Roy Sumpter is a busy Vancouver volunteer who’s looking for his pay out.
The 81-year-old is suing the city for a cash prize he said he never received. Sumpter won the 2011 Mayor’s Arts Awards for Volunteerism last fall, receiving a certificate and a book of poems from the city. But Sumpter said one things was missing—a $2,500 cheque. “I’ve been asked this many times—“Roy, what did you do with that $2,500? I say, no, I haven’t got it.”
Sumpter wasn’t expecting a cash award until he checked the award ceremony booklet. The second page of the booklet stated that, “Honourees and emerging artists each receive a cash reward from the City of Vancouver in the amount of $2,500.” At that point he wondered why he wasn’t offered one of the prize envelopes.
“When I got home and really read this I said I’m part of this group. I’m entitled to that.”
Sumpter said he contacted the city and was told the pamphlet wording had been a mistake. According to a city media representative’s email to the Courier, the volunteer category was never associated with a cash prize since coming into existence in 2008.
The City of Vancouver would not comment as the matter is before the courts, according to its communications office. But according to the City of Vancouver’s website, only honouree “artists” and emerging artists receive a cash award. Those recognized in categories like volunteerism and philanthropy receive a certificate of recognition, without the money.
But Sumpter said that even if it was a printing mistake for the pamphlet, he still wants his award. “They do admit, in fact, from their own lawyer, that there was a mistake and misunderstanding in that brochure,” said Sumpter. “They’re a confused group, they don’t know what the hell they’re doing, frankly. So I just took it upon myself.”
He explained that he’s not working with any other honourees from this year or past award recipients. Though he’s working independently, Sumpter said he may contact others if he wins his battle with the city, which he said will go before a judge next month. He’ll conduct his own legal work. For now, he’ll continue his volunteer work around the city.
Sumpter volunteers with 25 different organizations in Vancouver, often as security staff or a greeter at their galas. His resumé boasts work with the Vancouver Playhouse, Fringe Festival, B.C. Children’s Hospital, United Way, and Canadian Cancer Association, to name a few. On average, Sumpter said he spends three days a week working crowds around Vancouver. He has already booked 10 days next month for work with the Vancouver Film Festival. “I go to galas, I mix with people and that’s my profession,” Sumpter said. “I’m not making money on it, believe me I’m not.”
Sumpter’s bright orange business card contains the motto, “Volunteers are unpaid not because they are worthless but because they are priceless.”
So why bother to go after cash for free work?
“Why ask?” Sumpter said. “Because they offered it.”