BERWICK, N.S. - There’s a reason Rollie Zwicker lights up when he talks about what it means to be a Shriner.
“We’re after helping the children that need the help and that’s not only a monetary thing, it’s a psychological thing and a physical thing. Being a Shriner is a way of life. It’s something you’re dedicated to and you commit yourself to – and you believe in it,” the Berwick resident said in a recent interview.
“And once you do that, it’s everything.”
Zwicker, an executive member of the Western Valley Shrine Club, volunteers as a hospital committee representative for the charitable organization. He regularly reviews applications for assistance, and loves playing a part in matching children with the hospital care they desperately need.
“What I find very rewarding is when you see the results of one of these children coming back from the hospital – that says it all,” said Zwicker.
A former scouting leader and minor hockey volunteer, Zwicker joined his local Shrine Club in 1993 as a way of continuing to make a difference in the lives of children and youth.
There are 22 Shriners Hospitals for Children across North America. The organization focuses on assisting children in need of hospital attention for burns, cleft paletes, orthopedic surgery and spina bifida, Zwicker said.
“We have a state-of-the-art hospital in Montreal… and we have some of the finest surgeons and medical staff… in the world,” he said.
“The most rewarding thing to do is to see a child go to the hospital.”
Western Valley Shrine Club president Ron Walker shares Zwicker’s passion for the work they do as Shriners.
“It makes me feel good to help,” the Aylesford resident said.
A retired teacher and former scouting leader, Walker felt Shriners was a natural fit for him when he started having more time for volunteer work. He joined in 1992 and hasn’t looked back since.
Walker remembers visiting a Shrine hospital in the United States and watching doctors work with kids that were learning how to walk properly. He’s personally seen kids who once used wheelchairs progress to the point that they’re able to eventually walk down the hallways in school.
“That makes it worthwhile,” he said. “All the funds go to support the kids.”
The Shriners are, perhaps, best known around here for their entertaining parade entries throughout the Annapolis Valley. Members can often be seen driving small motorized vehicles, or greeting crowds as charismatic costumed characters.
“We all own our own toys. We all pay for our own toys,” said Walker, referring to the vehicles used in parades.
This type of awareness work is fitting for an organization that is all about having fun while helping kids, Zwicker said.
He particularly enjoys greeting kids lining the parade routes from inside of the fan-favourite motorized tugboat that was designed and donated by a late Shriner.
“It’s quite exhilarating to see the kids, especially when a lot of them don’t know what to expect,” said Zwicker.
“We just have fun with it.”
Contact Ron Walker at 902-848-6612 or firstname.lastname@example.org for more information about how to support, or get involved with, the Western Valley Shrine Club.
The Western Valley Shrine Club will be hosting its annual ticket auction fundraiser at the Kingston Fire Hall Oct. 20 from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. The proceeds will support children’s hospitals.