Spectacular celebration of Manitoba’s volunteers

It’s an undeniable fact that volunteers are one of the greatest assets of any community across the province. Volunteers lead by example and inspire others to make a commitment to bettering the life of those around them. That was one of the messages at the 32nd annual Volunteer Awards Dinner held on April 14 at the RBC Convention Centre.

In one of his last public appearances as Manitoba’s Lieutenant-Governor, Philip Lee said the province’s volunteers did not seek glory, since they’re “too modest,” but what they do seek is to make the province “a better place in which to live. 

“It is a pleasure to bask in the warm light cast by Manitoba volunteers,” added Lee, who presented the Lieutenant-Governor’s Make a Difference Community Awards.  

 “It’s a big group this year,” said co-emcee Peter Chura of Global TV News of the volunteers from across the province assembled in front of the stage. All the individuals in the line that stretched from one end of the banquet hall to the other were slated to receive awards at the ceremony sponsored by Volunteer Manitoba and Manitoba Liquor and Lotteries.

Premier Greg Selinger, who presented the Premier’s Volunteer Awards — a long list of recipients were included in the evening’s program — may have said the province has a reputation of having the one of the highest per capita volunteer sectors in the nation, but it takes the examples provided at the dinner to show the actual depth of the commitment made by volunteers. Elementary school children, teenagers, adults and seniors from all regions of the province were represented, making it evident to those present that volunteerism is not confided to any particular age group. And it was also shown that volunteers come from all regions and every socio-economic group in the province. 

Statistically, 52 per cent of Manitobans are volunteers, dedicating 141 hours each to worthy causes on an annual basis. The national average is 47 per cent.

Volunteerism is not just the domain of individuals. For example, the Court family received the Manitoba Liquor and Lotteries Family Impact Award in recognition of the lifetime of volunteering together has had on the Winnipeg Folk Festival, the Winnipeg International Children’s Festival, the Canadian Cancer Society and the Earl Grey Community Centre. 

John Thompson, a man who has overcome personal adversity, received the Safeway Food for All Award, in recognition of his ongoing commitment to fighting hunger and poverty through volunteer work with Agape Table’s Breakfast and Low Cost Grocery programs.

“We promote and celebrate the volunteerism that transforms their communities through citizen engagement,” said Liz Wilson, the president of Volunteer Manitoba.

“The great thing about volunteering is how it impacts each of us ... and inspires us,” said John Stinson, the CEO of Manitoba Liquor and Lotteries.

Winnipeg Mayor Brian Bowman related that volunteering is about “caring,” and gave the example of a woman who had called 911 about an intoxicated man experiencing some difficulties while walking on King Street. Bowman happened to be in a Winnipeg Police Service car for a ride-along when the call came in. He saw her number come up on the cruiser car’s computer screen and he decided to give her a call to thank her.

As the mayor told the audience at the dinner, the woman  was surprised by the call, but came to appreciate the gesture. Bowman said the woman, who’s name came up on the screen as Tracy, is among those who showed compassion for a fellow citizen.

The man was ultimately taken to the Main Street Project’s detox facility.

“Manitobans are famous for their compassion” said Jill Officer, a member of the Jennifer Jones curling rink that won gold at the Sochi Olympics. “So many good things would not happen without so many good people.”

“Volunteers make Winnipeg a more vibrant community,” added Bowman.

Among the volunteers receiving a Mayor’s Volunteer Service Award was Reuben Garang, who helps the African immigrant community connect with services at Winnipeg Harvest. Through his efforts, new programs have been developed, access to healthy foods has improved and a food bank and meal/snack program has been opened at All Saints Church and at the African Communities of Manitoba office.

Roberta Weiss, the president of the Manitoba Real Estate Association, called the awards a “spectacular celebration of Manitoba’s volunteers.”

Weiss presented the MREA Quality of Life Award, created by REALTORS® in Manitoba, that recognizes those special volunteers who tirelessly work to improve the lives of children in the community. This year’s award was presented to Leo Grouette and Levi Malo in recognition of their efforts to maintain a comfortable, safe and secure home at L’Entre-temps des Franco-Manitobaines, a non-profit organization that supports women and children who have left abusive relationships through protective second stage housing. Those seeking shelter at the home can stay for up to a year. The facility also provides counselling for women and their children to allow for emotional healing.

Weiss said the two volunteers are involved in all aspects of the home, providing everything from security to repairs.   

The two men also received a $2,500 cash award from MREA to be given to the recipients’ registered charity of choice.

“Quality of life is all about creating communities where everybody thrives,” said Weiss. 

“Every act of love is priceless,” she added in praise of Grouette and Malo for their commitment to L’Entre-temps des Franco-Manitobaines.

Quality of life is emphasized by REALTORS® across the province. In this direction, the MREA Shelter Foundation provides funding to charities that promote shelter-related causes, such as Esther House, New Directions for Children, Youth, Adults and Families Inc., the Salvation Army Booth Centre, the Immigrant and Refugee Community Organization of Manitoba Inc., among many others. Each year, WinnipegREALTORS®, through its Gimme Shelter social, raises funds for the MREA Shelter Foundation.

Suzanne Mariani, the chair and corporate fundraiser for Gimme Shelter, said REALTORS® give generously of their time to make the annual event bigger and better each year. To date, Gimme Shelter has raised over $200,000 for the foundation.

As was said by keynote speaker Carol Ploen-Hosegood, of the Happy Monkey Club,  about Manitoba’s volunteers at the awards dinner, “Without you we won’t have happy, healthy and vibrant communities. 

“When we volunteer, we create the environment of community.”