This is the fourth annual Canadian Living Magazine Me to We Awards. The me-to-we spark continues to spread across the country and improve the lives of Canadians and global citizens. Our judges pored over hundreds of inspiring nominations – children raising big money for a cause, professionals lending a hand and seemingly ordinary Canadians creating a better world for others.
With the support of Craig and Marc Kielburger, cofounders of Free the Children, we bring you this year’s award winners, as well as honourable mentions, in each of the five award categories. We're sure you'll be amazed by their determination to make a difference. Each recipient receives $5,000 to give to a charitable cause of his or her choice. Reading their stories reminds us that we all have the ability to change our world.
Youth (12 and under)
Building a bridge to peace
Lake Country, B.C.
When Alaina Podmorrow heard about the hardships facing girls in Afghanistan, she wanted to make a difference. "I felt really moved about what's happening and how they don't have rights like education," says Alaina, 11. She attended a speech by journalist Sally Armstrong as part of a fund-raiser for Canadian Women for Women in Afghanistan (CW4WAfghan), an organization that raises funds for teachers' salaries in Afghanistan, and was inspired to host a silent auction in Lake Country, B.C., where she lives.
What started as a one-time-only event inspired Alaina to form Little Women for Little Women in Afghanistan (LW4LW). Today there are 10 chapters of LW4LW across Canada and each one holds its own fund-raising events. Collectively they have raised enough money to pay the salaries of 40 teachers. "You can do anything you put your heart to," says the Grade 6 student. "Don't let someone tell you can't because you're too young."
Alaina continues to make a difference by speaking to schools, youth groups and community clubs. Her motto is simple: Let's build a bridge to peace; education equals peace.
• Alaina's Me to We Award money will be donated to Little Women for Little Women in Afghanistan.
Click here to see Alaina in Canadian Living magazine!
Page 1 of 5 Dallas Morrison
Youth (13 to 17)
Kids helping kids through art
Dallas Morrison was diagnosed with leukemia when he was just six years old, and he learned how bored and frustrated kids can get in hospital. During a visit to his mother's office, the avid painter and Grade 8 student in Airdie, Alta., also learned how sought-after his artwork was. It didn't take long for Dallas to connect the dots and start the Kids Curing Kids Foundation in 2004. "I'm trying to help kids with problems," says Dallas, who has been free of chemo treatments for almost five years. "I wanted to help other people because they helped me."
The foundation, with a board of five kids and two adults, encourages children and teens who are or were sick, as well as their siblings and friends, to make artwork. They then host an auction to raise money for various charities, such as Kids Cancer Care. "We come up with our own ideas, and it all looks really nice at the end," says Dallas. "You have to believe in what you're doing and get help. Just try." The next art auction hosted by Kids Curing Kids will be held in November in Calgary.
• Dallas's Me to We Award money will be donated to the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society of Canada.
Click here to see Dallas in Canadian Living magazine!
Youth (12 and under)
• Erin Leflar
Saddened by Hurricane Katrina, Erin and her brother, Connor, created the Small Hands Big Hearts Foundation to provide a venue for kids in Edmonton to help families affected by the disaster. Along with a donation, kids and adults were invited to make a handprint on a piece of paper and write a message of hope.
• Emma Hansen
Since Emma turned six, she has forgone a birthday party in favour of a fund-raiser for the McMaster Children's Hospital in Hamilton. The events started small, but have grown to two community events for her last birthday.
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In the Community
Caring for the community
Dollard des Ormeaux, Que.
At 16, Teresa Dellar won an honourable mention for writing a story about a dying girl who didn't want to die at home. Thirty years later, Teresa makes sure no one in her community needs to die at home but can still be close to loved ones. She is the director and cofounder of the West Island Palliative Care Residence, which opened in 2002 and has cared for nearly 1,000 patients. "It has been a privilege to provide a place for people to live their final days," says Teresa, who was a social worker when she started working on the residence. "They're not dying here, they're living."
The residence relies on support from the provincial government. It has nine rooms with visiting hours 24 hours a day and specially trained nurses and doctors. Patients can even celebrate family events with family. "It's really about allowing people to live their final days with dignity," adds Teresa. Lately Teresa, who is married with two boys, has been helping other palliative care residences start up around Montreal and is working on starting a regional bereavement program.
• Teresa's Me to We Award money will be donated to the West Island Palliative Care Residence.
