Graham Vanstone was only 15 years old when he started with the Ridge Meadows Home Show.
He was a Grade 9 student at Maple Ridge secondary and was thinking ahead to graduation. He knew he needed volunteer hours to graduate and thought, ‘Why not start now?’
So in 1996, he joined the student volunteer program.
Cass Winder, the Home Show’s executive director, remembers Vanstone being eager to join the team. And ambitious.
“When I asked Graham what he wanted to do he said, ‘I want your job.’”
She put him to work, beside her, so he could learn the ropes.
Now, more than 20 years later, he is poised to take over one of the largest home shows in the country. And he is quick to credit the show’s student volunteer program for its success.
When Vanstone started, he was among 20 to 25 students who volunteered their time. Today, the program usually attracts 120 to 150 students, all looking to fill their volunteer hours in any of the six Home Show departments that require help.
All of the department heads except for one are former students.
“They take vacation from work and they come back and they work with the students and the whole mentorship program continues,” said Vanstone.
Jhammi-Leigh Gunnarsen started at the Home Show seven years ago, when she was 14, helping with parking. Now she is the student management coordinator and flies in from out-of-town to do the job because of her strong work ethic and her knowledge of the ins and outs of the show.
She coordinates all student services in addition to staging or setting up the grounds, garbage and recycling and taking care of anything that needs to be set up beforehand.
“I kind of have my fingers in everything,” said Gunnarsen.
The past couple of years, Gunnarsen has found student recruitment to be challenging.
“My first beginning years, we were getting 150 kids easily and having to turn some away, and now we have 20,” said Gunnarsen.
“School District 42 ended up changing their grad requirements, so they only need 30 hours of work experience or volunteer and a lot of students now are going for jobs,” explained the long-time volunteer.
“I know this has happened throughout the whole community, like with Country Fest, any one of us who is trying to reach out to the community to have student volunteers, it is getting hard,” she said.
Still, Gunnarsen plans to go to schools and talk to students one-on-one and reach out to more community groups, including cadets.
Both Vanstone and Gunnarsen point out, with six departments, students can usually find one that suits them.
“We have students who cook the food for all of our student volunteers and adult volunteers. Hosting, if you like to be an upfront kind of person, a meeter-and-greeter at the show, as we say,” continued Gunnarsen..
They need people to help with the food trucks, the grounds, garbage, recycling and parking. Volunteers are needed to get exhibitors from outside to inside the buildings. Volunteers can also help out in the Fun Zone or the dog show.
The Home Show also helps with references for students looking for work.
Vanstone is currently project coordinator for the show and gets to make decisions about where the show is going and put his own spin on things.
Winder is fully confident the Ridge Meadows Home Show will be in the best possible hands when she eventually passes on the baton.
“I’m happy to defer to Graham, he is a good problem solver. He’s always calm under pressure,” she said.
Vanstone says he has enjoyed seeing the progression of the show over the years and watching the community of Maple Ridge grow.
“It’s been a complete evolution from where we were in 1996 in the two buildings uptown to where we are now.”
He is hopeful that, in two years, the show will have a fourth building as a venue to allow for seminar stages.
“Design seminars or do-it-yourself seminars or wellness so people can learn about the latest and greatest things in non-surgical face lifts or whatever people are interested in. It would allow us the room to do that,” said Vanstone.
And, if the community keeps growing the way it is, Vanstone is hoping Maple Ridge will be able to build a convention centre, something similar to Tradex in Abbotsford.
“We can be the largest Home Show in B.C.,” said Vanstone.
“That’s my goal. That’s my dream. To see this as the largest community run non-profit Home Show in B.C. or western Canada.”