Led by the skirl of bagpipes, a line of people began entering the banquet room in the RBC Convention Centre Winnipeg. By the time the piper had finished his tune, the queue stretched the width of the room, from one end to the other.
“That’s a long line,” remarked co-emcee Peter Chura of Global TV News upon viewing the number of people who were assembled in front of the stage. “I think we really needed the expansion of the convention centre tonight.”
The group were volunteers from across the province — from Churchill in the north to Steinbach in the south — being honoured for their commitments during the 31st annual Volunteer Awards, sponsored by Volunteer Manitoba and Manitoba Liquor and Lotteries.
Even Kaitlyn Lawes, the third on the gold-medal winning Jennifer Jones rink from Winnipeg at this year’s Sochi Winter Olympics, was impressed by the group gathered to receive their awards.
“Each of you has a reason for volunteering,” said the Impact Team Ambassador for Manitoba Liquor and Lotteries. “Whatever the reason, you have made a positive impact on your town, city and province.”
Lawes presented the Manitoba Lotteries Family Volunteer Award to the Friesen family, who completed over 400 volunteer hours annually as coaches, teachers, camp leaders, photographers, producer/hosts, and managers and co-ordinators of the Folk Festival site first-aid crew since 1995.
Jared Funk, a triple-medal winner at three Paralympic Summer Games, reflected on the role of volunteers in the community. Quoting Helen Keller, who overcame deafness and blindness to become a famous author and communicator, the paralympian rugby player — often referred to as “Murder Ball” for its numerous crashes involving the wheelchair-bound athletes — said, “Alone we can do so little; together we can do so much.”
“Everyone who volunteers — you should know how much of an impact you have on so many lives,” he continued.
Indeed, the 700 attending the annual awards ceremony could not help but be impressed by the depth of volunteering within Manitoba. Manitobans per capita volunteer more of their time and energy than people from other provinces and territories in Canada. Fifty-two per cent of Manitobans are volunteers, dedicating 141 hours each annually to worthy causes.
Also taking part in the ceremony was the Manitoba Real Estate Association. MREA president Dan Wachniak presented MREA’s Quality of Life Award to Susan Hunt and Josie Landry (only Landry was on-hand to accept the award, as Hunt was out-of-town): “In recognition to their dedication over the past five years to ensure low-income families have access to the tools necessary to have a successful school year by co-ordinating the Winnipeg Harvest’s Tools for Schools program.”
The retired school teachers are “community builders,” said Wachniak. He explained that they co-ordinate the collecting of new backpacks that are then filled with school supplies for students who would otherwise be unable to afford such items of everyday school life. In an era when backpacks are ubiquitous at schools, a child without one would stand out and suffer the hurt of believing that he/she does not belong. It is self-evident that a feeling of security helps children succeed in school.
Over the course of five years, the two women have co-ordinated the donation of hundreds of backpacks and numerous school supplies to school-age children.
“They are leaders we can be proud of,” said Wachniak.
Along with the award, Hunt and Landry received a $2,500 cheque to donate to the charity of their choice.
It’s the third year that the MREA award has been presented. This year, 13 individuals and groups were nominated for the award.
It’s not at all surprising that an organization representing REALTORS® should be participating in the Volunteer Awards. REALTORS® are noted for dedicating their time and making donations to charities and other deserving causes. Just recently, the annual WinnipegREALTORS® Gimme Shelter social — operated solely by volunteers — raised thousands of dollars for MREA’s Shelter Foundation, which provides funding for shelter-related charities and causes across Manitoba.
“I really enjoy the dynamism of our industry,” said Shirley Przybyl, a past-president of WinnipegREALTORS® in 2012, “and the opportunity it presents people like me to get involved and give back to the community.”
Quoting Kahlil Gibran, an early 20th-century Lebanese artist, poet and writer, Manitoba Lieutenant-Governor Philip Lee said, “The smallest act of kindness is worth more than the greatest intention.”
“I have met people from all ages, all walks of life, who have given freely of themselves,” continued Lee. “They put energy, ideas and caring to work, and they have enriched our culture and made our culture more exciting. They have inspired everyone by example.”
Lee presented the Lieutenant-Governor’s Make A difference Community Awards to several deserving individuals as well as the St. Amant School Volunteers from Highbury School, who assisted in the delivery of programs to St. Amant residents and children in day care, physiotherapy programs and outdoor activities.
When presenting the Premier’s Volunteer Service awards, Premier Greg Selinger said that “volunteers are the backbone of many organizations.”
He mentioned the “young people just starting out who are already making a difference.” Among the young people receiving awards from the premier were Devon and Jeremy Liscum, and Rebecca Trudeau. In Trudeau’s case, she has raised over 500 pounds of food for Winnipeg Harvest, 20 bags of clothing for Siloam Mission, and has raised funds for non-profit organizations such as St. Amant Centre, Canadian Blood Services and the North End Community Renewal Corporation.
The Churchill Ladies Club received the Community Group award from the premier in “dedication to making a difference in the Churchill community by fundraising and gaining project support as well as outreach further afield such as community food banks, the Grandmothers to Grandmothers Campaign, the Call of the Poor and Doctors without Borders.”
On behalf of Mayor Sam Katz, Acting- Deputy-Mayor Grant Nordman presented the five Mayor’s Volunteer Service Awards.
“We are a city filled with people who like to help each other,” said Normand, the councillor for St. Charles Ward.
The number of awards handed out to the many gathered at the convention centre proves that volunteerism is alive and well in Manitoba, and that volunteerism involves many different individuals and organizations from many diverse backgrounds, uniting an entire province in the spirit of freely giving their time and energy to worthwhile causes.