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Alta States

Greg McDonnell - speaking out for those who can't

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But it's a good thing he did. For it was while he was completing his undergraduate studies at SFU that things started to gel for the young jock.

This is how McDonnell explains it on his website. "I had an experience early in the 1990's," he writes, "where I volunteered at a summer camp for youth and teens with cancer. This profoundly changed my perspective and outlook on life as I learned with glee what it meant to truly live life. I knew from this point on that I would work with people."

It also provided him with a new philosophical beacon. "Looking back," he concludes, "I realize that the lessons taught to me from the youth at this camp are still close to me: live in the present, laugh often, and practice loving kindness."

And he definitely practices what he preaches. A conversation with Greg is punctuated with much laughter and loads of good will. But that doesn't mean he's not serious about what he does. Au contraire...

From the moment he arrived in Whistler, Greg pretty much knew what he wanted to do. "Even before I'd moved up here full time," he recounts, "I was pitching the RMOW on a youth-at-risk program." Good idea, they said. But not now.

"It was around that time that I met Belinda Keech," he continues. "She was working with the MCHA (the Mountain Community Health Alternatives) and had just received a small grant for a high school drug and alcohol awareness program. So she took me on for that."=

Unfortunately, the MCHA wasn't really set up to support the kind of programs Greg envisioned. Undeterred, McDonnell broadened his employment search. Which eventually brought him face-to-face with Janet McDonald, then executive director at the Whistler Community Service Society. Shortly after, Greg found himself with a new job. "It was truly exciting," he admits. "Suddenly there was this whole new component at WCSS - programs designed specifically for young adults. For the first time in my life I was advocating for things I really believed in."

But not just advocating. In 1998, for instance (less than a year after his arrival), the WCSS opened its pioneering Re-Use It Centre. "That was big for us," he says. "Really big. It's such a great example of social entrepreneurship. It really inspired us to grow our programs."