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Former Katimavik participants say goodbye to their program

The national volunteer program was cut in the federal budget
Reported by Ashley Wills
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It was nine months of her life one Saskatoon woman will never forget - in fact she has a permanent reminder.

"My experience has definitely increased my desire to volunteer and desire to be a part of the community," said Rebecca Zimmer on a Katimavik experience that was so positive she had the symbol tattooed on her ankle.

The volunteer program that sends about 1,000 young Canadians to work in communities across the country each year was axed in the federal budget.

Zimmer said she doesn't know what she would be doing right now had she not experienced the program in 2005-06. She was able to leave Saskatchewan and spend time working with non-profit groups in Ontario, Newfoundland and Quebec. Now, she's taking classes at the University of Saskatchewan with hopes of getting into a journalism program down the road.

"It helped me decide the person I wanted to be and what kind of schooling I wanted to take," she said.

Kyle Martens participated two years ago.

"Before Katimavik I couldn't speak French at all, and now my understanding of French and willingness to try speaking French is a lot better."

The Swift Current native plans to spend the summer in Quebec to continue studying the language and currently attends Nova Scotia College of Art and Design - a school he got acquainted with through his time volunteering.

He says he doesn't want to see the program go away.

"I'm disappointed that Katimavik is done, but I'm not sure what steps could be made to bring it back other than fundraising and taking it out of the government's hands," said Martens.

In Saskatchewan, Katimavik groups have recently spent time volunteering in Swift Current, Assiniboia and Maple Creek.

"It's going to be very sad for us and our clients who have grown attached to knowing that people are going to be coming in and having an experience with them," said Ruth Smith with the Canadian Mental Health Association in Swift Current.

"If we needed hands helping wash dishes they would do that or cleaning up something they would help us do that."

The funding cut has other non-profits talking about the volunteers they relied on, Smith said.

"Most of us are under staffed, underfunded and they were a big help to us," Smith said.

Assiniboia will also feel the loss. Steve Gibson, with the town, said Katimavik's presence was felt by everyone.

"They volunteer at hockey games. They get out into the community and just help anywhere they can. They always take on special projects," he said.

awills@rawlco.com

Follow on Twitter: @ashwillsee