PORT GREVILLE, N.S. – The Municipality of Cumberland County chose a good time to select Barbara Aris as its volunteer representative of the year.
“It’s surprising, humbling and kind of embarrassing, because winning awards is not the intent,” she said. “But it was nice to be recognized, because last year was a tough one with high-speed internet.”
As vice-chairman of the Shore Drive Community Development Association, Aris found herself as the point person between the provincial government, which had awarded grants for the installation of high-speed towers and equipment in the Port Greville area, and Seaside Communications, the service provider.
As the project neared completion and the bill was sent out, it was discovered that the grant amount from the province was $19,000 short because HST had not been included in the requested amount.
“Then we had to come up with over $19,000, and I was not going to let the Shore Drive association fold or have to scrape up that money somehow,” she said. “That was crazy.”
What followed was months of back and forth with government bureaucrats, who refused to budge, as she struggled to find a solution.
Eventually, thanks to help from Councillor Don Fletcher and the municipality, which kicked in some extra money through an HST rebate agreement, some help and understanding from Seaside, and some more help from former MLA Jamie Baillie, the bill was paid.
“I would get up in the morning and say, No, they can’t get away with this,” said Aris. “If they really want little non-profit people to do this, why go after them like this? It was just an administrative error, and no one was really to blame, but it took months of phone calls and emails. It was unreal.”
Never once during all of this did she consider quitting. She knew how important it was to bring better internet service to the area, and is pleased to hear positive feedback from people today.
“I know people tried to move to the area and had to leave because they couldn’t conduct their business here,” said Aris. “I know there were people who said drop it, skip it… but I knew we needed it here.”
Volunteering is a way of life for Aris, who also serves as secretary of the local Age of Sail museum, a board director on the SPAR Community Health Board, and as chairman of the local war memorial committee. She also looks after her husband Mike, who has Parkinson’s Disease and PTSD, and has been involved with a Parkinson’s support group for the past 10 years. She was awarded a Caregiver of the Year Award in 2015.
Why does she do it all? She points to Mr. Aris.
“If I had to just sit and look at him every day, I’d go crazy,” she said, laughing.
Aris will represent Cumberland County at the annual provincial volunteer awards ceremony in Halifax on April 9.