Spirit of Revelstoke winners announced, featuring touching stories of charity

On Nov. 24, Community Futures Revelstoke announced the winners of the 2021 Spirit of Revelstoke Awards. Among those winners is Amal Alsowwan, a Syrian refugee who is sharing her culture through the Community Connections food bank.

Amal and Farhan Alsowwan at the Community Connections food bank before distrubtion on Nov. 24. Photo: Bailey Gingras-Hamilton

Community Futures Revelstoke announced the Spirit of Revelstoke Award winners this week, celebrating dedicated local volunteers from a diverse range of backgrounds. 

While many notable volunteers are nominated each year, one recipient has made a big impact in this community in a short period of time.

Amal Alsowwan, who is being recognized for her volunteer work with the Community Connections food bank, came to Revelstoke in 2019. After being displaced by the conflict in Syria for several years, she arrived in Revelstoke alongside her husband Farhan Alsowwan and their two sons, Hamza and Mohammed.

“I know that Amal goes out of her way to show her culture to those that she works with at the food bank,” said Mayor Gary Sulz in his dedication speech.

As Amal explains, volunteering is her way of saying “thank you” to the community that welcomed her family with overwhelming support in 2019.

The cultural significance of charity

At the Community Connections Outreach Centre, I met with Amal to talk about volunteering and her recent accomplishment.

Our conversation was aided by a translation app on Amal’s phone, peppered with unassisted answers that demonstrate her growing vocabulary. The food bank has given Amal more opportunities to practice her English, she says.

When asked about her reaction to receiving the award, Amal’s eyes light up with a sense of joy. Despite using translation software, Amal is an animated speaker.

“It was a very wonderful thing for me,” she says, nodding and accenting her phone’s translation with words of confirmation. “I promised myself that as long as I live in Canada, I will volunteer.”

Spirit of Revelstoke Award-winner Amal Alsowwan excitedly takes position distributing dairy, an adored past time for the food bank volunteer. Photo: Bailey Gingras-Hamilton

“They [Revelstoke] welcomed me and made me one of them in their community,” says Amal. “I must return the favour.”

Volunteering is an integral part of Syrian culture and Muslim values, Amal elaborates. Acts of charity are one of the five pillars of Islam, according to the Quran.

As taste buds are universal, food is one way that Amal overcomes language barriers to share her culture. As we discuss different Arabic dishes, Amal notices my excitement when she mentions tabbouleh.

“Come over to my house!” Amal exclaims enthusiastically, filling a quiet area of the food bank with laughter. The exchange is a powerful example of how flavour connects us, and Syrian culture is no exception. Welcoming others to share a meal is a common gesture, Amal says.

Thanks to the recent Community Connections food bank expansion, Amal will soon have access to a larger kitchen for sharing her cuisine.

Beyond volunteering with the food bank, Amal hopes to attend culinary school to “get more people involved with” Arabic flavours and culture. However, the simple interactions that Amal shares as she exchanges food leave the largest impression.

“When I see their smiles, [it] washes away all the worries in my heart,” she says, adding that these moments share universal meaning beyond language barriers. “[Volunteering] is a big part of my life.”

Stacks of produce provide a pop of colour during food bank distribution. Photo: Bailey Gingras-Hamilton

The Spirit of Revelstoke 2021 Award Winners

Beyond Amal Alsowwan’s touching story, Community Futures Revelstoke highlights the contributions of thirty local volunteers.

This year’s Spirit of Revelstoke 2021 Award recipients are:

Bill Beard, for helping others with shopping and errands throughout the pandemic.

Jaxon Renyard, age nine, for his fundraising and volunteer work with the food bank.

Charlotte Sit, for her contributions to the Revelstoke Cycling Association.

Emily Wright, for starting the Ascent Mentorship Program.

Lavina Coburn, who received twelve nominations for her work at the Revelstoke Humane Society.

Kate Roberts, for her work with the Revelstoke Snowboard Club.

Patrick Edmond, for his dedication to the Soup and Smile program.

Sandy Thygesen, for the compassion and charm she brings to the Revelstoke Hospice Society.

Sasha Ruttan, for going above and beyond at the Selkirk Saddle Club.

Nancy Jensen, for over 20 years of volunteering with Girl Guides.

Chris Bostock and Clarke Traverse, co-presidents of the Rotary Club.

Francine Lanoie, for her compassionate approach to palliative care and hospice.

Linda Dickson, for bringing community awareness to the Revelstoke Foundation.

Micayla Macintosh, age ten, for enthusiastically volunteering twice a week at the Okanagan Regional Library Revelstoke Branch.

Sarah Erikson, for her work with Guerilla Gigs and LUNA Festival.

Bob Dickson, for his dedication to Art Alleries during the LUNA Festival.

Brendan Macintosh, for his work with the Revelstoke Nordic Ski Club.

Bill Shuttleworth, for his work with Meals on Wheels and the Adult Basic Education program.

Tanya Secord, for her work with the Selkirk Saddle Club, the Revelstoke Skating Club, and the Revelstoke Acrobats.

Eric Dafoe, for his contributions to the Climbers Access Society.

Tyler Maki, for his work with the Revelstoke Chamber of Commerce and the Revelstoke Grizzlies.

Sab Werner, for contributions to the Revelstoke Idea Factory.

Garry Resvick, for his work with Revelstoke Ducks Unlimited and the St. Francis Catholic Church.

Doug Trask, for helping neighbours with yard work and singing the Canadian national anthem for the Grizzlies.

Inga Anhorn, for over 30 years of volunteering with the Revelstoke Hospital Auxiliary Society and thrift store.

Aaron Orlando, for his work with the Stoke FM Radio Society and assistance with grant writing support.

Marquie Murphy, for stepping up as president of the Stoke FM Radio Society.

Barb Wadey, for her commitment as a board member at the BC Interior Forestry Museum.

Mayor Gary Sulz and Shannon Van Goor, Chair of Community Futures Revelstoke, named the winners in a Nov. 24 YouTube announcement. Since 2012, the Spirit of Revelstoke Awards has aimed to promote volunteering in the community. Community Futures Revelstoke hosts the initiative using anonymous online nominations.

Watch the Spirit of Revelstoke 2021 announcement here:

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Bailey Gingras-Hamilton is a recent graduate of the Mount Royal University Journalism program, where she developed an interest in current events and social issues. As a chronically curious individual, she enjoys exploring new places, cuisines, and cultures.