If you ask Mike Sauer where he’s from, he’ll say he was “hatched from the sea” near St. John’s, Newfoundland. It was no surprise, then, to learn that he finds comfort in the ocean, in the company of seals, on sailboats, and on the beach. “If I’m having a bad day, I always head to the water,” he says.
Some of his favourite shorelines in the world are the Playa Del Carmen in Mexico, the beaches of Tofino on Vancouver Island, and the wild saltwater waves of the Canadian east coast. “I am moved by my environment. The size and energy of Nature are very special. I feel it all the time,” he says.
Mike describes himself as an open book as well as a talker, and a fast one at that. He is a man of many stories: his travels, his work, his yoga and meditation practice, his long-time partner, and his love of water sports are a few topics we touched on during our conversation.
He also has a long history with the Grandview Woodlands Community Policing Centre (CPC), at first volunteering in 2009, then becoming a program manager in 2017, and a volunteer coordinator in 2018. Today, Mike is the CPC’s executive director. Located in East Vancouver, the CPC is the host agency for the Community Response Network (CRN) of the same name. Mike lives steps away from the CPC, which allows him to easily walk to work every day.
He assumed the role of CRN coordinator in November 2021 after meeting Joanna Li, Regional Mentor – Vancouver, through the CPC’s former executive director Cathy O’Connor Morris. In a few short months, Mike has already collected what he calls “a series of great moments”. And there are many, many more to come.
Allow us the pleasure of introducing Mike Sauer to you as our volunteer of the month: thank you, Mike, for jumping into BC CRN waters feet first!
He came to BC in the late 90s. “I was visiting family in Alberta and kept heading west,” Mike recalls. “It was Christmas Eve in 1996 and I was standing on Robson Street in Downtown Vancouver in a t-shirt sipping a cup of coffee. Vancouver has been home ever since.”
Mike got involved with the CPC out of curiosity. “I walked by the office all the time and didn’t know what it was,” he says. “One day, I stopped, went in, and asked some questions. I was blown away. I started volunteering right away and never stopped. That was back in 2009!”
Despite its name, a CPC has little to do with actual policing, outside of being funded by law enforcement and partnering with them on personal safety and crime prevention campaigns and resources. “None of us here are police or bylaws officers!” he says. “Me, I’m just a neighbour. I have no interest in policing!”
The priorities of a CPC concentrate fully on the “community” part of its name rather than the “policing” part.
CPCs are non-profits run by a small team of staff and volunteers who focus on community outreach. They are information hubs.
“The CPC teams reflect the diversity of the neighbourhood, and we range in age from 18 to 70+ years and come from all walks of life,” Mike adds. “We can help you learn about your community and all it has to offer – amenities, activities, events, supports, and resources.”
“At Grandview Woodlands, we do things like mental health outreach, homeless outreach, personal safety, and crime prevention campaigns, immigration services and referrals, neighbourhood clean-ups, and community art projects. We can also help you with interpreting local bylaws, including animal control, and how to get in touch with someone to remove graffiti or repair a broken streetlight. We can show you where the best dog parks are in the neighbourhood.” Mike explains. “We can refer you to all kinds of community resources. It’s about how to best support the community, helping people who ask, and raising awareness in a way that encourages people to be proactive with problem-solving.”
In Vancouver, there are 11 CPCs serving different neighbourhoods in the city. “I encourage everyone to visit their local CPC to see what they do: the door is always open. Ask questions, explore, and even better, volunteer. We might surprise you!” he says.
Mike has a soft spot for seniors. He used to make annual trips to Medicine Hat in the Fall to visit his grandmother. “She lived in a nursing home on her own and I was always thinking about how she was doing,” he says. “I always hoped in my heart she was happy and content. She died several years ago, but I still make the trip to see my family.”
As a way to honour her, Mike makes a point to intentionally connect with seniors in the community. His first intergenerational friendship resulted from a volunteer assignment with a local Better At Home program. “I was paired with a lovely senior gentleman who spoke only Farsi. It’s a challenge to build a relationship with so many differences: language, age, culture, backgrounds,” he explains. “We found our own way to communicate and every Friday, we had cake and ice cream or an adventure somewhere. I loved the experience and the challenge. He taught me to slow down and literally look at flowers – such an important life lesson. He passed away four years ago…it was a great honour to be his friend.”
“Seniors are role models and wonderful sources of knowledge,” Mike says. “They have so much to share. They are also great ambassadors of the community and the perfect people to spread the word about safety. The mandate of the CRN ties so well with the CPC.”
“Unfortunately, COVID did pause a lot of our work,” he continues. “We are taking stock and reshaping the CRN step by step, to ensure that we reflect as many perspectives as possible – seniors, youth, men, women, different cultures. It’s about keeping an eye out for everyone through information and referral, so no one is taken advantage of or exploited.”
There are several CRN projects of varying sizes in the works.
Some are small, simple tasks, like having an ease-of-access button installed at the CPC to enable anyone with mobility challenges to access the office.
Other projects are larger in scale and involve several partner organizations. “We are connecting with several of our affiliates from before the pandemic to re-ignite fraud and scam prevention campaigns and to review our resources,” he adds. “We’re also partnering with an employment services organization – Drive Youth Employment Services – and the community to create a public art installation, a mural, that honours the people – both past and present – in the neighbourhood. Diversity and representation will definitely be part of the conversation!”
“Any Newfie will take the shirt off their back and give it to you if you need it,” Mike says.
His drive to help comes from a place of compassion. His desire to build and develop community is as natural for him as swimming.
“Everyone has value. Everyone,” he states. “Stop and say hello to a stranger. Acknowledge the people on the street: don’t ignore them. Spend time and learn from people who are different from you, who have different lifestyles, or who have walked a different path. We all have the power and the responsibility to make our neighbourhoods better for all.”
“Mike is doing fantastic work anchoring the CRN with the Grandview Woodland community and honouring the foundation established by his predecessors,” says Joanna. “I am so grateful he is part of the CRN movement.”
(Photos: M. Sauer; Header Photo: Mike (right) and friend.)