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University honours community stalwart

Jan 15 2012

Recreation Integration Victoria has been enriching the lives of people with mental and physical challenges for more than two decades and the University of Victoria has played an important role all along the way.

The enduring relationship has earned RIV the honour of being UVic's 2011 Co-operative Education Employer of the Year, in recognition of all it has done to give students on-the-job experience.

The UVic Co-op Program provides students in a wide range of academic pursuits - from anthropology to engineering to political science - an opportunity to learn beyond the classroom while also earning a wage.

UVic has sent 63 Co-op students to RIV over the years and has had a total of 165 students involved with various types of work experience at the organization.

"We've had everything from geography and biology to students from the school of social work and child and youth care, as well," said RIV executive director Doug Nutting. "We utilize a lot of UVic employees and volunteers, as well as general volunteers from the community, for varying lengths of time.

"Our Co-op students typically work three to four months, but we have had students who have done eight months in a Co-op with us or who have come back for a second Co-op experience. They might do

work in the field in the summer with children and youth, and then come back with another position we set up with them."

Nutting said the connection with UVic goes back to before RIV was formed.

"I started in January 1988 [with Integrated Recreation Services] and we took our first Co-op student the following summer."

RIV was formed in 1990 when Nutting's group joined forces with the Victoria Integration Society, formerly the Victoria Handicapped Recreation Society.

The clientele for RIV includes both youth and adults, with funding coming from the municipalities of Esquimalt, Oak Bay, Saanich and Victoria, the Peninsula Recreation Commission and the West Shore Parks and Recreation Society.

"The people we serve are usually school-age and older," Nutting said, adding there are people in their 90s in some cases.

UVic employees and others at RIV take the clients on community outings, accompany them during recreation activities and help with life skills. RIV also has an affiliation with the Disabled Sailing Association of B.C.

"It's about facilitating an active lifestyle," Nutting said of RIV. "We really think that people who have an active lifestyle have an improved quality of life.

"And we provide a range of services so not everybody is dependent on coming to us for a volunteer."

Still, RIV has about 85 volunteer placements and an equal number of volunteer positions waiting to be filled.

"And we have over 2,700 people on our database," Nutting said.

He said every effort is made to match volunteers and clients by both gender and age.

Being recognized as a top Co-op employer by UVic is a pleasant surprise, he said, particularly since more than 1,200 employers are involved in Co-op placements each year.

"Given that range of selection, it's quite a compliment to the organization."

The Co-op program's Joy Poliquin said the employer award is being resurrected after an absence of a few years. She said there is a broad base of employers taking part.

"It is a really wide range of employers, and some of them, of course, are local.

Some of them are across Canada, and there's international employers, too. It's quite a large number of folks who help make our program possible by hiring our students.

"It's open to students from almost every academic discipline. Students want to get out there in the community and put their academic skills into practice before they graduate and get a sense of the possibilities."

The award will be presented at a reception on Jan. 24. To inquire about becoming an RIV volunteer, you can call Nutting at 250-477-6314 or email dnutting@rivonline.org.

STAR SEARCH HITS A HIGH NOTE

The final of Island Star Search hits the McPherson Playhouse stage Jan. 23 at 7 p.m.

Talented local singers will be vying for the championship trophy and other prizes, while Diane Pancel will also be performing. The evening is presented by Re/Max and is a fundraiser for Community Living Victoria.

Tickets are $24 and are available at rmts.bc.ca or by calling 250-386-6121.

STUDENTS TALK ABOUT HOLOCAUST

The University of Victoria invited 50 middle-school students to the campus Friday to discuss the horrors of the Holocaust.

The event, co-ordinated by professor Helga Thorson of UVic's I-witness Holocaust Field School, followed last weekend's public vigil at Victoria's Emanu-El Jewish Cemetery.

The vigil was held in reaction to the desecration of five headstones at the historic burial site.

Eight students who have been part of the unique I-witness Holocaust Field School led the group from North Saanich Middle School through the discussion.

The field school was launched in 2011 and will hold its second session this spring.

UVic will also be starting a Holocaust Speakers' Series on Jan. 27, which is International Holocaust Remembrance Day.

The series will feature the stories of local Holocaust survivors and is being held in partnership with the Victoria Holocaust Remembrance and Education Society.

RECOGNITION FOR BRAVE ISLANDERS

Vancouver Island has an impressive roster of heroes who earned national honours in 2011.

All were presented with Medals of Bravery in ceremonies at Rideau Hall, presided over by Gov. Gen. David Johnston, along with others from across the country.

Among the winners was Chad Verch, a Victoria firefighter who is credited with saving three people from drowning while on vacation in Punta de Mita, Mexico, in 2008.

He first helped a lifeguard trying to get an elderly woman onto the safety of his surfboard, then accompanied another lifeguard back into the water to rescue two more tourists struggling in heavy waves.

William Watt and Warren Miller of Victoria, Jared Gagen of Cobble Hill, Edward Stirling of Ladysmith and Art Unruh of Abbotsford were all recognized for helping a fellow fisherman who was attacked by a black bear in Port Renfrew in 2008.

The bear had climbed onto the man's boat, and the men rushed over and hit the animal until it let the man go.

Nanaimo residents Brent Blackmore and Glen Watts were joined by Vancouver's Michael Anderson and offduty Terrace RCMP Const.

Shane Nicoll in 2008 in a valiant attempt to save a man whose car had plunged into Nanaimo's Millstone River.

The men braved the frigid water and got into the car by breaking a window with a rock, but the man died.

jwbell@timescolonist.com

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