Click here to see Teresa in Canadian Living magazine!
Youth (13 to 17)
• Melanie Burton
Melanie spearheaded Reading Rocks! in Belleville, Ont., which has helped raise the reading level of many children. She has raised money, collected books and even applauds the efforts of the children with an awards ceremony.
• Jeneece Edroff
Jeneece initiated a penny drive seven years ago with the goal of raising money for Variety – The Children's Charity of B.C., which had helped Jeneece and her family during her struggle with neurofi bromatosis. In February 2008 Jeneece reached her target, despite major surgeries and intense recovery.
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Providing the chance for a full life
Dion Oxford moved to Toronto from Springdale, Nfld., to fulfill a rock-star dream. The then 20-year-old needed a day job and started working as a cook at a drop-in centre. "I was cooking for 120 homeless guys every day," says Dion, 38, now a husband and father. "It was then that I realized this is what I was meant to be doing." Dion later became the director of the centre, now The Salvation Army Gateway, which serves about 320 meals daily and helps men find housing.
The philosophy at The Gateway is that every person needs three things: a job, a home and a friend. "If you don't have all three of those things in your life then you're merely surviving, not having a joyful life," says Dion. The centre provided a home and a friend but not employment. "Now the job stuff is what we're really getting pumped about."
In early May 2008, Dion started Gateway Linens. The laundry business hires four men from the shelter at a time for six-month stretches and teaches them the laundry trade. "We've built a relationship with a local laundry company that will hire our graduates full time," says Dion. "Our guys will be able to permanently escape the shelter system, get their own job and their own place to live, and will have learned some coping skills along the way."
• Dion’s Me to We Award money will be donated to The Salvation Army Gateway.
Click here to see Dion in Canadian Living magazine!
In the community
• Amanda Jahnke
Amanda spearheaded a yoga program for at-risk youth in Ottawa. It combines yoga with self-reflection and meditation, but it also promotes improved coping strategies and positive participation in the community.
• Chantel Chornoby
When Chantel was diagnosed with cancer and registered with the One Match bone marrow transplant list, she discovered only about one per cent of the people on the list were Aboriginal. She contacted the Burntwood Regional Health Authority in northern Manitoba, and they launched an education and recruitment campaign called Chantel's Promise.
Page 4 of 5 Educator
Bringing the world to her students
Boston Bar, B.C.
It's a scenario common to many schools, but not one Michele Dekok was willing to tolerate. "Our school was having problems getting students, parents and teachers to work together," says Michele, who teaches grades 6 and 7 and is also the librarian at Boston Bar Elementary Secondary School in B.C. She started a club called MAD (Make a Difference) World Club with the motto DAM MAD (Don't Always Moan, Make a Difference). The original goal was to get students involved in solving problems, but their focus changed after the Asian tsunami struck.
With a population of 600, the town of Boston Bar, B.C., raised $1,800 for tsunami victims. "This was when my focus turned away from school problems," explains Michele. Today the MAD World Club focuses on activities that nurture global citizens. The club's members also visit other schools to raise awareness of international issues.
The club has also raised $18,000 in four years for development projects in Bali. The funds have helped build a house and two libraries, and provided school supplies and teaching kits. "The kids are interested in knowing where other countries are and the way other people live," says Michele. "Now they can talk about the world."
• Michele's Me to We Award money will be donated to Free the Children.
Click here to see Michele in Canadian Living magazine!
• Robin Grant
Robin works with at-risk youth. She created and runs For the Love of Learning, an alternative education program, in St. John's, Nfld., which offers workshops on writing, art, theatre and multimedia.
• Kris Wells
Kris recognized the abuse many sexual-minority youth face. In response, he created Camp fYrefly, Canada's largest leadership retreat for gay, lesbian and bisexual youth. The camp has mentored hundreds of youth and is supported by dozens of volunteers and donors.
• Michele Thoms
Thanks to the leadership of Michele, the activities of École St. Patrick High School's SADD (Students Against Drunk Driving) chapter have saved countless lives in Yellowknife. The community is supportive of SADD, and most events offer SADD's drive-home program.
• Harriette Chang
Through her counselling program, Hariette encourages students to inspire others to show kindness in simple ways. With her support, students started a Random Acts of Kindness Week in Coquitlam, B.C., which has grown into Random Acts of Kindness Week for British Columbia.
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