In a room full of politicians, businesspeople and community organization participants gathered to celebrate volunteers, one person stood out in the crowd.
Wearing a stunning sequined purple dress and matching headscarf, Lloydetta Quaicoe smiled as she chatted with Premier Dwight Ball, who sat next to her at the Community Sector Council’s annual volunteer luncheon Wednesday at Holiday Inn in St. John’s.
But it’s wasn’t just Quaicoe’s attire or premiere seating that made her so distinguishable.
Besides her genuine friendly nature, Quaicoe has become recognized for her dedication and hard work in raising awareness for the multicultural community in this province.
She, along with Royal Newfoundland Constabulary Chief Joe Boland, have been named honorary co-chairs of the province’s Volunteer Week, April 15-21.
“It was great, but it was a little awkward for me,” Quaicoe said with a smile when asked about the honour after the event. “I’m someone who usually just works quietly and do what I do.”
Born in Freetown, Sierra Leone, in West Africa, Quaicoe came to St. John’s in 1984, when her husband, John, was offered a position in Memorial University’s engineering and applied sciences department.
As a newcomer to the country, Quaicoe became involved in volunteering and quickly made her mark.
In 1999, she founded Sharing Our Cultures, an organization governed by volunteers that aims to engage high school students from diverse cultures in activities designed to develop healthy friendships, as well as leadership, literacy and sociocultural skills.
In 2013, she received the Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Medal for promoting the values of multiculturalism and intercultural relations. In 2018, she was awarded a Human Rights Champion certificate by the Human Rights Commission of Newfoundland and Labrador for her work with newcomer school children.
Quaicoe serves on the OMNI Television’s advisory council for the Atlantic and Ontario regions, as well as on the St. John’s Local Immigration Partnership Council. She has volunteered in positions of leadership with several community organizations, including as president of the Multicultural Women’s Organization of Newfoundland and Labrador and the African Canadian Association of Newfoundland and Labrador.
“When I got involved, I felt we needed to integrate newcomers more into the larger community and to have the local community have a better understanding of the cultures of newcomers,” she said.
That included such things as getting the right service — allowing females to be seen by a female doctor (as they were accustomed to in their own home countries) — and taking steps to ensure parents with school children understand what’s discussed at parent-teacher meetings.
“If English is not your first language, it’s difficult to be at a parent-teacher meeting… it can be intimidating for them,” said Quaicoe, a mother of three.
“Some parents have difficulties just understanding what’s happening. When you come to a new country, you don’t leave your culture behind, so your frame of reference is your culture. You come into a culture that’s totally different than what you’re familiar with. So, they have to navigate and try to find out what they need to know.”
She said there’s more awareness of the needs of multicultural citizens these days and she’s glad various groups and schools are recognizing them.
“The more we spend time with each other, the more likely we’re able to accept and respect each other,” she said. “Sometimes it’s the fear of the unknown that keeps us from really reaching out and integrating, interacting and learning from others.”
The premier recognized Quaicoe’s impact on the community in his speech.
“I can tell by looking at you, you’re just this genuine person that has that one (special) touch,” Ball said, prompting a round of applause.
“I can almost picture you sitting down at a table and sharing a coffee or water or whatever it is with someone, and how that conversation would go. I can tell you that they would feel connected, as I did as I was sitting next to you.”
Boland was out of town and couldn’t attend the event, but his work as a volunteer was also recognized.
He coached with the St. John’s Amateur Baseball Association and with the St. John’s Minor Hockey Association. In 2009, he was named Baseball Canada National Grassroots Development Coach of the Year and he was recently inducted into the Softball Newfoundland Labrador Hall of Fame in the athlete category. As a member of the RNC hockey team, Boland won the gold medal in 2001 at the World Police Fire Games in Indianapolis, Indiana.
He serves on the Mental Health and Addictions advisory board, Eastern Health police liaison committee, Occupational Health and Safety committee, Mental Health Mobile Crisis Response Team Implementation committee and the Duty to Accommodate, Early and Safe Return to Work committee.