Just a couple of weeks after this year’s Steps for Life walk in Sarnia, a worker at a local business was killed on the job. For Mark Roehler, chairman of the Sarnia walk committee, it was a sad reminder of why  the walk – and the work of the volunteers – is so important.

That’s what we want to prevent,” he says. “And we want to make sure that if unfortunately something does happen, people are aware of the services that are there for them.”

A passion for health and safety brought Mark to Steps for Life and Threads of Life in the first place, but seeing the growth and healing of the volunteer family members is what keeps him motivated. When he’s worked closely with family members, and hears them share their stories, “these are the ones that really impact me,” he says. “I know what it means to them. To see the change in them, even in a 12-month period – I cherish those moments.”

Mark Roehler, centre (in Threads of Life vest) at the opening of Sarnia Steps for Life 2017

Mark has been involved with the Sarnia walk since its start in 2010. He had been working in environment, health and safety for a large corporation, and in 1995 launched LEHDER Environmental Services along with three partners. The company now employs 37 people and offers air quality services, emissions testing and environmental, health and safety services.

Mark was already volunteering with the then-IAPA (Industrial Accident Prevention Association – now WSPS), and when he heard about a new fundraising walk being kicked off in Sarnia, he went to the very first meeting. There were only four volunteers, and he saw his energy and skills could be put to good use for a cause that was important to him.

Steps for Life Sarnia has seen impressive growth in the past few years.  For 2017, Mark is optimistic they’ll be close to their goal of $25,000 – more than triple what the walk raised just a handful of years ago. He attributes that to the passion of the local volunteers, and going out to talk to local companies about sponsorship and participation. The committee starts in September, prepares a lot of its own materials to promote Steps for Life, and makes sure all sponsors receive a personalized thank you. This year, the walk attracted VIPs from every level of government, and had great turnout despite nasty weather.

“I’m hopeful that next year we’ll grow even more,” Mark says. “We’re always out talking about it!”

He continues to volunteer in high schools doing health and safety presentations, and is also the president of Safe Communities Sarnia-Lambton. So helping families affected by workplace tragedy, by volunteering with Steps for Life, is a perfect fit.

“For me, the big thing is this is aligned with my main goal to keep everybody safe,” he says.

Susan Haldane
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