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Volunteerism – it Runs in this Family
Posted on April 24, 2013
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This week is National Volunteer Week, a perfect time to recognize some of the stellar volunteers that help make the Vancouver Aquarium run smoothly each day. Two of these volunteers come from the Mirhady family.

You can say that volunteerism is a family value in the Mirhady home. Mary-Alice Mirhady, a stay-at-home mom, volunteers all over Vancouver. Her daughter, Renata, now 16, has been volunteering for two years – she started as soon as she was old enough. She started out with the Burnaby Village Museum, and joined her mother at the Vancouver Aquarium Marine Mammal Rescue Centre not long after. Now, in addition to the Rescue Centre, Mary-Alice works with school programs and special events, and Renata works with visitor evaluation here at the Aquarium.

Mary-Alice chose the Aquarium as a new volunteer commitment in 2010 because she heard of the well-organized volunteer program and the many opportunities available to Aquarium volunteers. Her favourite work here involves the opportunity to mix public interaction with some behind-the-scenes work. She especially loves working with school groups because of the opportunity to spend dedicated time with a single group of children, and to witness moments when the children really begin to see the connection between their own behaviours and creatures living far away in the ocean.

Mary-Alice says that Renata loves working with the people at the Aquarium. She says Renata gets to interact with a huge range of people, young and old, all of whom are welcoming and accepting, and who want to get along. And at the Rescue Centre, with a smaller group she sees all the time, there’s even more camaraderie. She’s also had the chance to conduct physio work with Jack, the rescued and rehabilitated harbour porpoise who now lives at the Aquarium. “How many 16-year-olds can say, ‘I’ve swum with a porpoise’?” Mary-Alice asks.

Mary-Alice saw a cuttlefish for the first time while at the Aquarium, and now she loves watching other people’s reactions when they see it for the first time, too. She says she’d never imagined such things existed. “They’re fascinating little guys – the way they can change colour almost instantaneously, and almost to any colour.” She loves the marine mammals, or “the fuzzies” as she calls them, but her real favourites are the invertebrates and unusual fishes, especially “the weird ones that pop out of nowhere.”

This dynamic and dedicated mother-daughter duo has contributed more than 1,200 hours since they began volunteering a few years ago. “Mary-Alice and Renata are some of the most dedicated volunteers that we have in our unbelievable volunteer crew at the Rescue Centre,” says Lindsaye Akhurst, manager of the Marine Mammal Rescue Centre. “When a rescued porpoise comes in and we need to institute 24-hour observation shifts, one of our first calls is to the Mirhady home. We can’t thank them enough for their commitment and dedication.”

The Aquarium’s Marine Mammal Rescue Centre relies on the help of more than 150 volunteers each season to help rescue and rehabilitate injured or stranded marine mammals.

Mary-Alice and Renata are among the 1,000 volunteers who help the Aquarium run smoothly each year. For more information on the Aquarium’s award-winning volunteer program, visit our website here.


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  1. So proud of both of my cousins. I know it must run in the family. We are involved in other volunteer projects as well. Keep up the good work.