The Rotary Club of Oak Bay honoured three people at its first Paul Harris Awards Dinner held at the Oak Bay Beach Hotel on Oct. 2.
The awards were presented by Rotary District Governor Michael Procter, club President Jim Force and Foundation Director Neil Rawnsley.
The three honourees included Maria Consalvo, a dental hygienist who regularly contributes her time, expertise and finances to the Guatemalan Dental Initiative and assists Rotarian Dr. John Snively with dental procedures; Paul Destrooper, Artistic Director of Ballet Victoria who is committed to strengthening the local artistic community and is particularly sensitive to the province’s diverse culture, and; Helen Hughes, who served 18 years as a Victoria city councillor and is a continuing tireless volunteer, community worker and champion of youth.
The Paul Harris Fellow recognition is the Rotary Foundation’s way of expressing its appreciation of a substantial contribution that an individual makes towards humanitarian causes. It is named after Paul Harris, a Chicago lawyer, who started Rotary with three business associates in 1905.
The Rotary Foundation authorizes Rotary Clubs throughout the world to make one Paul Harris Fellow award for every $1,000 US that the club members contribute to the Rotary Foundation from their own resources per annum.
Last year members of the Rotary Club of Oak Bay donated a generous sum just over $21,000 to the Rotary Foundation. The club’s cumulative donations over the past five years stand at $105,381.
“It’s a very distinguished honour to have,” said Hughes. “I have had friends and relatives that have been a part of Rotary clubs and my husband was a member of the Rotary club in Saskatoon, but I’ve never been involved myself.”
Hughes launched the Souper Bowls of Hope for the Victoria Youth Empowerment Society in support of its programs, some 17 years ago.
“To help youth 12 to 18 at risk. The ones who get into the wrong things or go down the wrong path. And to help when family difficulties arise. I feel strongly about helping that age group. They go through a lot of difficulties,” Hughes said.
A mother, grandmother and now a great grandmother, Hughes added that family is her priority. She is honoured to be the recipient of a Paul Harris award.
“It’s a marvellous honour and not one I had expected to receive,” she said.
Hughes has been honoured with many awards including: Queen’s silver, gold and diamond jubilee medal, member of the Order of Canada, Honorary Citizen of the City of Victoria, Honorary Doctor of Laws from four different universities.
Giving back to your community is a two-pronged affair, she said. “It helps the community. Everybody has some role in doing that. Also it’s good for me, myself and I and for all people as they become older – and even younger people.
“I was brought up to think of others. It makes life better for them and it’s the right thing to do.”
Destrooper, too, was surprised by the honour. “I was a bit taken aback because it is such a prestigious thing to be nominated to receive,” he said.
Since Destrooper took over Ballet Victoria in 2007, he has developed extensive outreach programs in a number of communities from Victoria to Ucluelet and onto the mainland.
“What I believe in, the ideology I believe in, for someone to notice is incredible,” he said.
Ballet Victoria brings dancers to schools around the province educating them on the art. “Basically to bring the performing arts and educational school performances to show them that ballet is not just the dusty old Nutcracker.”
To engage youth and give them options is as important to Destrooper as providing entertainment to the masses and to smaller groups who may not otherwise be able to afford or attend the ballet.
“All our dancers feel that way. The whole company feeds into that ideology and passion for the art and want to share it with everyone. Sometimes we have three generations in our audience and we are bridging the generation gap. It is all inclusive.”
After dancing for a decade with the Royal Winnipeg Ballet, the Alberta Ballet for two years and five years with the Oregon Ballet Theatre Destrooper made Victoria his permanent home and believes Ballet Victoria has a strong future in the community. “Victoria has a symphony, an opera, it should have a ballet company. It will definitely keep growing and, I hope, reach the status of an important company as other Canadian companies,” he said.
While not a public figure like her fellow award recipients, Maria Consalvo regularly contributes her time, expertise and finances to the Guatemalan Dental Initiative and assists Rotarian Dr. John Snively with dental procedures.
“I’ve done a lot of volunteering in my life and I always wanted to do something (that involved) another language,” said the multi-lingual dental assistant.
She began the project to assist those living in rural Guatemala access dental care. “We set up triage to see what they need, we do assessments and run a mobile dental clinic,” she said. She has been organizing the clinic, which runs for five weeks a year for the past three-and-a-half years. In order to travel, she takes her entire three weeks of holiday and two weeks of unpaid time. “It just feels good,” she said simply.
Consalvo also developed very close ties with some of the people in the village of San Antonio Palopo where the first clinic was set up. One particular little boy just barely escaped being smuggled home in her suitcase.
“When you give people the opportunity to have a healthy, happy smile or a healthy, happy lifestyle it’s extremely rewarding. I’m sure it’s said by all of us, that it’s just an amazing feeling that we are empowered to do this type of work.”
Extremely surprised by the award, Consalvo said she feels privileged to receive it. “It’s a great honour to be recognized in this way. I’m absolutely honoured.”