then becomes: how do I survive here full-time?" He sighs. "And that's not as easy as it looks..."

Still, what Greg's managed to accomplish in the last 13 years is truly impressive. Ever heard of the Youth Outreach program? S.N.O.W? Or Whistler Welcome Week? How about the Jill Ackhurst Community Welcome Dinner? The latter happened last night at the Conference Centre, with over 800 people in attendance (including 200 locals)!

"It's been one of our most successful initiatives to date," says McDonnell. But it's not all that surprising. "In a tribal sense, what better way to initiate newcomers to a place than by sharing a meal with them?"

It's all about inclusion. "I always thought there was a needless sense of separation between these youthful newcomers and members of the community. My vision? Let's make them feel a part of Whistler as quickly as we can. Let's give them a sense of the success and spirit of this place as soon as they get here."

The genius of Welcome Week has been to partner these incoming youngsters with long time locals so they can get an immediate feel for "Whistler style." The result? Both sides have come away feeling more connected to the community. More in touch with what's really going on around here.