Pugwash’s Norene Smiley, right, travelled to Ottawa recently to attend a ceremony where she was presented the Sovereign’s Medal for Volunteers by Governor General Julie Payette. Smiley has been volunteering in the village since moving to the area in 2007 in a number of capacities, including Pugwash Communities in Bloom. Sgt Johanie Maheu, Rideau Hall © OSGG, 2019

PUGWASH – In rural communities, it’s not uncommon to see people volunteering in a variety of capacities.

One of those such people in Pugwash is Norene Smiley, who was just recognized with a national award – the Sovereign’s Medal for Volunteers.

“Especially in small rural communities, volunteering is essential,” said Smiley, who moved to Pugwash with her husband in 2007. “In Pugwash, if you added up the volunteer organizations, there is around 40. A lot of people are in many of those organizations. It’s very hard for small communities to do what they do without a volunteer base. It’s impossible really.”

The Sovereign’s Medal for Volunteers recognizes the volunteer achievements of Canadians in a wide range of fields. It pays tribute to the dedication and exemplary commitment of volunteers. In the citation about Smiley, it says she’s well-known for her “creativity, innovation, and love for new projects.”

Throughout her time in Pugwash, Smiley has been involved with a number of organizations, such as Writing on Fire (which she co-founded in 2013 after meeting others at Read by the Sea with the same interest), and the Friends of the Pugwash Library. These days, however, she’s pared it down to the Pugwash Communities in Bloom (CIB).

“The irony of it is I’m not much of a gardener,” Smiley admitted, “but I like their attitude. They are very positive and there is no real political agenda. It’s very task-oriented.”

When Smiley moved to the area, she operated the Chatterbox Café. The previous owner had been involved with CIB, which is how Smiley became involved.

She’s not much for meetings, so Smiley tends to drift toward project-based things for CIB.

As the Peace Ground at Eaton Park was being created by Louise Cloutier, Smiley offered her assistance then, helping around the edges.

“It was a magnificent thing – really the icing on the cake – seeing those kids coming down through the Peace March,” she said.

Learning she had been nominated for the Sovereign’s Medal for Volunteers, which was presented by Governor General Julie Payette during a special ceremony in Ottawa, Smiley said she felt important to accept it. Those who have been nominated have the option to decline acceptance.

“Some people are embarrassed about it. And, honestly, there are an awful lot of volunteers around that are deserving of this,” she said.

At the ceremony, all provinces and territories were represented with volunteer award winners. Smiley said there’s a nomination jury involved in deciding who receives the award, and once approved, the award is presented within two years.

“There ceremony was pretty cool, I have to say. They really made sure all the age groups were represented, and from all walks of life.”

Smiley said she thought she was being asked to participate in a jury of sorts when she received the call about the award, so she was surprised to learn she was to receive the medal.

“One fellow sitting next to me had said, ‘I think it’s important to agree to accept an award like this because it shows the importance of volunteering.’ And I completely agree. I do think it’s important to accept it as it can encourage people to volunteer.”

Norene Smiley co-founded Writing on Fire in 2013 and is pictured at one of the workshops held in River John over the years. The organization works with local teenagers who have a passion for writing. Submitted photo

While at the ceremony, Smiley said those in attendance were encouraged to nominate others for the medal.

“As I was coming back, I could think of about 10 people in the area I could nominate for this, and another 10 in other parts of the province. I think I will follow that through,” she said.

On the local level, CIB and the Pugwash Village Commission recognize volunteer work regularly.

“I found those kinds of things mean a lot to people, to be thanked,” she said.

Even a letter and certification can go a long way.

“It’s something really simple but it’s amazing how people perceive it. It’s such a little thing, but people are so pleased somebody thanked them. It might be for taking their neighbour’s garbage out for the last 10 years because they’re unable to, so something like that,” she said.

Along with the Sovereign’s Medal for Volunteers, the ceremony included recognition of the Meritorious Service Decoration (Civil Division), and a Decoration for Bravery.

More information can be found on the Governor General’s website at www.gg.ca.