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Field hockey player Ian Bird's post-Olympic life mixes sport, giving

Feb 24 2012

A week on the West Coast began with a visit to the Victoria Foundation for Ian Bird, who has led the 181-member Community Foundations of Canada since last May.

At 40, Bird looks not-too-far removed from the two-time Olympic field-hockey player he was in 1988 and 2000, but he will tell you otherwise.

"It feels like a lifetime ago now," he said, smiling.

As a former international athlete, though, the Vancouver native will bring a lot to a symposium in Richmond today dealing with sports and community philanthropy.

Finding more ways to combine the two has great promise, said Bird, who also has extensive experience with national sports groups like Coaches of Canada.

"That's why we're having this symposium, to look at the strengths of each system. Community philanthropy and foundations on the one hand have a series of strategies to make communities better, and then sport has this broad network of folks right throughout the community.

"Access issues, inclusion issues and newcomers are part of it. Sport's a vehicle which, after the family, is the next place that newcomers arriving in a community engage in community life."

A number of sports leaders and Minister of Community, Sport and Cultural Development Ida Chong will attend.

The latest visit to the capital region by the Ottawa-based Bird followed a stop here last year, during the Victoria Foundation's 75th-anniversary celebrations. At 75-and-counting, the Victoria organization is the second-oldest community foundation in Canada, and the sixth largest.

While there may be other foundations that are bigger, Bird said, Victoria has an enviable national profile.

"The Victoria Foundation's a real leader in the national movement."

The Victoria Foundation couldn't have started any smaller than it did, though, getting rolling with a $20 donation made in 1937 by Fannie Gadsden — mother of founder Burges Gadsden. From those humble roots, the foundation has gone on to grant over $100 million to groups around the region.

One of the Victoria Foundation's notable achievements in recent years has been the way it conducts the annual Vital Signs survey, Bird said. The survey, also done by 21 other foundations across the country, is a "community check-up" that looks at factors related to quality of life.

Community Foundations of Canada co-ordinates the overall effort.

"The Victoria Foundation has done a good job of making use of things like Vital Signs and being a leader in the community and bringing people together in the community," Bird said. "This is the norm here, to find these creative ways to make a difference."

The survey allows the foundation to provide knowledge resources to the region, he said, rather than the usual financial resources.

"Good partners like Island Savings have allowed them to distribute it more broadly and really make it a compelling publication every year. As a result, it gets used."

Cost of living and homelessness were listed as the region's top-two issues in the 2011 Vital Signs survey, while the natural environment and climate topped the list of best things about living here.

jwbell@timescolonist.com

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