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Volunteering comes naturally and is a source of 'pride' for this Lion

In the first article of our new weekly Helpers feature, we turn the spotlight on Jim Slykhuis - a man for whom community service is a family tradition
Bradford Lions Jim Slykhuis has always found ways to give back to his community. Miriam King/Bradford Today

Jim Slykhuis was raised in an environment where volunteering was just the natural thing to do.

 “When I was growing up, my dad was in the Aurora Lions Club and my mom joined the Lioness Club,” Slykhuis said.

So back in 1978, at the age of 16, he joined the Leos – a junior service club, under the sponsorship of the Lions, that engages youth in community service and volunteering. 

It was an experience that would stay with him all his life and shape his career with York Regional Police.

Throughout his years as a police officer, Slykhuis found ways to give back – volunteering for the Hospital for Sick Children Telethon; having his head shaved “four or five times” to raise funds for the Cancer Society, through the annual Cops for Cancer fundraiser; and helping out with the Special Olympics when York Region played host.

He particularly remembered the lead-in to the 2000 Special Olympics Summer Games, held in Newmarket. The organizing team travelled to Ottawa, where the winter games were being held, to see how things were done.

“We got to interact with all the athletes and the coaches in Ottawa, and that was amazing,” Slykhuis said. The most amazing part was that so many of the athletes were not focused on winning, but on the joy of participating. It’s a real eye-opener when you deal with people like that,” he said.

Once the Slykhuis family moved to Bradford, about 26 years ago, there were new opportunities to ‘give back.’

Dad Gerrit and mom Gerda didn’t join the Lions when they came to Bradford. Instead, they became deeply involved in the Danube Seniors Leisure Centre – both of them serving as president at various times, while devoting long hours to ensuring the club offered a range of activities, including a new woodworking workshop, for its members.

They  were also supporters of Southlake Regional Health Centre and of Bradford’s new leisure centre. Jim followed in their footsteps, contributing his time and skills to both Southlake and to the Danube Centre, and coaching his kids in Bradford Minor Soccer at the house league and rep levels.

Slykhuis even had a stint as a basketball coach, for two years, but only because no one else was available to volunteer.

“I sucked at that,” he admitted.

But it wasn’t until he retired in 2013 that he had the time to get back to the one volunteer organization that he’d always admired: the Lions Club.

Slykhuis joined the Bradford & District Lions Club about five years ago.

“I enjoy it,” he said. “It’s one of the few organizations that I felt welcomed from the minute I walked in the door. It’s the people that are in it that make it so easy.”

As soon as he joined, he began working with fellow Lions Gavin McLean and Jenn Pegg to launch a Bradford Leos Club.

“That was my goal when I joined the Lions, because of what I took out of Leos,” Slykhuis said.

The Junior club is a great way for high school students to quickly earn their mandatory volunteer hours, but the club does much more.

“It does teach them to give back to the community,” Slykhuis said.

Through the youth's involvement in events like the annual Good Friday Easter Egg Hunt at Bradford Greenhouses Garden Gallery, the community clean-up, and singing to residents at Bradford Valley long term care centre, “it teaches them how to interact with people older than themselves.”

Now that the Leos Club has been successfully launched and is up and running, Slykhuis is involved in the annual Mammoth car draw.

In addition to selling $120 car draw tickets at every opportunity, he is in charge of the Food Committee for the draw, which will be held Sept. 7 at the Bradford & District Community Centre. His job is to oversee the coordination of food preparation for the Beef Buffet and a small army of volunteers. 

“It’s our big fundraiser. It’s a priority right now,” he said.

Slykhuis credits his family background with his passion for “giving back.”

His sister Marilyn Bruzzese is a living kidney donor, who donated a kidney to save the life of her best friend.

“(It) comes from our parents,” Slykhuis said. “There’s a lot of people that wouldn’t think of doing that, but we were raised to give back. It just shows what my parents were like.”

And he’s taken the lessons taught by his parents to heart: “Wherever you live, you should give back to your community whatever you can.”

Although he grew up in Aurora, Slykhuis said, “Aurora’s not home to me anymore. Bradford’s home to me.”

He added, “As transplants to Bradford, I’d like to think we’ve made a mark.”

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Miriam King

About the Author: Miriam King

Miriam King is a journalist and photographer with Bradford Today, covering news and events in Bradford West Gwillimbury and Innisfil.
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