The Association of Whistler Area Residents for the Environment (AWARE) held its annual general meeting last week, going over the previous year's work and electing a new board for next year. The executive will be decided at the board's next meeting on July 21.
It's been a reflective time for AWARE, which will decide its role within the community over the next few meetings. Sara Jennings, the current president, says the organization is at a crossroads.
"We're at a position right now with AWARE where we have a choice," said Jennings. "Whether to grow and become the organization that I think we can be - more engaged, more involved in on-the-ground activities and able to take on more campaigns and more projects. Or we have to have a reality check and step back as a much smaller organization than we have been in the past and narrow our focus a little more."
AWARE recently underwent a strategic review, and in June held a stakeholder workshop with members, community leaders, organizations that AWARE works with, businesses that have supported the group and others who have assisted from time to time with specific campaigns.
"Basically, we're trying to become more financially sustainable and trying to attract more volunteers, whether it be on the board or just as someone who helps out on a once-in-a-while basis," said Jennings.
To encourage more involvement, Jennings would like to see AWARE celebrate its successes more, both as a way to create awareness of the environment in the community as well as to inspire AWARE to continue to work towards its goals. In its history, AWARE has helped bring about programs like recycling and composting, the Kids Nature Club and more recently has been a voice for the environment on both the Sea to Sky Land and Resource Management Plan and the Olympic Games. The organization has also brought speakers to town and was an early supporter of The Natural Step sustainability framework in Whistler that formed the basis of the Whistler 2020 strategic plan.
Jennings says the group has also had its share of failures and "in betweens" over the years, but can be proud of the effort they've made - mostly as a volunteer organization.
This past winter there was some controversy among members over a decision to write a letter opposing the Olympic Games on environmental grounds. That put the board at odds with some members, who didn't feel it was AWARE's place to make any negative statements about the Games.
Jennings defended the letter, even if some members saw it as a betrayal.
"The Games did have a toll on the environment of Whistler that we thought it was important to point out," said Jennings - even if it made the organization unpopular for a little while. "Speaking out on that may have made some people uncomfortable or not want to be involved."
Now that the Games are behind Whistler, Jennings says the new board is keen to move forward to other issues and campaigns, as well as AWARE's role as a spokesperson on environmental issues in Whistler and throughout the corridor. That includes playing an educational role at times. For example, at their annual general meeting last week AWARE and Canadian Snowmobile Adventure offered a tour of a forest slated to be logged under Whistler's community forest agreement, then later hosted a municipal spokesperson to explain how the community forest works.
The 2010-2011 AWARE board is comprised of Claire Ruddy, Sara Jennings, Marie Fortin, Vicky Addie and Snaige Jogi. A few more people have expressed interest in being on the board and the group is still recruiting - both board members, and community members interested in volunteering on particular campaigns.
Jennings urges people to get involved in the process, especially now as AWARE plots its course for the future.
"At the end of the day, by being involved with groups like AWARE, you learn a lot and at the end of the day feel like you accomplished something."
AWARE hosts its monthly meetings on the first Wednesday of every month at 6 p.m. at the Westin Resort and Spa. Another meeting of board members is held every third Wednesday to discuss campaigns and activities. If you would like to be more involved visit www.awarewhistler.org or email firstname.lastname@example.org.