Crystal Vella & Jane Arkell
4/22/20
Bernie Puchalski, BP Sports Niagara

Honouring Our Volunteers: Crystal Vella & Jane Arkell

Without volunteers, the Canada Games wouldn’t be possible. Since the first Games took place in Quebec City back in 1967, over 100,000 individuals, whether professionals or not, have volunteered their time to help out in all facets of the Games, and they have done so with great pride. The Niagara 2021 Canada Games Host Society is very proud to continue that tradition of working with passionate volunteers, and is looking forward to welcoming over 4,000 for the Games in August 2021. In honour of National Volunteer Week, we are featuring our leadership team of volunteers, who have been with us since the beginning!

Accessibility and sustainability are two key elements of the Niagara 2021 Canada Summer Games.

The former is important because Niagara 2021 wants to host the most accessible and inclusive Games ever — leaving a legacy around access and inclusion. The latter is crucial to reduce the 2021Games’ carbon footprint in the hopes of providing future events with innovative ideas on how to do the same.

As Canada celebrates National Volunteer Week from April 19-25, the Niagara 2021 Canada Summer Games are recognizing their Accessibility Chair Jane Arkell and their Sustainability Chair Crystal Vella.

This past December, the Canada Games Council committed to strengthening its sustainability efforts by endorsing the United Nations’ Sports for Climate Action Framework. Prior to that, Red Deer 2019 became the first Canada Games to ever treat sustainability as its own functioning area. This included the creation of a separate sustainability committee, something that Niagara 2021 has decided to follow suit.

“We want to make sure that we have a good plan and strategy to reduce the overall Games’ footprint by as much as we can,” Vella said.

Vella, who lived in Toronto for a few years working for a sustainability and climate change consulting firm, decided to take on the volunteer challenge after returning home.

“The timing worked out really well,” the 31-year-old St. Catharines native said. “I was looking for a volunteer opportunity to get back involved and plant my roots again in the region.

“This was one of those [opportunities] that was available and it was pretty hard to resist reaching out and seeing if it was a fit.”

The Holy Cross alumna’s resume is tailor-made for the position. The Niagara Falls resident has a degree from Brock University in tourism and environment, a masters degree from Western in environment and sustainability, and a Niagara College diploma in environmental management and assessment. She now works as a business performance analyst within Walker Industries’ environmental division.

Vella previously served in a volunteer capacity on a couple of smaller events for an organization called Leading Change Canada, a forum of young Canadian professionals working in the environmental sector.

“Obviously the scale is quite different: 150 young professionals compared to 5,000 athletes,” Vella said. “It is a project that is larger than anything I have worked on but it’s sport and it’s celebrating Niagara.

“There’s an opportunity to make the Games sustainable and provide that education component to young athletes, their parents and spectators. It’s inspiring.”

She is excited about the Games.

“It is awesome that it is going to be here and what an opportunity to celebrate the region as well as having the opportunity to see thousands of young athletes perform,” she said. “From what I understand, quite a few athletes have gone on to professional sports. It will be cool to see the young athletes who go on to make a name and see how that development in sport evolves.”

Vella expects her committee to have about 15 members in total and it will be more involved in the planning process than when the Games are actually staged.

“It is a lot of up-front pieces and during the Games it will be a matter of monitoring things and seeing how people are reacting to any sort of information we have.”

This sustainability committee will also focus on how to reduce and understand: the implications of travel for athletes and spectators before, during and after the Games; the actual energy (electricity, natural gas, etc.) used to power the Games’ facilities; and the waste generated at the events in attempt to find  ways of increasing diversion from landfill sites (through organics and recycling programs).

One of the main tools the committee will use to develop innovative ideas is the ISO sustainable events standard. It provides a framework to identify the potential negative social, economic and environmental impacts by eliminating or reducing them, and it also takes advantage of more positive impacts through better planning and processes.

The work done by Vella’s committee will ultimately help both Niagara2021 and future Games.

“Anything that we can learn we would want to pass on any sort of challenges, things that worked well and things that didn’t.”

Likewise, Arkell will be looking for similar results as the Chair of the Accessibility Committee.

Arguably a perfect fit for the role, the Grimsby nativehas been the executive director at Active Living Alliance for Canadians with a Disability for the last 30 years and is the co-chair of Brock Niagara Penguins — a premier parasport program for youth and adults with a physical disability. Programming includes para-swimming, wheelchair basketball, wheelchair boccia, sitting volleyball and indoor handcycling classes.

That’s why no arm twisting was required for Arkell to accept the challenge.

“It was an easy decision to make because it was something that I was very interested in,” the St. Catharines resident said. “Any sort of Games is a real rush. I have been to numerous world championships and Paralympics so this is just another extension of that.”

The Grimsby and District Secondary School alumna, who has a background in sports administration and a keen interest in working with people with disabilities around sport and recreation, is ready for the challenge.

“Our goal for these Games is for Niagara 2021 to be the most accessible and inclusive Games ever and to leave a legacy around access and inclusion.”

That involves much more than just welcoming athletes with disabilities to the Games.

“We want to be accessible and inclusive for spectators, the region of Niagara, volunteers, staff and the whole nine yards,” she said. “It is not just the athletes’ experience. It’s the entire Games’ experience.”

That goal will be achieved in a number of ways.

“We’ll work very hard, not only on the sport venues, but working with a lot of the special events and working with communications in terms of portraying people with disabilities properly,” Arkell said. “We are looking at influencing a legacy plan that is left with the Games and we’re hoping some great legacies might be left behind in Niagara.”

One legacy in particular comes to mind for Arkell.

“We will have [close to] 5,000 volunteers working around the Games over the two-week period and we will be doing accessibility and disability sensitization with each one of them,” she said. “Consider when those Games have gone away, 5,000 people from here in Niagara will be much more knowledgeable about access and inclusion.”

Right now, Arkell’s committee consists of a working group of about 15.

“That will be growing because we will be looking for 10 to 15 additional people who will act as accessibility advisors to each one of the Canada Games committees, whether it’s a venue committee or a sport committee or a special event or closing ceremonies.”

The Accessibility Committee is in the process of recruiting these advisors for the 2021 Games — an event that Arkell can’t wait to see come to life in Niagara .

“It is only going to happen once so it’s going to be great,” she said. “The dedication that Niagara already has and the keen and capable staff that are with the Canada Games Host Society make me confident that these are going to be the best [Games] yet.”

This report was filed by BP Sports Niagara, which is owned and operated by Bernie Puchalski and Bill Potrecz.

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