MEMORY LANE: West Vancouver woman brings light in times of dark

Violet Roden didn't expect her life would change the day she and her son went to court.

The plan was to introduce the boy to our country's justice system.

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Nor did Vi's background indicate she would become a force for social change. She was a homemaker in North Vancouver, raising a family with husband Maurice. Vi has always believed, however, in the benefits that change can bring. "I'm for change, I thrive on it. Change enables growth," she affirms.

There in the dock, on that day in court, sat a young woman, a family friend. The prospect of this girl entering prison affected Vi deeply and led her to work on behalf of incarcerated women with the Elizabeth Fry Society.

Vi came to realize most of these women had experienced sexual abuse. In the late 1970s, public awareness of sexual abuse was limited, the services supporting children and families dealing with it virtually nonexistent.

Friend, colleague and psychologist Judith Berg looks back to that time. "This was not visible to us, but Vi was in the trenches and she knew something had to be done."

Vi marshalled her considerable skills to establish Act 2 Child and Family Services. The effort required to accomplish this - bringing politicians, social service agencies and the public together, creating a nonprofit society, securing the funds and community support that would allow the doors to open - is almost impossible to convey. Since it was founded in 1980, Act 2 continues to transform for the better the lives of those who have experienced the effects of sexual abuse, violence and trauma.

With Act 2 operating successfully, Vi thought she might retire. She and Maurice were empty nesters living in West Vancouver by then. Vi joined the fitness brigade at the West Vancouver Seniors' Activity Centre.

There she found her new vocation as an advocate for the health and well-being of seniors. "Lives change," says Vi. "We, our social services, and our society must adapt to accommodate those changes."

Vi initiated prevention programs to keep seniors healthy, active and leading fulfilling lives.

She developed partnerships with community services to deliver programs, a collaboration that continues today at the centre.

It was a busy and productive time, recalls Jill Johnson, the centre's supervisor during Vi's three terms as advisory board chairwoman. "Our membership was at 5,000 and growing, with our volunteers contributing 86,000 hours per year."

Vi's first fundraising venture for the centre underwrote the purchase of the community's first seniors bus. She raised the funds to build the Garden Room, the glass walled extension that opens to the outdoors and the tranquility the natural world provides.

Continuing the connection with nature, growth and giving, Vi conceived the Donor Tree. Modelled on the tree of life, the Donor Tree is an ever-expanding record of donations to the seniors' activity centre by its members.

"Most of all," says Jill Johnson, "Vi is fun to work with. She has a way of bringing people together and the will to make things happen. She creates change, and that can ruffle a few feathers. Sometimes those feathers need to be ruffled. Vi is willing to take risks for the overall good."

Personally and professionally, Vi has touched and influenced many lives for the good. In their big house in North Vancouver, she and Maurice welcomed everyone, including a young woman who served her time in prison and found a home with the Roden family.

Since Maurice passed away a year ago, Vi continues to support the arts as they did during their life together, and to be an active participant in the changes that life brings.

We all recognize life's injustices. We want to act, to effect change, yet how rarely we act on our intentions. We have our reasons. They have to do with what we lack (time, energy, will), and with what we fear (change and the unintended consequences that change might bring).

To show us the way forward, to inspire and remind us of our intention to be our better selves, life gives us Vi Roden and others like her, the everyday heroes changing our world for the better.

Laura Anderson works with and for seniors on the North Shore. 778-279-2275 seniorsconnect@shaw.ca

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