Retired Naval Commander Sails Into Volunteer Life

by Salvation Army
Categories: Feature

Early retirement has been good to Roger Girouard, the former commander of Maritime Forces Pacific. The Montreal-born Girouard bid farewell to the navy in 2007 after a 34-year career. He was a much-loved leader touted to move up in the naval echelon, but chose to leave the service at the age of 50 to spend time with his wife Becki, who has multiple sclerosis. The couple has settled in Sooke.

Not one to rest on his laurels, Girouard didn’t take long to move into two post-navy avocations that have long held his interest — teaching and community work. He teaches in the master’s program in security and peace-building at Royal Roads University, and spends considerable time with the Salvation Army’s Advisory Board and the Greater Victoria Coalition to End Homelessness.

“I teach because I like to see people reach their maximum,” Girouard said. “And I hang around the social-justice area because I want to see people reach their maximum. It’s the same thing — I’m in the business of maximizing human potential.”

He draws inspiration from the people he works with, particularly volunteers at The Salvation Army who have come through difficult times and turned their lives around. “I appreciate their challenges and the mountains that they’ve climbed. I take energy from the fact that they keep going at it and keep doing things that are positive.”
Girouard said Victoria is clearly “a volunteer-oriented place” where deeply dedicated people are trying to deal with important issues like supplying affordable housing and supporting the disadvantaged.

He began volunteering with Victoria’s Salvation Army during his navy days. “I started with the Salvation Army back when I was still in uniform. The tradition was the admiral would be an honorary member of the local Salvation Army board. “Much to their chagrin, I actually showed up at a bunch of meetings and enjoyed it,” he added with a smile. Girouard was asked to stay on after leaving the navy and happily obliged. “I became the liaison to ARC, the Addictions Rehab Centre on Johnson Street.”

He described the Johnson Street centre as a “hidden gem” in the city. “Everybody knows where the building is but not everybody knows what goes on in there. They don’t know that there’s a couple of hundred folks housed, that they have the shelter and that they do reintegration for Corrections Canada. They do addiction services, they do all kinds of stuff.”
Girouard’s experience with The Salvation Army led to a suggestion from another community stalwart, Mel Cooper, that he get involved with the Coalition to End Homelessness. Girouard did just that and ended up on the coalition’s management committee. For added measure, he is also involved in the Victoria Tall Ships Festival. “I didn’t de-volunteer fast enough so I’m the president of Tall Ships now,” he said with a chuckle.

His navy background serves him well in his community-oriented pursuits, Girouard said. “It’s the same kind of skills, it’s the systems thinking, the analysis, the Type-A let’s get something done.” He called affordable housing Victoria’s “number 1 core issue.” Positive steps have been made and some capital projects are underway, but there is still a lot to do, he said. Putting money into the issue is not the only solution, he added. “It’s not just about roofs. It’s combinations of things. The key is to also bring people back their self esteem, their self worth.”

Having support systems for them is also a key element, Girouard said, and incentives need to be established to get affordable housing in place. “How about the provincial policies around supports? How about the CRD and a housing levy? How many empty lots are out there and can we convert some of those empty lots with a donation in-kind from a community?”

He said Victoria has the kind of volunteers to take on this and many other issues, and to make things better for everybody.

Courtesy of Jeff Bell, Victoria Times Colonist