Motivation. Passion. Determination. Empathy.
These are traits that all six of this year's Canadian Living Me to We Award winners share. From the nine-year-old girl who gives up birthday presents to raise money for kids in India to the CEO who is devoting her energy to preventing the sexual abuse of children, this year's winners are all "ordinary" Canadians who have made an extraordinary impact in their communities – and the world.
For five years, Canadian Living Magazine and Me to We founders Craig and Marc Kielburger have honoured those who truly think "we" before "me." Offering winners $5,000 each to donate to a cause that they are passionate about, the Canadian Living Me to We Awards help these heroes to continue helping others.
Glori Meldrum • Edmonton
Glori Meldrum is a little warrior. Between the ages of eight and 10, she was repeatedly sexually abused by a relative. Faced with a family in denial, she was suicidal by age 12. But rather than take her own life, Glori chose to fight.
A self-described "tough kid," Glori is now a married mother of three and successful entrepreneur who runs two companies, G Squared and Trafik Interactive. While these responsibilities would be enough to keep most people more than busy, Glori wanted to do more. So four years ago she founded Little Warriors, a national organization that educates adults about the sexual abuse of children and teaches them how to prevent it. "We talk about what situations to be mindful of, the signs and symptoms to look for and what to do when a child discloses [that he or she has been abused]," says Glori of the three-hour training programs that Little Warriors holds in cities across Canada.
The Little Warriors website has received five-and-a-half million hits in the past 24 months, and in just a few years 150 trainers have educated more than 3,000 people. Glori hopes to train and empower 100,000 more individuals, with a focus on educating teachers. She also wants to build a ranch for survivors of sexual abuse so they have a place to go to heal, and to show more victims that they can speak out, become warriors and survive – like she did.
"Sexual abuse of children was a darkness people wanted to keep buried," says Glori. "No one wanted to talk about it before, but now they are and, for me, that is key."
– Elizabeth Zahur
• Glori will use her Me to We Award money to provide bursaries for people who can't afford to attend the Little Warriors training program (sessions cost $40).
Page 1 of 5 – Read more about our winners in the Educator and Community categories on page 2.
Melanie Morris • Tofino, B.C.
Creating a welcoming school environment in a community plagued by poverty and exclusion is this elementary school teacher's mission. Melanie Morris has headed up several community-building activities at Wickaninnish Community School in Tofino. At family dinner nights, her students cook an entire meal for their families and present their latest school accomplishments.
Melanie also established a Big Buddy program that encourages older students to mentor younger ones as they complete weekly assignments. Last year, she oversaw two successful new projects – a leadership program and a student council – that she would like to expand.
Melanie, who grew up in Ottawa and was drawn to Tofino because she loves kayaking, is also a board member of the Raincoast Education Society (RES). This nonprofit organization educates people about sustainable living and environmental stewardship. "I feel there's a real disconnect between a lot of children and their natural environment these days," says Melanie. "One of my goals is to reconnect them." Last year, her students visited the mudflats (a local wetlands area) and went to a sustainability camp as part of a partnership with RES to give kids a more hands-on educational experience.
"I see whole families who traditionally have never stepped into the school come [inside] with smiles on their faces," says Melanie. "They're interacting with other parents and there's a jovial, happy atmosphere. It makes all the difference in the world." – E.Z.
• Melanie will donate her prize money to three schools on the West Coast so they can continue to provide outdoor education to students
In the community
Troy Becker • Kelowna, B.C.
After Troy Becker witnessed the physical and mental health benefits that his sister-in-law, who had Down syndrome, gained from outdoor activity, he was inspired to bring the same experience to other people with disabilities. In 2001 he founded the Community Recreational Initiatives Society (CRIS) Adaptive Adventures to serve people in and around Kelowna, B.C.
"The biggest part of our mandate is inclusion – of the outdoors and of other people," says Troy, who also works as a full-time firefighter with the West Kelowna Fire Rescue. Using special equipment, CRIS Adaptive Adventures provides hiking, kayaking and cycling excursions for people with disabilities. Troy says these outings create a strong sense of community and belonging in both the participants and the able-bodied volunteers. "The volunteer receives a great deal of motivation from the person in a wheelchair," he says. "It's not just about individuals on a hill, for instance, but everyone coming together as a team."
