Karen San Filippo believes volunteers are an integral part of the Festival du Voyageur family.
The St. Boniface resident and volunteer co-ordinator at Festival — which runs until Feb. 24 — says more than 1,000 volunteers from across the city step forward every year, although they are not all necessarily francophone.
"It’s one of the misconceptions about Festival that you have to speak French, and speak French well, to be a volunteer," San Filippo said.
"You want to give the ambiance of a French festival, so you need to have a good francophone volunteer base, but Festival is about being all-inclusive, especially when you consider all the tourists coming in, so you need a lot of English volunteers, too."
San Filippo co-ordinates volunteers in the Festival Park area around Fort Gibraltar, which includes the four large entertainment tents, the snow sculptures and play areas for kids.
"Safety is important. We make sure people don’t get too near to the fire and the people helping with parking make sure people don’t get blocked in or the lot gets overrun," San Filippo said, noting this year’s new online registration system for volunteers.
"We also want to maximize the number of kids using the slide and, in the tents, we make sure nobody goes behind the stage."
San Filippo is also pleased to see many high school kids, among others, return each year to volunteer, as it gives them opportunities outside of the school environment.
"It’s great to see these students from French immersion seeing French as a living language outside of the classroom," she said.
"It’s also good for adults with rusty language skills, who can greet visitors with a ‘bonjour’ and try French dialogue and then switch to English if they’re not sure. Visitors appreciate the gesture."
"As well, it’s a good opportunity for French-speaking Africans who are new to Canada — from countries such as Senegal and Rwanda — to pick up references. I’m there all week, so I can see if they’re cold or struggling," San Filippo added.
The Farrell family from Dugald, Man., — which includes dad, Jack, and 12-year-old Jake — has embraced the volunteer opportunities at Festival for the past four years.
"It’s a great family activity and the kids enjoy it definitely. It’s become part of our tradition now and it’s a way to give back to the community and do something we wouldn’t normally do," said mom, Jane.
"It’s a well-organized, friendly atmosphere and you feel appreciated and valued. And the kids have enjoyed the responsibility," Jane added.
Josh, 10, has enjoyed volunteering on the toboggan run.
"It’s kind of like a good experience. Helping out other people warms your heart and I love it," Josh said.
"Once, when this kid got stuck (in his sled), I had to grab the rope and pull him from the side, he added. Charlotte, eight, also enjoys being part of the Festival scene.
"I like the snow lots. In the maze, the idea is basically to get through and not get lost. Some people have gotten lost, so I walk around and check if people are lost," Charlotte said.
"It means a lot to me, because I like being part of a community."