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LOCAL HERO: 16 years and counting for Okanagan emergency relief volunteer

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LOCAL HERO: 16 years and counting for Okanagan emergency relief volunteer – May 31, 2016

KELOWNA – Imagine waking up in the middle of the night because of a wildfire. It’s not because your home is at risk from the flames, but because you are needed to help the hundreds or even thousands of people who are evacuating their own homes. That’s what Catherine Williams has done, as a volunteer, for more than 16 years.

“To see someone come out of their home in their housecoat and they have nothing to go back to… by the end of your hour or two that you spend with them, you’ve got them a place to stay, you’ve got food, you’ve connected them with their families,” says Williams.

She says her motivation is simply helping people in need.

“It’s rewarding. It’s nice to actually help someone,” says Williams.

Williams is more than just an emergency social services volunteer, she’s also the leader of the pack.

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“She provides leadership to keep that group active and engaged,” says Kelowna Fire Department deputy chief, Travis Whiting.

Whiting, who works closely with Williams, says she’s also very reliable.

“When you pick up that phone in the middle of the night, we know she’s going to answer,” says Whiting.

It’s a sentiment that’s echoed by volunteer coordinator at Kelowna General Hospital (KGH), Kevin Andrews, where Williams also donates her time.

“We can get a hold of her day and night without question and say, ‘We are stuck, can you give us a hand?’” says Andrews.

Working in the intensive care unit at KGH, Williams guides people through the hospital and communicates with hospital staff. Many agree that she goes above and beyond.

“She will do whatever it takes in most cases to get people things they need and to make sure they are comfortable and dealt with in a compassionate, friendly manner,” says Andrews.

Williams worked at Okanagan College (OC) for 34 years, many of those years were spent working in occupational health and safety. She retired five years ago. The college didn’t let her go without recognizing her efforts. In 2012, she was presented with the distinguished service award at OC.

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“Catherine was a natural choice. I think, she represents how the college transforms lives and the community both in the work she’s done here as an employee but also the work she’s done in the community,” Okanagan College president Jim Hamilton told Global
News in a 2012 interview.

Williams, uncomfortable with the thought of taking any credit for her service, instead wants to put out a call to action.

“Any volunteer group, all of the volunteer groups in this town could always use help,” says Williams.

She encourages anyone who doesn’t already, to get out and volunteer.

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