It’s as much a part of Christmas in Lethbridge as sipping eggnog by the fire or Santa filling the stockings. If you’re going to partake in some holiday cheer, having Operation Red Nose (ORN) at your disposal is a true southern Alberta holiday tradition.
Pronghorn Athletics and the University of Lethbridge launched the 23rd season of Operation Red Nose on Tuesday and in a special nod to the legacy of the ride home program, Sandy Slavin, former executive director for Sport and Recreation Services, was honoured for her role in helping to establish the campaign in 1995 and growing it over her ensuing 20 years of service.
“Personally, I think Sandy has had a lot to do with the success of Operation Red Nose because she brought stability to the program when it started here and for two full decades after,” says Marie-Chantal Fortin, Operation Red Nose national development coordinator. “That’s a lot of stability for one community and something we don’t see regularly and I think that allowed the program to grow consistently, strongly, and without having to weather different storms.”
Fortin made a point of coming to Lethbridge personally to present Slavin with a special Operation Red Nose safety vest marking her entry into the ORN Hall of Fame.
“I wasn’t expecting this,” says Slavin. “It’s nice, Red Nose was a big part of what I did and started and I’m very proud of Operation Red Nose in Lethbridge. It’s nice to know that it has been recognized nationally.”
The success of the program is remarkable, having raised more than $690,000 in support of Pronghorn Athletics over the first 22 years of the program, all the while providing thousands of rides home to holiday party-goers. The safety it has brought to local roads cannot be quantified but by providing 1,159 rides home just last year, it puts into perspective how many at risk situations may have been averted.
Slavin says the early years of ORN were frantic and it wasn’t long before she knew the program had staying power in the community.
“It was crazy, we didn’t know anything about what was happening that first year,” she says. “We didn’t have phones that worked until about a half-hour before the service started. So, growing it from there, where I think we provided 150 rides that first year, up into the thousands of rides, was big. It was fun to be a part of seeing it grow here and become an important part of the Lethbridge holiday season.”
Pronghorns women’s basketball player Kacie Bosch grew up in Lethbridge and had an idea what ORN was all about, but it didn’t prepare her for staffing the front lines when she first worked the campaign as an athlete volunteer last year.
“I’d heard it on the radio all the time and on TV commercials but then actually taking part in it – I was answering the phones all night, from 9 p.m. until 3 in the morning and we got so many calls, so many people taking part in it,” she says. “Seeing the support from the community, people who aren’t even with Pronghorn Athletics but who care deeply about this, it really says a lot about southern Alberta.”
This year’s ORN campaign begins service Friday, Nov. 24 and continues every Friday and Saturday evening through Dec. 16 before wrapping up on New Year’s Eve. The service runs from 9:30 p.m. to 3 a.m. each night with users able to call 403-320-4155 to request an ORN team come to their location to transport both them and their car home.
While Pronghorn Athletics provides the bulk of volunteers, more than 620 volunteers were needed to staff last year’s campaign and help is always needed. For those wishing to volunteer, contact Pronghorn Athletics at 403-329-2681 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.