BC Association of Community Response Networks

Volunteer of the Month: Daniela Gunn-Doerge, Coordinator, Vancouver Mount Pleasant CRN

BC CRN has the best volunteers. They are talented, passionate about what they do, principled, and create opportunities for important connections to be made with the people they serve…all with the goal of adult abuse, neglect, and self-neglect prevention in mind.

(Photo: D. Gunn-Doerge)

Daniela Gunn-Doerge is certainly no exception. An activist, singer, outdoor enthusiast, music aficionado, yoga teacher-in-training, polyglot (She speaks English, French, and Spanish.), and a twin. She is also one of our newest Community Response Network (CRN) coordinators, starting the role just over a year ago in the throes of a pandemic.

We are happy to introduce Daniela to you as our volunteer of the month. Thank you, Daniela, for bringing your enthusiasm and important perspective to the work you do to serve your community on behalf of the BC CRN!

Growing Up in a Political Family and in the Church

Daniela’s parents first met in Nicaragua in the 1980s when they joined people from the US and Canada in the solidarity movement. They fell in love with the country’s culture, language, and history…and with each other. After marrying and living in among the conflict, the couple decided to leave Nicaragua for Ottawa, Ontario where they would raise their twin children – a girl and a boy.

“My mom has always been involved in civic engagement with women and working with newcomers. Community development is her life’s work,” says Daniela. “My dad’s work is faith-based social work, tying church, community, and social justice together.”

As a result, Daniela would grow up doing community work herself. “There are pictures of me at protests when I was two years old,” she adds. “This is where I come from and where the spark was first lit!”

The church was also key in her upbringing and where her love of music first blossomed. “I was four when I started singing in the parish. Choirs eventually led to me becoming a wedding and funeral singer,” she explains. “I was also in a Motown band in high school. It was the first time I sang in a soulful way outside of the church.”

Preparing for WEAAD 2021 (Photo: D. Gunn-Doerge)

Cross Canada Move to Becoming Parish Administrator, Community Developer

Community development, social justice, and the church would continue to influence her academic and professional pursuits.

Daniela’s undergraduate degree out of Saint Paul University and the University of Ottawa focused on peace studies and human rights. She would then travel across the country to earn her Master’s in dispute resolution at the University of Victoria.

“I was interested in both how people work and how to solve interpersonal conflict at a societal level,” she says. “One of my very first research projects looked at how parishes can more ethically source things to prevent items made by slave labour from entering the church.”

After graduation, Daniela became parish administrator, the province’s youngest, for Victoria’s Anglican cathedral. After a year in the role, she would move onto others in non-profit and with Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada. “It was a great learning experience,” she says. “I also learned that I wasn’t built for the cubicle life!”

She also volunteered on and off with Amnesty International, hosting letter-writing campaigns to release wrongly convicted inmates, and acting as a volunteer researcher with Action Contre La Faim on a social services study out of Nicaragua. Locally, Daniela has assisted with federal political campaigns, helping registered voters understand how and when to vote.

(Photo: D. Gunn-Doerge)

In the two years leading up to the pandemic, Daniela worked as the project coordinator of the Front Step Project out of Mount Pleasant Neighbourhood House, which is also the host agency for the Vancouver – Mount Pleasant CRN. “Front Step is a 2-year intergenerational project that connects young foster children with older adults,” she says. “We looking at having the two generations share skills, stories, and resources with the hope of fostering mutually supportive relationships.”

Today, Daniela is the special projects and engagement coordinator of Mount Pleasant Neighbourhood House’s Seniors Team.

Joining BC CRN in the Midst of a Pandemic

As a result of COVID-19, Daniela and her colleagues were already shifting their focus to seniors. “We recognized right away that there was a serious need for us to support seniors,” she explains. “We created a seniors’ outreach strategy to ensure that they were well supported.”

Several BC CRN funded initiatives formed that strategy:

  • The Art Box Program, which included weekly Zoom lessons with volunteer artists.
  • Men in Space, a Men’s Shed-inspired program to connect isolated men.
  • World Elder Abuse Awareness Day (WEAAD).
  • The Pen Pal Program, which connected people through letter writing.

The latter two – WEAAD and the pen-pal program –became the largest projects Daniela had done to date.

Over 400 care packages were prepared for seniors as part of WEAAD 2021. (Photo: D. Gunn-Doerge)

“I did not sleep much the week leading up to WEAAD,” she laughs.

A team of staff and volunteers put together 400 care packages for local seniors. Each package contained important information about the role of CRNs and community supports, donations of soap, tea, and lavender, and cards made by local elementary school students. “It was such a beautiful opportunity for seniors, and staff and volunteers to connect,” she says. “As CRN coordinator, I’m always trying to find supports for elder abuse prevention, especially when the risk of abuse is heightened. I also want to ensure we are also looking closely at what we, as a CRN, are teaching.”

Like WEAAD, the pen-pal program also quickly ballooned. “We decided to engage the local schools to have students make a few anonymous Valentine’s Day cards for the seniors,” she explains. “Word got out thanks to local Facebook groups, who heard about it. Once the media picked it up, we ended up receiving over 12,000 valentines from all over BC. We are repeating this project next year, so I’m gearing up for another exciting February!”

Living Her Values and Still Making Music

Just as she does during work, outside of work Daniela builds community, whether it’s in the mountains and forests, or from the comfort of her home.

“I live on my own, and during the pandemic, I decided to host monthly ‘make and friend’ meetings,” she explains. “My artists and musician friends met to work on their unfinished creative projects and listen to musical performances from the songwriters of the group. Sometimes, we would teach each other a craft. We started on Zoom for the first six months, and now, we’ve been able to finally have in-person meetings! It’s important to me to have a sense of community. I believe in mutual support and collective care in my work and personal life.”

She also still sings, although her musical interests have grown from her days singing in the church choir. “These days, I am the singer of an 80’s inspired electronic duo called Change Du Prance and perform with local musician Jacob Weil.” she says.

Why Daniela is our Exceptional Volunteer of the Month

(Photo: D. Gunn_Doerge)

Joanna Li, Regional Mentor for Vancouver, says: “Daniela plants seeds of ideas everywhere she goes. Her unique background and the value she places on family and people transfer so well into the neighbourhood house context and CRN work. She’s helped the team become more innovative and creative with their strategies. Where ever she is, she is creating a transformational ripple of change.”

Know of an exceptional volunteer or volunteer team in your community that we should profile? Direct message us through Facebook or Twitter and let’s share their story!

Written by: Debbie Chow, Links Communication Solutions. Follow Debbie on LinkedIn: @debbiechowabc

Header Photo: D. Gunn-Doerge, Mount Pleasant Neighbourhood House