She fills the community centre with her energy and her heart.
That’s how Charlene Boutilier describes Debby Meier’s importance to Dartmouth's North Woodside Community Centre.
“She’s the epitome of a true volunteer. She loves this place and you see it in her every day actions,” said Boutilier, the centre’s volunteer services coordinator.
“You feel the community character of the place when you walk in the door, and she helped build that from the ground up. There’s a reason we see more than 300 people a day through our door. Her energy is here. Her heart is here.”
Meier attended North Woodside when it was a school. Before her daughter could start there in the early 1990s, it was slated for closure. After participating in and losing the battle to keep the school open, Meier joined the steering committee to turn it into a community centre.
“We won and none of us knew what we were doing and so we said someone has to chair and be a volunteer and so I volunteered to be the chairperson of the association that became the North Woodside Community Centre,” Meier recalled.
With no staff or funds, they found a daycare and Habitat for Humanity to become the first anchor tenants.
“The first five years we had no money. We had a $3,000 operating budget,” she recalled.
“There were 12 of us on the board at the time and I was everything from janitor to the clerk to the tenants committee to the programming committee.”
As Meier gives a tour of the bustling facility, she points out regular tenants and proudly highlights the varied events and programming that take place at the centre.
Meier volunteered as the centre’s chairwoman for the first eight years. She eventually became the part-time manager. She said she’s not the only one who donates time to the centre and wanted to give credit to everyone.
“We don’t have a big staff budget so we all work part time as staff and then the other 50 per cent of the time, we volunteer,” she said.
“Everybody that’s here has a big heart. And I have a database of anywhere from 50 to 75 people. We wouldn’t be able to do anything without them.”
Meier said the centre is so busy and in such high demand they’ve been fundraising for the past five years to renovate and expand. She wanted to use her opportunity as a Halifax Hero to encourage any would-be corporate sponsors to step forward.
“We’re very proud of the place. I just love it here. There’s nowhere else you can come and meet so many great people,” she said.
“It’s my passion. It’s like my own personal playground here, and every volunteer who comes here feels the same way. When you come here. it’s like you’re coming home.”