CRIS Adaptive Adventures makes more involved outdoor adventures possible as well, ranging from accompanying a quadriplegic man on a seven-day backpacking trip, to helping a woman with multiple sclerosis climb a mountain.
According to Statistics Canada, about 4.4 million Canadians (14.3 per cent) reported having some sort of disability in 2006. Troy estimates that his organization provides more than 1,000 opportunities for persons with disabilities each year. He hopes to secure more funding so the group can help even more people. – E.Z.
• Troy will give his Me to We Award money to CRIS Adaptive Adventures.
Page 2 of 5 – Read all about the efforts of our Youth and Free the Children winners on page 3.
Free the Children
Brennan Wong • Richmond Hill , Ont.
Brennan Wong has been working with Free the Children (FTC) since he was eight years old. Now 12 years old, he is one of the organization's most dedicated and energetic volunteers.
Brennan has taken part in numerous FTC programs, including Take Action Academy, Vow of Silence, Halloween for Hunger and the Brick by Brick campaign. Last year he helped Me to We build a school in China, and this year he did the same in India.
"Free the Children is kids helping other kids," says Brennan. "We'd usually be playing video games or buying things, but using our time to help other people is so much better."
As a Me to We Mobilizer, Brennan encourages others to join FTC efforts and champion social issues. He says he wants to "inspire others to make a difference" and get involved in FTC initiatives such as Celebrate for Change, in which kids ask for donations to a cause in lieu of birthday presents.
As well, Brennan has organized his own initiatives for FTC, including jewelry sales, movie nights and coin drives at his school. He has also introduced the cause to many of his peers through his birthday parties, where he asks for donations for FTC's Adopt a Village program.
"Young people can play the really important role of challenging others to rise above the ordinary and answer the call. Our generation has the courage to make real changes."
– Jaime Eisen
• Brennan's prize is a trip to help FTC build a school.
Youth (12 and Under)
Julia Thicke • Vancouver
Julia Thicke, 12, has always been passionate about making a difference. That's why, when she learned that many youth in India don't have a place to play, she was outraged, and became determined to deliver her overseas peers the playground they deserve. "I just wanted to help give them something fun," says Julia.
Family friends Jon and Suzi Livingstone put Julia in contact with the Dalit Freedom Network, an organization devoted to raising awareness and funds to aid the Dalit – a group of 250 million people who are considered to be the lowest members of Indian society. The Dalit people live in poverty and are denied access to public education and health care.
Julia began to forgo birthday presents, asking for donations to her cause instead. Last February, she planned a Bollywood-themed school dance, with all proceeds going toward building the playground. Julia raised nearly $900 – enough money for a playground at one of the Dalit Freedom Network's elementary schools in a rural village outside the city of Hyderabad, India.
Today she has provided hundreds of children with a place where they can enjoy swings, a slide, a seesaw and a merry-go-round. Julia continues to speak out about the plight of the Dalit people, highlighting the need for international aid and inspiring many of her peers to get involved. "Sometimes it seems like kids can't help," she says. "But they can make a big difference in the world if they have the opportunity." – J.E.
• Julia's Me to We Award money will be donated to the Dalit Freedom Network.
Page 3 of 5 – Read about the last of the 2010 Me to We winners, plus discover the year's honourable mentions on page 4.
Youth (13 to 17)
Zac Andrus • Port Hope, Ont.
Zac Andrus, 16, has cerebral palsy, but he has never let it stop him from making a difference and motivating others to do the same. When Zac was six years old, he asked his mom why he couldn't play on the swing at his local park. "When she told me why I couldn't, I was so sad," he says. "It wasn't fair that there wasn't an accessible swing for people with disabilities."
In 2007, Zac started fund-raising for a fully accessible playground in his hometown of Port Hope, Ont. He visited local schools to deliver speeches about living with a disability and about his hope to one day be able to play on his neighbourhood playground. Through various initiatives, Zac raised $30,000. Last November, he watched his dream become a reality as he gathered with his family, friends and neighbours for the unveiling of Port Hope's first accessible playground – aptly named Zac's Dream.
