Whistler's Village Hosts make it their business to deal with slightly disoriented beings cruising through the village a little lost and looking for support and direction.
On Dec. 3, observant Village Host volunteers got more, or less, than they bargained for as a 60 gram Pygmy Owl ended up needing their support - and they delivered. Erin Morgan, Village Host Team Leader, sent out an e-mail report that shows how much these volunteers give to our resort community - whether you're a big wheel wearing a fur coat or a Pygmy Owl sporting feathers.
"Our Village Host volunteers observed an owl near our kiosk by Village Square. They noticed that it seemed confused and disoriented while perched on hand railings and a bicycle so they kept an eye on his behaviour," Morgan's e-mail stated. "Shortly thereafter, a couple and their young son visiting Whistler saw the owl hit a window and fall on his head. They brought him to our kiosk."
The Village Hosts at the kiosk that day - Peggi Diebel, Kathy Bonin and Laurie and Len Van Leeuwen - sprung into action to do what they do best: help all village visitors find their way. What followed was a serendipitous sequence of events that went something like this: Call O.W.L. Wildlife Rehabilitation Society in Delta, volunteer from that group attending the Whistler Film Festival comes over and picks up Pygmy Owl, transports to rehab in Delta with a 98 per cent success rate for full recovery and reintroduction into the natural environment.
According to the specialists at O.W.L., a non-profit organization founded in 1985 whose volunteers are dedicated to public education and the rehabilitation and release of injured and orphaned birds, Pygmy Owls are regularly in the Whistler area, but they come by their name reasonably -they are hard to see.
"These little guys (Pygmy Owls) are no bigger than five centimetres tall," says Rob Hope, head bird care supervisor at O.W.L. "We're talking about an owl that is about the same size as a Sticky Note." The Pygmy Owl would have been passing through the Whistler Valley on its annual migration following prey - small song birds and rodents.
So, Village Hosts help tiny, disoriented owls in the village. What else do they do?
"Through Village Host we strive to create an environment where visitors feel genuinely welcome by providing guidance, direction and a sincere interaction, contributing to a resort experience that is memorable and unique," says Cathie Coyle, Village Host Program Coordinator.
Village Host is a key building block toward the ongoing success of the Whistler2020 community priority of Enhancing the Resort Experience. It was piloted in 2004 as a partnership initiative between the Resort Municipality of Whistler (RMOW), Tourism Whistler, Whistler Chamber of Commerce and VANOC. The RMOW took over the program in 2005 and Village Host has grown incrementally in the meantime, Coyle says. In the summer of 2008, Village Hosts helped over 65,000 visitors. In the summer of 2010, that number more than doubled to 135,677.
Village Hosts come from all walks of Whistler life - currently there are 110 volunteers in the program that provide a total of 2,700 hours of hosting duties per year. Through this, friendly, knowledgeable folks are able to provide a bridge between our resort guests and community. According to Coyle, anyone can join the fun.
"We ask that Village Hosts volunteer 10-20 shifts between now and May 30, 2011. Each shift is three hours in length and involves working in the Village Host kiosk, as well as strolling through the village, and rescuing tiny owls if necessary," she says with a chuckle "If you have a passion for fun and a sound knowledge of the resort we would love to have you join our team."
To learn more about actions that are moving Whistler toward our 2020 vision, or to get involved, go to whistler2020.ca
What do Village Hosts do:
• Provide way finding assistance
• Offer general Whistler information and history
• Offer various options for visitor participation in arts, culture, and sporting events available in our community and in the Sea to Sky Corridor
• Promote community events and performances to visitors
• Inform visitors about Whistler's 2010 Legacies
• Demonstrate community pride and enthusiasm
• Share the spirit of the Whistler community with visitors
• Participate in building a skilled and active community volunteer base
• Provide a location where guests can place formal complaints about local businesses.