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All types of helping hands (& paws) recognized during National Volunteer Week

Vancouver, BC—Many people volunteer in pairs, but Rodger Konkle, one of Union Gospel Mission New Westminster’s faithful volunteers, found himself an especially unusual matchup. Knowing the value of canine companions, Konkle has enlisted the help of his dogs to keep spirits high at UGM. While Konkle is one of over 4,000 UGM volunteers, his contribution and commitment is exceptional and deserving of recognition for National Volunteer Week, April 12 to 18.

Konkle, a retired government worker and recovering alcoholic, is a familiar and smiling face at Union Gospel Mission New Westminster. For six years running, he has arrived five days a week at 7:00 am, to prepare and serve over 150 hot breakfasts and 200 bowls of lunchtime soup to guests. Until her passing last October, Konkle’s faithful sidekick Isla joined, shared her counseling talents as an unofficial therapy dog for the guests of the Mission.

Seven years ago, Konkle says he was purposeless, struggling to stay clean and to just get up every morning. One day he emerged from an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting in New Westminster, took a wrong turn, and found himself at the doors of UGM. He decided on the spot to volunteer.

“Volunteering at UGM gives me purpose that I didn’t have before,” he says. “When I was recovering from alcoholism, I didn’t want to get up in the morning. Today, I’m at peace with myself. I sincerely love interacting with people and showing them that they are loved.”

That desire to show people they are loved manifested in more than just his own service. When Konkle discovered how positively people responded to Isla’s patient listening and canine affection, the golden lab also became a part of the volunteer team at UGM.

“Isla was a great listener. People would sit down on a curb, tears coming down their face, share their story with her, and she would listen. If you talked to her, she would cock her head.”

So when Isla passed, Konkle was certain her presence was something that couldn’t be lost. After exploring the options, he applied to receive a rescue dog from Taiwan, and in two weeks Charlie showed up on his doorstep: skinny, scared, chafed, covered in scars, and skittish.

“It’s a big change, coming all this way,” explains Konkle. “He had to get used to new food, new surroundings, new people. He even had to learn English!”

Trust with dogs, as with people, must be earned. In just three months, Konkle has already seen big changes in Charlie. His once shaved body now has a healthy coat of fur, he’s gained 12 pounds, and is becoming comfortable around strangers, especially people at UGM.

“It’s my hope that in time, Charlie will bring joy to guests just like Isla did,” he says. “People will tell a dog a story because there is trust there. They know what they’re saying is not going to be repeated, not going to be judged.”

Konkle knows how wide doors will swing when a foundation of trust has been laid, whether that trust is between pet and owner, or volunteer or guest. That foundation can begin by learning someone’s name, something Konkle is incredibly intentional about, a friendly smile, or a listening ear.

“I think the single most important thing that you can do for someone is to look them in the eye, say good morning, and smile,” he says.

“So many people feel lost when they come here,” he says. “Being known helps people connect and come out of their shell. It gives us all a sense of belonging.”

 

Union Gospel Mission has been feeding hope and changing lives of men, women, youth, and children for 75 years. Through its seven locations in Metro Vancouver and the city of Mission, UGM provides counseling, education, safe housing, and alcohol and drug recovery to those struggling with poverty, homelessness, and addiction. The heart of the mission is to demonstrate God’s transforming love, ease the burden of the most vulnerable, rebuild the lives of the broken, and offer dignity to those who feel cast aside. To learn more, visit www.ugm.ca.

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