For Don Allison, the importance of volunteerism and community engagement was instilled at an early age. His mother and father were both actively involved in many causes in his home town of Edmonton and as a teenager he participated in a Ban the Bomb march in the middle of the city. Through this experiences, he learned that “being a volunteer is great but you also become aware, through your involvement, of the challenges the community faces.”
One of these challenges was overcoming the fear and prejudice towards the LGBTQ community at the height of the AIDS epidemic. Don moved to Vancouver in the 1970s and came out as gay in 1972. In 1978, when he participated in the first Pride Parade in the city along with 300 other marchers, they faced a jeering crowd of onlookers who threw stones at them.
He has since volunteered with many community organizations in Vancouver’s West End. Don became involved with the Dr. Peter Centre in 2006 when he began working as a cook in the Centre’s kitchen. Upon retiring in 2012, he became a volunteer, helping to serve day health program participants lunch every Monday.
Don saw a hundred of his friends and acquaintances die of AIDS in the 1980s. “I volunteer at the Centre to honour and remember the people I knew who passed away during the AIDS epidemic,” he says.“The Dr. Peter Centre is important to the community. It is unique because of the many programs and services it offers and many of the clients would have nowhere to go if the Centre wasn’t here.”
Don’s favourite part of volunteering in the food and nutrition service is the positive relationships he has developed with participants and residents.“Food is so important to the health of clients – nutrition is critical and it saves lives in many ways. Dr. Peter Centre clients have contact with other people. Someone greets them and asks them how they are doing. They come to the Centre to get their meals and it keeps them from being isolated.
He believes that making even a small difference in their lives and in the community is an important step and he quotes the motto used by Edward Norton’s character in the movie, Death to Smoochy:“You can’t change the world, but you can make a dent.”
TELUS recently produced a video about Don’s life and his LGBTQ activism titled, “He’s Proof One Man Can Make A Difference,” which aired on TELUS Optik Local in June. In the video, Don explains,“What I’ve learned in my 70 years, 50 of them being out and 40 of them being active in the community, is the struggle is worth it.” We are grateful for the difference that Don has made at the Dr. Peter Centre and in the community.