The St. Paul and District Arts Foundation was awarded Northern Lights Volunteer Recognition by the Government of Alberta on February 23.

“Volunteers have collectively donated thousands of hours, calling upon their creativity to organize fundraisers despite the COVID pandemic,” reads the official citation. “One such effort saw volunteers growing and donating plants to raise funds for youth programs in the community. The team of innovative volunteers also came together to run two virtual performances in the community, provide technical support to instructors offering programming virtually to youth in the community, and cleaning support spaces daily, ensuring continued access to the arts for St. Paul and area residents. 

“And when not providing entertainment options for neighbours, the Foundation supported efforts to provide Covid screening.”

Foundation treasurer Valerie Pratch said volunteers are vitally important to the organization and to the community as a whole.

“When you have really good volunteers at the table, it pushes your organization and then it pushes the rest of your community as well,” she said.

The Covid pandemic presented obstacles and challenges, but Pratch said it offered opportunities as well. “I think there were some very positive things out of Covid for the foundation,” she said.

“They stayed open, according to the pandemic rules. And they became very creative on how instructors were able to deliver programs virtually, for the first time ever. That’s not what they originally signed up for, that’s not what their vision was. But they were amazing in the way they came to the table to make those classes happen.”

The St. Paul group also used the opportunity to build a more robust organizational structure. They worked with the Rosza Foundation, which offers support and advocacy for Alberta arts groups; the Hatlie Group, which advises nonprofits on governance matters; and the provincial government.

“Together with our organization and the volunteers, we came out of it with a sustainability plan and governance manual, which was huge for us,” Pratch said. “Those things don’t happen unless you have volunteers at the table giving input.”

The Northern Lights Volunteer Recognition includes a writeup on the Alberta government website and a letter from the Minister of Culture. Pratch said the foundation and its volunteers are grateful for the recognition from the provincial government. 

“[We’re] entering into our 10th year,” she said. “it’s an organization that has established itself in not only St. Paul, but just recently with The Nutcracker involved organizations all the way down to Calgary.  I think they’re just extremely grateful to be recognized for the effort that they put forth.”