With the support of Craig and Marc Kielburger, the ambassadors for Free the Children, we bring you this year’s award winners, as well as honourable mentions in each of the five award categories. 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.
In the community
Constable Todd Chadwick
Building relationships by reaching out
If it were up to Constable Todd Chadwick, the modern-day work of police officers in community-service branches would harken back to the days of the affable beat cop, who knew his community on a personal level. These days, he says, the police are often viewed as harbingers of bad news. He aims to change that. “Why can’t I stop and speak to a senior who’s watering his lawn without people thinking there’s trouble?” he says with a laugh.
A former emergency medical technician, the married father of three has worked as a police officer for nearly two decades in Miramichi, and he has spent the past seven years implementing some 20 programs in the community. Among them: Partners for My Miramichi, which mobilizes the public to make changes in whatever areas they feel need attention; the Miramichi Advisory Committee of Youth, a group of teenagers that advises city council on policies affecting young people; and the Defibrillation Program, which has installed defibrillators in police cruisers and trained officers on their use in emergency situations.
Todd’s goal is to encourage police involvement in the community, and community involvement in public affairs, as a way of forging improved relations all around. And, he says, it’s not that difficult. “The biggest thing that I’ve found is the relationship you can build from a simple hello,” he explains. “You might not solve their problems, or maybe you can, but people want to be able to have the police’s ear.”
• Todd’s Me to We Award money will be donated to Partners for My Miramichi.
Page 1 of 4Social action
Creating opportunity and providing direction
For Frederick Dryden, the tangible results of his work sometimes take years to materialize, but when they do, the reward is immeasurable. As the founder and executive director of Liberty for Youth, Frederick admits, “It is a lengthy process, but with phenomenal results.”
Frederick was a frequent visitor to youth detention centres for many years, as both a counsellor and Bible-study facilitator, but he felt he needed to do more for youth leading troubled or self-destructive lives; donating a few hours a week just didn’t seem like enough. In 2003, he and a board of directors (including older brother Paris, Dr. Christopher Morgan and Jasset Crooks, with whom he shared a common vision) formed Liberty for Youth, an organization providing leadership training, character development, life skills and community involvement to young people struggling with gangs, drugs, family problems or incarceration.
As a result, Frederick has become a mentor and de facto father figure, with a hotline running directly to his home, and he and his team have seen the positive effects of their programs firsthand. Building relationships with the kids and watching as they leave gangs, stay clean, go to school and imagine great things for themselves – these are his rewards for his tireless work. “I love it and I love young people,” he says. “They’re the future generation, and this is where we really need to put our resources.”
• Frederick’s Me to We Award money will go toward the expansion of the children’s ministry at Victory International Church in Hamilton.
Acting locally with global results
When junior high teacher Carla Cuglietta is halfway around the world, her thoughts are often of her students back home. With her help, they’ve taken on a major fund-raising project each year since 2002, and Carla has travelled to Mexico, Costa Rica, El Salvador and India to put their money to work.
The married Edmonton native, who’s been teaching for five years, has always encouraged her students to get involved with charitable endeavours. Her class would sponsor a child through World Vision each year and Carla saw the students’ dedication to, and enthusiasm for, the effort grow. “It really started to connect for them, that whatever they do here does [help] in another country,” she says.
So, she stepped it up a notch. Working with two key student groups – the 12-member Youth Ministry and the 60-plus volunteers of FROG (Fully Rely on God) – Carla acts as a facilitator as the kids themselves develop and implement fund-raising ideas over the school year. Carla then ensures the money raised reaches its intended recipients by delivering it personally during summer break, returning in the fall with photos and stories.
Whether it’s sending basic school supplies to children in South America or providing water filters to villages in India, Carla has proven to her students that acting locally can have a global impact. “A 12-year-old kid [here] can change the life of a 12-year-old kid around the world. So, I make that promise to them – you really will make a huge difference.”
• Carla’s Me to We Award money will go to the Dhan Foundation, an organization aiding water-filtration and microfinance programs in India.
Page 2 of 4Youth (12 and under)
Empowering children with words
He may only be 12 years old, but James Valitchka boasts an impressive résumé and an even more impressive spirit. Bullied at school as a young boy and raised by a single mother who nurtured his love for storytelling, James turned his personal pain into an inspirational message for other kids facing hardship: write.
