When attending the 29th annual Volunteer Awards on April 17 at the Winnipeg Convention Centre, I must admit to being overwhelmed by the dedication of Manitobans, who freely give up their time and energy for worthwhile causes. I was also amazed by the diversity of volunteers who ranged in age from school-age children to seniors. But above all, I felt a sense of pride in knowing that people across the province, represented by the 700 who attended the awards ceremony, are unselfishly prepared to willingly make a difference in the lives of others.
“It’s not about the pay cheque,” said Michael Redhead Champagne, a 24-year-old Aboriginal Youth Opportunities (AYO) organizer in Winnipeg’s North End. “It’s about the heart.”
In a stirring speak, Champagne related his own experiences as a youth and how “the power of one” — in his case a caring teacher — changed his life. It took just one book which the teacher bought for him when he was 10 years old — a cherished item that he could never have hoped to afford — to inspire Champagne. At the time, he had been bullied relentlessly and saw no escape from the poverty that surrounded his daily existence, so Champagne contemplated taking his own life.
“The power of one takes one person doing one thing,” was the message he conveyed.
One person, who happened to be a teacher, who had done one thing that changed a young boy’s life for the good, and he is now that “one person,” who is committed to helping others in the North End.
Champagne could of ended up as a gang member, a school drop-out destined to spend much of his life uselessly in prison, but he recognized through the gracious act of a single individual that his life had meaning and worth. He joined the cadets, finished school, and helped form AYO, an anti-gang group committed to giving a helping hand up to North End youth.
“Volunteerism is always something everyone can do, whatever the age and whatever the task,” said Premier Greg Selinger, who was on hand to present the Premier’s Volunteer Services Awards. Other presentations were for the Mayor’s Volunteer Service Awards, hand out by Mayor Sam Katz, the Lieutenant Governor’s Make a Difference Community Awards, given out by Lieutenant Governor Philip Lee, as well as individual awards presented by the province’s business community, including the Manitoba Real Estate Association.
I saw a twinkle in the eye of 95-year-old Arthur John “Jack” Wheeler when he received his Lieutenant Governor’s Vice Regal Volunteer Award. Amazingly, Wheeler has been a volunteer in Treherne, supporting community organizations and charities, for 80 years. How’s that for dedication?
Lieutenant Governor Lee quoted lyrics from the Guess Who song Share the Land, saying, “Have you been aware? You got brothers and sisters who care,” before presenting the Make a Difference Awards.
Mayor Katz said volunteers “give up their time and use their energy creatively to make other people’s lives better and they ask for nothing in return.
“They have a positive impact on the community,” he added.
How do you gauge their “positive” impact?
Well, Manitobans per capita volunteer more of their time and energy than people from the other provinces and territories in Canada. Fifty-two per cent of Manitobans are volunteers, dedicating 141 hours each annually to worthy causes.
This year was the first time that MREA became a presenter at the Volunteer Awards. Association president Tim Melnyk, a Brandon REALTOR®, gave the Quality of Life Award to Doreen Wilson, who was one of 21 nominated for the award that recognizes an individual or group dedicated to improving the lives of Manitoba children.
Wilson was recognized for her exceptional work with children at Wi Wabigooni, an alternative school program connected to Rossbrook House. She began reading with children one-on-one in 2001, expanded her role to making breakfast for children once a week, and even picking up children who miss the school bus or take them to appointments.
Melnyk said Wilson “stood out” from the others nominated for the MREA Quality of Life Award, but also represented the volunteers in the community who are working every day to better the lives of children in Manitoba.
Along with the award, Wilson also received a $2,500 cheque, which she promptly donated to Rossbrook House.
It’s not at all surprising that an organization representing REALTORS® should be participating in a presentation at the Volunteer Manitoba Awards. REALTORS® are noted for dedicating their time and making donations to charities and other deserving causes.
“I really enjoy the dynamism of our industry,” said WinnipegREALTORS® president Shirley Przybyl, “and the opportunity it presents people like me to get involved and give back to the community. One thing I’m most proud of is how our association over the last few years has become more active in the community through supporting the MREA Shelter Foundation, Take Pride Winnipeg and raising over $1.7 million for the Canadian Museum for Human Rights.
On Easter Friday, turkey with potatoes and stuffing and coleslaw was provided for 700 homeless people at Siloam Mission, 300 Princess St., which was organized by MREA. Sixty volunteers answered the association’s call for assistance to serve the meals.
Volunteers from WinnipegREALTORS® each year organize the Gimme Shelter fund-raising social, which raises money for the MREA Shelter Foundation. Over the three-year history of the event, the social has contributed over $120,000 for shelter-related causes across the city and Manitoba.
Sheldon Zamick, this year’s recipient of the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC) Distinguished REALTOR® Award, said, it’s thrilling to be recognized for volunteer efforts, but in the end, he volunteers simply “to help other people to have a better life.
“What we take for granted,” the Winnipegger added, “others less fortunate think is insurmountable. I like to help find ways to make things happen for them.”
“Hundreds of our REALTOR® members do things for our communities that make me feel proud,” said Deborah Goodfellow, a past-president of WinnipegREALTORS®.
The Volunteer Manitoba Awards provide a vivid example of how volunteerism is so integral to the betterment of the province. There is, indeed, something to be said about the message of “the power of one” being able to make a difference.