Tim Martin
Tim Martin

He went for the rodeo and stayed for the flood.

What started for U of G student Tim Martin as a weekend jaunt to this summer’s Calgary Stampede turned into a week’s worth of volunteering to help clean up after the worst flooding in the province’s history.

It also led to a job offer, one that Martin declined. After all, he still needed to complete his undergrad degree in water resources engineering.

Back in Guelph for his third year, he says his volunteer experience “built a sense that I was part of something bigger than myself, which was amazing.”

He hadn’t expected to pitch in – or even to attend the Stampede.

Spending the summer on a co-op placement in Hinton, Alta., Martin helped operate natural gas wells with Canadian Natural Resources.

He lucked into a pair of “sweet tickets” to the Stampede at a golf tournament. Someone else had won them but then decided to offer them up for a reduced price.

Martin’s work buddies pooled their money to buy the tickets. Then they offered them free to the Guelph student on a dare: swim across a pond on the golf course. So he did.

Down in Calgary, floods had displaced hundreds of thousands of people and would cause billions of dollars’ worth of damage.

The Stampede arena had been flooded, but it opened in time for the event.

After the Stampede ended, Martin had several days free. Instead of heading back to Hinton, he decided to answer a call for volunteers from Samaritan’s Purse, a relief organization.

“I had the rest of the week off.” What better use of his free time, he thought – as well as a way to put his Christian faith into practice.

Samaritan's Purse volunteers
Samaritan’s Purse volunteers

That’s how he ended up in the Siksika First Nations reserve east of Calgary. The reserve was among the first to declare a state of emergency; about 1,000 residents were evacuated during flooding from the Bow River.

Martin spent the next few days helping to clean out muck-clogged basements along with volunteers from Canada and the United States.

By his second day, he was asked to lead a group of 20 volunteers. And by the weekend, he was helping to co-ordinate the entire effort, including leading safety and orientation sessions.

He stayed at the Samaritan’s Purse headquarters in Calgary.

The group wanted him to stay to work in disaster relief. But Martin had to head back to his job and then return to Guelph.

But now he has next summer planned. Under an internship with the organization, he will help rebuild homes back in Alberta as a project manager.

“The volunteering experience was way more important than the money I was making or the travelling. Helping people in need was more significant than any of those things,” he says.

After high school, Martin volunteered in Zambia, installing solar panels and digging water wells. That experience led him to pursue water resource engineering at Guelph.

He says he might pursue international development work after graduation.

Sheila Hollidge, co-op co-ordinator for environmental engineering and water resources engineering in Co-operative Education and Career Services, calls Martin’s experience “a perfect example of how students can go above and beyond their work term and learn so much from themselves and what’s around them.

“We try to teach students that it’s more than just the nine-to-five. It’s what else you learn when you go and experience something.”