For Colleen, volunteering with the Caledon Hills Bruce Trail Club seemed like a natural choice.
Colleen Darrell: One of our 2015 Local Heroes
Art is often said to be a solitary pursuit. Too solitary at times for Erin stained-glass artist Colleen Darrell, who found herself longing for human contact. Her solution? Start volunteering as a way to get out of her studio and meet people.
For Colleen, volunteering with the Caledon Hills Bruce Trail Club seemed like a natural choice. After all, this hometown gal knew the trail well. Born in 1967, the year the trail officially opened, she grew up on the Forks of the Credit Road a stone’s throw from the trail, which she has hiked for as long as she can remember.
As a child she had even helped build the Trimble Trail, the 1.5-kilometre side trail linking the Belfountain Conservation Area and the Forks of the Credit. “My mother and I just saw them working and went over to help,” she says. The pair ended up lugging rocks to create a dry path across a muddy area.
Colleen, who also works as a part-time bookkeeper and volunteers with the Erin Trail Committee and Credit Valley Conservation, threw herself into the Caledon club’s work, and the Bruce Trail Conservancy recently named her the 2015 volunteer of the year. Given that the conservancy is made up of more than 1,250 volunteers from across the province, the honour is considerable. But when Colleen learned of the award, she modestly credited others, saying, “I’m appreciative, but there are so many others who are worthy.”
Over her years with the Caledon club, Colleen has taken on many jobs. In 2015, for example, she chaired a committee to encourage students to hike the trail, designed a new end-to-end badge, and entertained kids at Bruce Trail Day. She also organized the food for the conservancy’s annual meeting, which the Caledon club hosted in September.
But the work closest to her heart is her role as volunteer co-ordinator. Under her leadership, the Caledon club’s approximately 150 volunteers maintain about 112 kilometres of trail, enjoyed by thousands of hikers every year. The volunteers also stage special events such as the end-to-end hike which takes place every Thanksgiving weekend.
Colleen’s approach to volunteers stems in part from her own experience ten years ago. She had offered her services to a couple of organizations, but her only response was from Lynda Noppe, the Caledon club’s volunteer co-ordinator at the time.
“Lynda called me back right away,” Colleen says. “She was so helpful and thoughtful and so caring in trying to find a fit for me.” With Lynda’s support, she became actively involved right away and made many new friends.
Today, Colleen is inspired by Lynda’s example. When signing up volunteers she tries to get to know each, sussing out their needs, interests and abilities so she can make the best possible match to the jobs that need doing. “We usually hang out at the Higher Ground [a popular coffee shop in Belfountain],” she says.
Co-ordinating a diverse group of volunteers requires many skills, including leadership and flexibility, but it is Colleen’s matchmaking ability, along with her unassuming demeanour and infectious smile, that may be the key to keeping the club’s many volunteers active and excited about their work.