Caught in the Act

Arlene McDonnell

Volunteer with Grande Prairie Legal Guidance

by GPVSB Communications

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 On Wednesday mornings Arlene McDonnell can usually be found at the Grande Prairie Legal Guidance (GPLG) office at The Community Village. 

To say that Arlene is a lady to be admired is an understatement. In 2009 Arlene found her self newly retired as a Registered Dietician with much more time on her hands than she had anticipated. She was looking at the volunteer opportunities the Daily Herald Tribune with GPVSB when she spotted an ad that GPLG was looking for an administrative volunteer - six years later she reflects on how she got started:

“I wanted to try something completely new – and this was definitely an area that I had no experience in.”


GPLG provides free legal advice and information to low-income persons that do not qualify for Legal Aid. The services are delivered via legal clinics and information sessions staffed by volunteer lawyers. Arlene’s volunteer position entails coming in once a week to do client intakes, type in the advice from volunteer lawyers and doing general office tasks. Arlene also covers some afternoon clinics and attends Saturday legal information sessions at the Grande Prairie Public Library when the coordinator is unavailable.

“I remember being really surprised at the number of people that needed help and the complexity of their situations”, she exclaims. These people really needed some help and I remember wondering ‘how do people get into these situations?’”.

Through volunteering with GPLG, Arlene reports that she has gained substantial knowledge of the legal system. “I know how to access legal information and which community resources can help. I share that information with others and I always refer them to GPLG if they have a legal question or concern.”

Arlene reports that the best thing about volunteering her time at GPLG is the gratitude that the clients express after she’s listened to their stories and let them know that they do have somewhere to go to get help. “They often sigh with relief and thank me – I love that!”

When asked how she sees GPLG making a difference in the community, Arlene pauses for a moment to think. “It’s absolutely essential that people have access to legal information and advice and that’s the premise that GPLG works off of – that everyone should have access to legal assistance despite their financial situation.”

GPLG Coordinator, Tanya Ruigrok, reports that Arlene is an essential element of GPLG’s services. We asked her what it is about Arlene that makes a valuable member of the team. “Arlene is absolutely steadfast and reliable. She is in every Wednesday morning like clockwork – unless she’s off somewhere exotic travelling”, she laughs, then continues. “Our clients are usually in very stressful situations and sometimes they can project that when they call looking for assistance. Arlene understands that the people that call us are frustrated – they’ve been told they don’t qualify for legal aid, they can’t afford a lawyer and oftentimes they are in extremely serious situations – alone. Most of the time they just want somebody to sit quietly and listen to their stories without judging them – Arlene does that.”

Arlene’s opinion on volunteering in general is that volunteering is to offer and receive. She gains personal satisfaction helping others, knowledge of community resources and practical skills that she wouldn’t have gained otherwise.

“If I wasn’t out in the community volunteering” she says, “I’d be sitting at home watching TV or in my garden.” Arlene reports that sometimes her volunteer obligations are a balancing act as she also enjoys travelling and spending time with her friends and family. “The time I spend volunteering anchors my week – gives me a schedule of things to do. I also volunteer for Sewing for Kids, Toastmasters and FASS. My parents volunteered and it was always part of my life. As a family we volunteered at the Camrose tennis courts raking shale even though none of us played tennis. It was important for us to be involved in the community.”

Arlene’s strongest belief about volunteering is that “anytime you have an interest that you can donate time towards it’s always greatly appreciated by the person or organization who receives the benefit of your knowledge or skill. I’m always amazed that one person can make a difference.”

Arlene’s last comment is for the organizations that utilize volunteer manpower. “Appreciation in any form and at any time makes it worth it. Recognition from this program makes it extra special! Thank you.”


Grande Prairie Legal Guidance

Organization Profile


The mission of Grande Prairie Legal Guidance is to provide free legal advice to low income individuals who do not qualify for Legal Aid.

For more information, email gplg@thecommunityvillage or call 780-882-0036.





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