Donna Barnett can’t stop giving to the community.
Over the years, the former MLA and 100 Mile mayor has been a member of 30 different community organizations. Since retiring as Cariboo-Chilcotin MLA last year, she has served as the South Cariboo Chamber of Commerce’s temporary chamber manager, lent a hand to the 100 Mile House and District Historical Society, flipped burgers for the 100 Mile Wranglers’ fundraisers and filled out paperwork for wildfire victims at the Cariboo Regional District’s ESS.
“Volunteering gives me satisfaction. John F. Kennedy said ‘ask not what your country can do for you but what you can do for your country.’ It’s the same thing here – ask not what your community can do for you but what you can do for your community,” Barnett said. “I’m doing this for the betterment of all, not for me – for all.”
Barnett notes many of the region’s facilities – from the South Cariboo Recreation Centre to the 99 Mile Recreation Site, 100 Mile House Soccer Fields, South Cariboo Visitor Centre, Gold Rush Snowmobile Trail and the 100 Mile Community Hall – were built by volunteers.
And she has been among them since she first arrived in the Cariboo in 1967, with her husband Jack, two young children and no money to spare. The family settled on 240 acres in 96 Mile, where Jack built them a home on what is now called Barnett Road. Barnett told Jack she’d give the South Cariboo a year; she’s still here 54 years later.
Helping each other out was a way of life and part of community-building, she said.
“It was all done with volunteers. Everything was volunteer-built,” she said. “No government funds, no nothing, the community just came together. I can remember on weekends when we were building some of these facilities that everyone came on a Sunday with your rake, hoe or a tractor to pick rocks.”
However, as those volunteers start to age, Barnett worries for the future, which is partly why she is still lending a hand. She said she would love to see the South Cariboo rebuild its volunteer core with younger volunteers, strengthening not only the volunteer groups themselves but introducing new visions for the future.
“I think we need to get back to building strong communities through these community organizations,” Barnett said. “So many of these organizations need help, financial to some extent, but a lot of the time it’s just bodies. We’re getting a little older, some of us, and we need a lot of young people who have the energy to come along and take over.”
Barnett is planning a Community Appreciation Day for local volunteers and firefighters in Centennial Park. The date is yet to be announced due to COVID restrictions. She also wants to establish a museum in 100 Mile House, preferably in the Lodge building, to preserve the area’s rich history.
“There’s so much history around here and so many stories to be told and it would be nice if people who still remember these stories had a place to tell them,” Barnett said. “My fear is if we don’t do something soon we’ll lose that history.”
Barnett encourages anyone interested in volunteering to call her at the chamber office at 250-395-6124.