The author of eight books (including Superheroes Don’t Have Dads, I’m Not Brown I’m Human, Maybe I’ll Be a Pastor and Greater Expectations, his first novel) James is using literacy as a tool to help other children express themselves, something he says changed his life forever.
“When I was bullied I didn’t really know how to handle the situation,” he explains. “But writing sort of gave me an escape from the world. I had a ‘best friend’ in reading and writing and a way of sharing my feelings that could really help make me feel better.” He penned his first book at eight and now, four years later, has expanded his repertoire to include the Literacy Can Change Lives conferences, which offer kids in several cities the chance to hear his story firsthand, meet authors and learn how to heal through words.
James says he wants to be an engineer when he grows up, and he’s not deterred by any daunting challenges that lie ahead. “I know that it’s going to be a lot of work, but, hey, never give up and you can do great things. That’s my motto.”
• James’ Me to We Award money will go toward the Literacy Can Change Lives conferences.
Youth (13 to 17)
Packing hope for foster children
Sometimes a simple idea can have profound repercussions. And what started as a no-brainer for Jordyn Harrison – foster kids need something other than plastic bags to transport their things from home to home – has become its own movement.
The soft-spoken 17-year-old was inspired to make a difference after reading a story in the book Chicken Soup for the Preteen Soul when he was just 11 years old.
In the story, a girl in the United States launched a similar program for needy children in her area. Jordyn soon hatched Kids for Kids, a grassroots charity that provides goody-filled knapsacks, duffel bags and pieces of luggage to children within Ontario’s foster-care system.
He began by collecting donations from family and friends, and now receives support from charitable foundations, local businesses, corporations and the public at large, enabling him to service 19 Children’s Aid Society branches in the province. Each order takes about a week to assemble, is personalized with the child’s first name and adorned with an inspirational message selected by Jordyn, which he hopes will give the recipient some emotional encouragement.
Jordyn extends that same encouragement to anyone looking to make a difference on any scale. “Just go for it,” he says humbly. “Believe in yourself and never give up. You can do anything you set your mind to.”
• Jordyn is putting his Me to We Award money back into Kids for Kids.
Page 3 of 4Honourable mentions
In the Community
• Marlene Bryenton, Charlottetown. For establishing programs to help her fellow Islanders in need, such as Baby Think It Over, which raises awareness about teen pregnancy, and Friends of the Food Bank, which lobbies food companies to donate goods to Charlottetown’s food bank.
• Steven Wang, Cambridge, Ont. For inspiring youth to get involved through Community Action by Youth. About 100 members serve food to the homeless, mentor students and raise awareness across Ontario about climate change.
• MariLynne Abbott, Vancouver. For building subsidized housing for mature women in Vancouver. Personal experience prompted her to help form the Women in Search of Housing Society, which secures land and money to build co-op housing.
• Saeed Selvam, Toronto. For advocating among youth against crime in Toronto and founding two youth groups, TicToc and the Youth Advisory Team to Stop the Violence Foundation, which help young people deal with poverty and gun violence.
• Michele Dekok, Hope, B.C. For engaging students in global issues. She started Make a Difference (MAD) World Club and, with her students, has raised money for tsunami relief and to renovate a school and build libraries in Bali.
• Jackie Hildering, Port McNeill, B.C. For teaching students about the environment. Travelling to schools throughout her district, she teaches students about conservation in the classroom and takes them on nature walks.
Youth (12 and Under)
• Hannah Taylor, Winnipeg. For fighting homelessness by founding the Ladybug Foundation, a nonprofit organization that has raised more than $1 million for shelters and food banks across the country.
• Samantha Young, Alliston, Ont. For making wooden-bead bracelets and contributing her profits to help children who have been orphaned by AIDS in Africa.
Youth (13 to 17)
• Kayla Cornale, Burlington, Ont. For developing a teaching system that allows children with autism to read, spell and learn through music. Sounds into Syllables is used by special-education teachers to facilitate communicating with students.
• Bo Palmer, North Vancouver. For creating a nonprofit organization that provides donated sports equipment to less-fortunate young people around the city. Supporting Students in Sports has enabled thousands of youth to keep physically active.
by Sara Ditta
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