While conversation was still buzzing throughout the Lower Mainland over extensive storm damage to their city’s iconic pier, White Rock Youth Ambassadors were already taking action on a fundraising campaign to help repair and restore the historic structure.
White Rock Princess and Friendship Ambassador Emma-Rose Harvey told Peace Arch News Thursday that within three to four hours of the Dec. 20 incident, all five of the ambassadors had responded to an email from coordinator Debbie Ward, suggesting they might be able to organize a pier-oriented community outreach project.
Harvey became point person in setting up a GoFundMe campaign that day to raise money for pier restoration efforts, with help from Ward and former (2010) Youth Ambassador Freda Zhang, who now works in public relations.
She described the campaign as “a real team effort” that involves Miss White Rock Snover Gill, Princess Sarah Zhang, and ambassadors Simrit Kocher and Sabrina Zeng.
“It’s a great opportunity to help with something that’s so important to the community,” Harvey said.
The ambassadors traditionally take on an outreach initiative each year, and Harvey is hoping that the current team can be involved in high-profile events focused on pier restoration in the new year.
“I think it’s so important for teenagers to be involved in the in the community,” said the Earl Marriott Secondary Grade 12 student, whose dream is to become an elementary school teacher in White Rock, hopefully following post-secondary studies at UVic.
“If you’re not involved when you’re young, it’s much harder to get going when you’re older.”
Seven days in, the campaign had raised $675, but Harvey said she believes momentum will increase when potential contributors can be assured that it is a “legitimate” fundraiser.
To that end, she said, Ward will be meeting with White Rock council to see if it can officially endorse the campaign, and also the Semiahmoo Rotary Club, to get advice onfundraising and issuing tax receipts – and the ambassadors also want to meet with council as soon as possible in the new year.
The campaign has already merged with another GoFundMe supporting pier restoration started by city resident Michelle Penner Ferguson.
“I’d already started my GoFundMe when I heard from somebody on Facebook that there was another one,” Ferguson said.
“I thought, ‘fantastic,’ so I connected with Debbie and we merged the campaigns,” she said, noting ironically that she had planned to participate in the Youth Ambassador program in 1988 – with sponsorship of a Rotary club – but had dropped out because it conflicted with a trip to Europe with her parents.
“It’s funny how, 30 years later, things work out,” she said, adding that the benefit of a GoFundMe campaign is that it can reach out to people all around the world who either grew up in White Rock, or lived in, or visited the city.
Harvey acknowledged that there have been “a couple” of negative comments on the site, which criticized the ambassadors efforts as “premature” and pointed out that repairs will involve municipal budgeting – and potentially federal and provincial help – that is already funded by taxpayers.
“We’re just a group of teenagers,” Harvey said, “but we’re hoping that, as we establish the legitimacy of the campaign, people will realize we’re just making an honest effort to help.”
While White Rock Mayor Darryl Walker has suggested publicly that repair and refurbishment of the more than 100-year-old structure will run into millions of dollars, Harvey said the ambassadors’ efforts will be focused on enhancing elements of the pier that are not covered by government funding.
“They are things like lights, archways, benches and memorial plaques, which were previously paid by for private donations,” she said.
Ward told PAN she had initial reservations about a GoFundMe campaign – mainly because she had little idea how they operate – but was won over by the ambassadors’ enthusiasm and has been heartened by the support of South Surrey-White Rock MP Gordie Hogg.
“He thought it was a terrific idea,” she said.
“They’re young people and they’re very much about social media – that’s the way they do things,” she added. “We value this enthusiasm, and the youth ambassadors have always been very involved in their community. I’ve no doubt that the process will be a very valuable learning experience for them.”’
“We feel really optimistic about it,” Gill told PAN.
“We have a very tight-knit community and, at the end of the day, everyone comes together to make things happen.
“I’m sure that in a short period of time we’ll get the pier back to the way it was before.”
For more information or to participate in the ambassadors’ campaign, visit gofundme.com/rebuild-the-historic-white-rock-pier