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Lending a hand

by Derek Jory / Vancouver Canucks

Sedin, Bieksa and Hamhuis together again at Rogers Arena.

No, not Daniel, Kevin and Dan, their better halves Marinette, Katie and Sarah were the ones volunteering earlier this week at the 7th annual Canucks Family Education Centre holiday dinner.

All three volunteer at the Canucks Family Education Centre (CFEC) throughout the year and similar the families invited to the event, they wouldn’t have missed it for the world.

The Captains Room at Rogers Arena was transformed into a cozy dining room, complete with the Canucks fireplace and the movie ELF playing on TVs, Michael Buble’s holiday carols crooning over the speakers, Santa Fin and elegant seating for 200 people all around. As the room filled with CFEC participants and their families, of all ages, cultures and religions, the scene shifted from elegant to semichaotic.

It was truly a family dinner during the holidays – “except there’s no fighting,” laughed Katie Bieksa. “This is the kind of holiday dinner I want to go to!”

Katie has been volunteering at the event since it began in 2005, but this year the holiday dinner was extra special because of her new connection to the centre. She began helping at CFEC, an organization that aims to positively impact low literacy levels on Vancouver’s East side and other locations throughout the BC, earlier this year and the lasting bonds Katie has already formed have opened her eyes to the importance of the program.

It’s also humbled the university graduate, who majored in literature, and brought her back to the basics of English.

“The first few classes it was really something to get used to because you skip over the basics when you use English everyday, so going back to it and trying to slow down and teach them the first steps was a challenge. But watching Marinette teach is amazing – especially remembering that it’s her second language.”

Marinette Sedin relates to the students she teaches like few others because it wasn’t long ago she too was jumping everyday language hurdles related to things as simple as following cooking directions.

Back in 2000 when Daniel and Marinette, and Henrik and his wife Johanna, relocated from Sweden to Canada, Marinette barely spoke a word of the language she has since mastered and speaks with ease.

She’s now been volunteering at CFEC for over four years and in that time she’s helped ease that difficult transition for others by helping remove their language barrier.

“It’s amazing the difference from when I started, I think that’s why I continue because I see that happening,” smiled Marinette, who admitted she’ll be spending time at CFEC “until they kick me out.”

“I understand how it feels to be lost and scared and not be able to express what you want. Everything in your life is hard and not knowing and understanding English is such a burden. But these are great students who want to learn and their only complaint is that at the end of the day their mouths hurt. It sounds funny, but you’re speaking in a different way, you use muscles you don’t normally use.”

Jean Rasmussen, CFEC executive director, flexes her muscle to ensure students and volunteers alike benefit from the program. The annual holiday dinner is definitely one of the perks of the year.

The mouthwatering, stomach-grumbling array of food, donated by Aramark and prepared by Canucks executive chef David Speight and his staff, featured carved turkey breast, vegetarian and carnivore lasagnas, winter vegetable hash, candied pecan and roasted apple stuffing and a sushi and maki platter for the adults.

For the kids, mini pizzas, french fries, chicken fingers and mac & cheese.

For the kid in everyone, a hot fudge sunday ice cream bar, warm chocolate fudge brownies, gingerbread men, tarts and cookies.

If you’re going to do it up, do it up right.

“I’m absolutely jubilant,” said Jean Rasmussen. “It’s families from different parts of the world, different cultures, different religions, all coming here to celebrate the holidays, whatever that means to them. We’re transcending differences and we’re sharing together, so it’s a really great opportunity for that.

“For me, this is an example of what we can all do together – from the people who participate in our programs to every who makes them possible, we can do something wonderful together and that’s what this is, something really wonderful.”

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