Maryann Van Lent grew up on a farm with everything from pigs to peacocks just outside of Red Deer, so she says she knows about hard work.
Van Lent, 52, is one of the many volunteers with disabilities who dedicate hour after hour to various organizations around the city — and for nothing in return.
A proud “Hubber,” she is the face you can bank on seeing every week, no matter what else is going on in her calendar, selling chocolate bars and pop at the Friday Markets at the Hub on Ross. Van Lent has been assisting the weekly markets for three years and has no plans of quitting.
“I like selling the drinks and candy … seeing people . … It helps,” she said, referring to the fact that all the proceeds go towards the local charity and soup kitchen Loaves and Fishes.
“She’s just very helpful and everyone knows her,” said Van Lent’s community support worker Kelli Condon. “That’s part of what we enjoy, too, about coming here; the relationships you develop with the people who are here. It’s another little family.”
Twyla Lapointe, the community development co-ordinator at The Hub, said The Hub is a special space for those with developmental disabilities to be leaders.
“So they are your hosts here and they are hard at work fundraising and helping us with programming and cultural advance. … And fostering inclusive communities is what we’re all about,” Lapointe said.
She described Van Lent as a “ready” person, “ready to help, pitch in, be kind and do whatever she can.”
“She’s choosing to share her gift here at The Hub and choosing to help and I know how important it is to her because she’s always asking about what’s coming next, what can she do. … We love that enthusiasm.”
Being an active Hubber isn’t all Van Lent has on her plate. On Wednesdays, she and Condon also spend about two hours making lunches for school children at Loaves and Fishes. Van Lent said they make about 225 lunches but she doesn’t get tired of it.
“Anything that makes her happy, we do it,” Condon said.
Van Lent’s previous community support worker of 15 years, Kelly Masko, was instrumental in jump-starting Van Lent’s passion for volunteering, Condon said, introducing her to new things and people.
But she said Van Lent, a middle child with three older brothers and five sisters, has always had an inkling to “do her part” and two of her sisters are also big-time volunteers at the Bibles for Missions Thrift Store in Red Deer.
Van Lent has also been the keeper of plants at Hunting Hills High School for the past 16 years. Armed with fertilizer and her watering unit, she hits the empty halls every Friday evening for a couple hours to make sure no green leaves wilt in any of the massive planters at the school.
“I like plants, gardening,” Van Lent said. She also helps out with the flower beds around her group home in West Park.
Her green thumb is handy in the kitchen, too, said Condon. The pair help out once a month baking up a storm for the Ronald McDonald House of Central Alberta.
“I like to be busy,” Van Lent said, smiling and shrugging off a comment on the amount of her volunteering hours per week.
She’s also an avid scrapbooker, bingo player and Tim McGraw fan. After 12 years of saving, Van Lent took a trip to Las Vegas in February with friends to see the country singer perform. McGraw came off stage and sang directly to her in the front row, she said, grinning from ear to ear, her hands clasped.
What’s next for her?
More volunteering of course, she said, and hopefully in the next few years: “Disneyland!”