Not only has Zac created a fun park for everyone in his community, but he has also proven that, with passion and determination, anything is possible. – J.E.
• Zac's Me to We Award money will be used to build family washrooms at the local pool and a lift at the Port Hope arena.
• Nigel Bart, who was diagnosed with schizophrenia at age 19, is the founder of Artbeat Studio in Winnipeg. The studio promotes healing through creative endeavours by providing work spaces, resources and peer support for artists living with mental illness.
• Edith Regier recognized the need to stop gang violence in Winnipeg. And so she started the Crossing Communities Hip Hop Multi Media Youth Project, where she provides marginalized youth with classes in visual art, dance, film, spoken word, and global issues.
• Lindsay MuÌˆller used to volunteer at an elementary school on a First Nations reserve in northern B.C. Now she runs its music, art and drama program and organizes homework clubs at another school in Watson Lake, Yukon.
• Amalia Liogas used her experience as a computer science teacher to help bring about social change. She has taught her students in Westmount, Que., how to make public service announcements, develop websites and create posters about social issues, and even helped them organize a two-day conference, Green vs. Greed.
Page 4 of 5 – Don't miss a note from Craig and Marc Kielburger on page 5.
In the community
• Debbie Magwood, a three-time cancer survivor, created the West Island Cancer Wellness Centre in Montreal to provide free support and wellness programs for anyone living with cancer.
• Tina Bender co-founded City Kidz, an organization that provides at-risk youth in Hamilton with food, support and role models. She says the organization helps over 2,200 youth on a weekly basis.
Youth (12 and under)
• Hannah Newbury of Vancouver has always been an advocate of healthy eating. Through her Penny Project she has raised close to $4,000, spending it on healthy foods for those in need.
• Emily Bradley was inspired to help her community in Welland, Ont., after the city's three largest employers left town. She volunteers in a community garden harvesting vegetables for the food bank, asks for food bank donations instead of birthday presents every year and has also raised over $6,800 for the Canadian Cystic Fibrosis Foundation.
Youth (13 to 17)
• James Brooks's love of monkeys and apes led him to establish apeaware.org, a website devoted to saving his favourite creatures from extinction. The London, Ont., native also started 1000classrooms.org, a project that helps other kids get involved in providing relief for the people and animals of the Democratic Republic of Congo.
• Ankita Gupta took on the challenge of motivating her peers to help tackle poverty in northern Ontario. By organizing pizza lunches and bake sales, this Toronto teen has helped bring food, clothing and water-treatment systems to First Nations reserves.
Free the Children
• Aimee Admana of Surrey, B.C., helped motivate her peers to raise $8,800 to build a school in Sierra Leone through Free the Children (FTC). She has also planned many fund-raising events and awareness conferences in her community.
• Corey Reid has shown remarkable dedication to FTC's Edmonton chapter. He played a key role in organizing Hope for Haiti, an FTC event that raised $25,000 to support Haiti relief efforts.
A note from Craig and Marc
Every year gets more and more exciting for us at Free the Children and our sister organization, Me to We. Here are a few highlights from 2009 and 2010.
• Free the Children organized two hugely successful We Day events – one in Toronto and, for the first time, one in Vancouver, where 32,000 students heard from the Dalai Lama, Elie Wiesel, Dr. Jane Goodall and many more inspiring speakers.
• On Nov. 20, 2009, 32,000 young people in 67 countries took Free the Children's Vow of Silence to raise awareness of children's rights.
• In February, students across North America joined One Night Out, the first in a series of annual local campaigns bring ing attention to homelessness in our communities.
• The Me to We Leadership Centre opened its doors. Located just one hour outside of Toronto, it is a space for retreats, conferences and leadership seminars.
• Me to We Books has just released a revised and updated edition of The World Needs Your Kid: Raising Children Who Care and Contribute, as well as a collection of firsthand accounts of injustice and inspiration called Global Voices: The Compilation. To get your kids or yourself involved, please visit freethechildren.com and metowe.com.
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