FOR DEALERS NEIL AND DARLENE KALAWSKY, BEING ACTIVELY INVOLVED IN NUMEROUS COMMUNITY PROGRAMS WITHIN THEIR HOME BASE OF CASTLEGAR, B.C., HAS HELPED PUT THIS INTERIOR CITY ON THE MAP.
The Kalawsky family owns and operates four new car dealerships in Castlegar, Kalawsky Chevrolet (originally opened in 1989), Castlegar Toyota, Castlegar Hyundai and shortly, will add a Kia franchise to the mix. Neil Kalawsky, originally trained as a dealer accountant and has owned and operated his own stores since 1978. In 1989 the Kalawsky family decided to relocate, from Killam, Alta, to Castlegar. “We love it here,” says Darlene Kalawsky.
The Kalawsky family can be described as a Canadian success story, with Neil and Darlene and their sons Craig and Keith, focusing on a strategy to make the city as “the place” for consumers to purchase and service their vehicles in the West Kootenay region of B.C. Besides a growing auto retailing business, the Kalawskys have also taken steps to ensure the community that surrounds them has a bright and prosperous future.
Darlene Kalawsky has been spearheading a whole range of projects designed to increase the profile of Castlegar on both a regional, national and international stage. One of them is Communities in Bloom. “It’s a national beautification program,” she says, “one that basically encourages a city to be the best it can be.” For the last nine years, Kalawsky has been coordinating the program in Castlegar and it is through these efforts that the city won national status and recognition, in 2012.
“That was very exciting,” she says, “since Castlegar is not particularly well known for anything.” The profile that Communities in Bloom has helped foster for the city, has also spurned other projects, including Sculpture Walk. “The idea was developed four years ago. I thought of seeing it as important for a city to have art,” says Kalawsky. And when she refers to art, she means objects that everybody, from small children to adults could appreciate.
“It’s an outdoor culture program,” she explains “and was particularly important [for us] because like many small downtowns, Castlegar wasn’t particularly thriving.” Kalawsky got the city council involved with the project and presented the idea to the Communities in Bloom audience during the national conference in Quebec City in 2010. Since then its taken on a life of its own, with sculptors from all across North America sending submissions to have their art displayed. Today, Castlegar’s downtown is a different place and that’s reflected in the community as a whole.
“We have seen a lot of change,” says Kalawsky, “more young families are moving back and the city is thriving with new developments and infrastructure projects designed to make Castlegar a place people want to come and live.”
Besides helping the city with projects in a physical sense, the Kalawskys also recognize that for Castlegar to have a promising future, providing the tools and skills for its citizens to flourish is also key, which is why supporting education programs and the local library has and will continue to be a major part of their philanthropic efforts. “We’ve been very involved with Selkirk College,” says Darlene Kalawsky.
“The auto dealers in this community (there are five of us) drove a bursary for $150,000 that is supporting young people in the business administration program,” she says. Additionally, the Kalawsky family has also provided a digital media bursary for Selkirk students as well, to help give them a leg up. “Education has been one of our focal points. Without education you can’t perform well in your work, so for us, providing the basics and supporting young people and preparing them for the world is important.”
And not only have Darlene Kalawsky’s efforts helped give the City of Castlegar recognition, she has through them, also received some of her own. In 2011 she was bestowed with a British Columbia Achievement Award (one of only 37 in the province), while, by the time you read this, she will have also received an honorary diploma in Business Administration from Selkirk College, as a nod toward her fundraising activities and support for the community.
However, as great as it can be to receive such personal recognition, Kalawsky says that it’s what can result when members of the community collectively come together to support it that is truly great. She says that is why the family will continue to make giving back a focal point of their lives.