Community value in Operation Red Nose
It’s the red light drivers actually look forward to seeing around the holidays.
Operation Red Nose, the national designated-driving service celebrating its 25th anniversary, will hit the roads for the 14th year here in Lethbridge, thanks to the University of Lethbridge and Pronghorn Athletics.
With that longevity comes a level of recognition in the community and an expectation that as the snow flies and the holiday cheer flows, the Red Nose tradition is renewed.
“You can’t help but recognize the big red vests,” Pronghorn track athlete and longtime Red Nose volunteer Jim Steacy says.
“I have people asking me in September when we’re going to start up again. A lot of them wish we did it all year.”
Created in 1984 in Quebec City, the program offers holiday revelers the opportunity to be driven home in their own vehicles, free of charge. While donations are readily accepted, and for Pronghorn Athletics that amounts to some $25,000 per year, the essence of the program is providing a valuable service and connecting the University with the southern Alberta community.
“This was a perfect program,” Sandy Slavin, executive director, Sport and Recreation Services, says of its inception in 1994. “It was a great way for us to get out and give back to the community that contributes so much to us.”
While the financial impact on the program has become substantial over the years, Slavin says if it were just a money matter, the program could probably devote its manpower to a more lucrative pursuit.
That, however, is not what providing Red Nose is all about.
“If you broke it down, it’s a lot of work per hour, but when you look at everything else you get out of it, the service in the community, the recognition in the community, it becomes a very valuable fundraiser for us,” she says.
Knud Petersen, past president of the Pronghorn Booster Club, says it took some doing to get the first program launched.
“It was a lot of work and a lot of convincing people in the beginning,” Petersen says, noting taxi companies were initially against their proposal.
But Red Nose has proven to fill a void the taxi companies could not address and it has meant fewer impaired drivers on roads.
“I think it’s a fantastic program,” Jeff Haley, government affairs manager for the Insurance Bureau of Canada, says. The Bureau is a major national sponsor.
“I can’t really speak to the numbers (of people it takes off the road) but the commitment we have made to this each of the last four years is simply because it makes a difference.”
The Lethbridge Regional Police Service agrees.
“It absolutely does make a difference in our community,” sergeant Craig Deimuth says. “It once again gives people another option of how to get home safely after an evening of celebrating the Christmas season.
“Everybody is always concerned about leaving their vehicle behind but with this option, where not only they but their vehicle can get home safely, it’s a fantastic program to have available.”
Staffed by more than 600 volunteers (all of which are screened by the police service), the University of Lethbridge program connects Pronghorn Athletics to the community in a unique and personal manner. For Steacy, it’s a great way to show off the Pronghorn logo, making the volunteer hours worth the work.
“I know the tournament teams — the rugby, track and field and swimming teams — realize that this is our main source of income as far as funding goes,” Steacy says.
“But beyond that, it’s kind of an honour to be part of a program like this. I’m helping people out, giving them a safe avenue home.”