Whether at work or at play, Chantal Brodeur’s focus is on community. A graduate of the University of Ottawa, where she obtained a degree in Communications: Marketing and Public Relations, she went on to work after graduation for the city of Ottawa in community development – non-profit housing and city planning. It was also at this time that Chantal was introduced to the Special Olympics. A self-confessed solitary person, at first, Chantal wasn’t sure volunteering for this organization would suit her personality. She had been playing amateur softball and was invited to umpire for a Special Olympics game. She was told it would be fun.
“I went and it changed my perspective on belonging,” she says. “Through Special Olympics you become part of the community.”
Chantal clarifies that Special Olympics is not a singular event – it is an organization that encourages individuals with intellectual disabilities to participate in sports, recreation and competition, year-round. There are six regions in BC, and Victoria has over 200 participants who range in age from seven years old up to almost 70. Nineteen different activities are offered that include bowling, swimming, rhythmic gymnastics, softball and bocce. In softball alone, there are four different levels of ability. Because of the variety of activities, Chantal asserts that volunteers don’t have to be sports oriented, they just have to want to help.
When Chantal’s position in Ottawa became redundant, she thought about coming to Victoria where her sister Johanne was already residing. She obtained a position with Volunteer Victoria, working again in community development, but this time with a focus on volunteer management. After that, she worked for a short while for the Monterey Centre, Recreation Oak Bay. She then returned to government, working for the Residential Tenancy Branch of the BC government, then to the Francophone Affairs Program, Intergovernmental Relations Secretariat, where she manages the Canada–British Columbia Official Languages Agreement on French-Language Services.
“I went full circle,” says Chantal, “landing back into my passion for community development, this time serving French-speaking British Columbians.”
Now, at 56, Chantal is a volunteer with Victoria’s Special Olympics, where she can combine her love of sports with her passion for community involvement.
Indeed, she has come full circle: growing up in Quebec where her parents owned and operated a hotel, she was introduced, at a young age, to the idea that people with special needs could have many abilities. Her mother continued to work after having been disabled in an accident, and her parents would hire people with special needs to work at the hotel. Fortunately, too, an uncle recognized that Chantal needed team sports, and she began playing softball, ringette and soccer.
Most recently, she coached the Bocce team from April to June this year and continues to be involved with the Special Olympics organization that she says, provides a sense of community through sport, and a place that is “safe, with a sense of belonging.” Participants do not need to have prior experience in the activity of their choice, and she has seen some athletes stay with a program for 10 years. She has observed that the activities increase skills, and provide a sense of accomplishment.
There is also a strong sense of fair play. In track and field, for example, there is no segregation and participants are encouraged to go to the World Games.
“It is not,” says Chantal, “about who is the fastest.”
Volunteering for Special Olympics keeps you very busy, she says. There is a large turnover of volunteers and for new volunteers, the volunteer coordinator provides a training program that focuses on how to work with vulnerable clients, tolerance and teaching social skills.
“You learn as you go,” Chantal observes, adding that the key to volunteerism, is “there has to be something in it for you.” Still, she believes everyone has something to give.
Special Olympics Victoria is a non-profit organization that relies on volunteers and fundraising through such activities as bottle drives, dance-a-thons, swim-a-thons and donations to pay for uniforms, travel, venue rental and sports equipment. To find out more, visit www.victoriaolypmics.com