Volunteer spirit burns on campus and beyond

By Leslie Kostal
January 10, 2013

STAFF_zupancicAdela Talbot, Western News file photo


Bev Zupancic convinced her son to change his plans. And it turned into a moment she would never forget.

Four or so years ago, her son, 15 at the time, was eyeing a trip to Quebec with friends, when his mom pitched the idea of the pair joining a Habitat for Humanity project in the Dominican Republic. Her son accepted.

“It was the hardest work that I have ever done in my life,” said Zupancic, a financial services officer in the Registrar’s Office. “You’re digging in the ground with a pick and you’re stirring cement with a stick.”

She treasures that experience with her son. His understanding that helping others trumped a trip with friends warms her heart to this day.

“I’m really committed and passionate about making a difference,” she said. 

From a young age, Zupancic has been keen to volunteer in her community. She has organized functions such as Relay for Life for the Canadian Cancer Society and, currently, helps her daughter serve meals at the Ark Aid Mission in downtown London.

Last year, she decided to join Western’s Alternative Spring Break. Although the program offered warm climate destinations, she chose Winnipeg.

“I wanted to do something in my community or country,” she said.

Along with another staff member, she led a group of students to work with the Siloam Mission, a non-profit, community-based organization serving as a food distribution and training centre.

“I really wanted the opportunity to connect with some of the patrons,” she said.  “Our very first day, we served 450 meals.” 

Although the homeless population and poverty in Winnipeg is huge, the problems are the same as everywhere.

“There was this one gentleman I ended up chatting with on a couple of different occasions when I was cleaning up the plates. We had a little bit of conversation, never got into too much detail. But when I went to pick up his plate, he sort of grabbed it from the other side,” she said.

As tears welled in her eyes, Zupancic claimed that this approximately 55 year-old man looked up at her. “Thank you for not giving up on me,” he said.

From their conversation, she understood his situation had likely been unchanged for many years. “What I’ve learned about a lot of these individuals – they just want somebody to talk to,” she said.

Zupancic also believes that a life event can change one’s outlook to give back or make a difference. She spoke about an 18-year-old, legally able to make decisions, returning to his own family from foster care. Sadly, the circle of alcoholism and drug abuse surrounding his birthplace resurfaced and, as an adult, he quickly mirrored his own family history.

Zupancic witnessed how the mission in Winnipeg changed his outlook. Now acting as a mentor at the same facility, “you could just tell that he loves what he does,” she said. 

Zupancic would love to see more people involved in volunteering activities.

“I don’t know, it may be something that you’re born with,” she said. “I’ve been volunteering for a while and I do see the same people doing it over and over again. It’s the same group of people every year.”

Zupancic’s interest in helping others has turned to passion. From August to December, she served as Western’s 2012 United Way sponsored employee. A friend’s past experience in the same role made the prospect tempting. Adding to her own professional development and investigating different ways to volunteer gives her the satisfaction of making a difference.

In that role, she gave talks and met with employee campaign coordinators to discuss goals and special events. She met with other volunteers to find out what was working, what wasn’t and, enthusiastically, advocated for a program she believes is exceptionally accountable, effective and efficient.

At the same time, she’s come to learn a lot about the needs in her own city where one in five children live in poverty and one in five will face a mental health issue.

According to Zupancic, serving as a sponsored employee in her 26th year at Western has been an outstanding opportunity.

“I’ve met some amazing people that work in the (United Way) programs and I really got to see a lot of compassionate, caring people.”

Leslie Kostal, web administrative assistant, Department of Economics, writes periodic pieces profiling Western staff members. If you, or someone you know, has an interesting story to tell, please email her at Leslie.Kostal@uwo.ca.


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