Charlotte Gill, Adrienne Gill, Jennifer Watson & Nadia Gill
The tiny event hall filled with the sound of performers warming up instruments and vocal chords. Add to this electric preshow buzz the smell of homemade pastries wafting through the air and the space felt like both a concert hall and a bakery in the predawn hours.
For the Gill family, who watched their church hall transform into their own stage, it was a family project come alive.
After months of planning, their coffeehouse open mic-inspired fundraiser was taking shape as friends and neighbours streamed in, sheltering themselves from the Winnipeg cold. The Gills had brought their community together for a good cause.
Eldest daughter Nadia sang. Middle daughter Charlotte emceed. Parents Jennifer Watson and Brady Gill took the stage as part of a brass quartet. And the whole family kept tune with the youngest Gill, 11-year-old Adrienne, who not only played the violin but organized the entire evening to support development projects in Ecuador.
It's a question I hear from parents often in my role at WE: How do I carve out more meaningful time with my kids? How can I share their interests and help them promote compassion?
I usually reply: ask them.
The WE Movement was born from a deceptively simple idea: young people can lead. If you empower them with access and opportunity, it's remarkable where they'll take you and what they can achieve. They can even take the lead on social change, if you'll let them.
I meet families across Canada who are letting their kids lead, and learning to give back together. The Gills are but one particularly impressive example. The fivesome has found ways both big and small to give back, to get involved in their community, and to grow closer as a family.
"[Service] is something we incorporate into our family life and I guess it's paying off," explains Jennifer with quintessential modesty. "The kids have made [it] a natural part of their life."
Sixteen-year-old Nadia started the trend, getting involved with WE when she was in middle school. Charlotte, age 13, followed suit, joining in Grade 5. Adrienne joined the organization last year.
When Adrienne came home from WE Day Manitoba, she was inspired to do something for others. That year, Chris Hadfield and Margaret Trudeau shared the stage at the Bell MTS Place in Winnipeg, part of a series of events that bring together speakers and celebrities to celebrate young volunteers.
At home that night, Adrienne shared the inspiring stories she heard that day and her desire to do something big. It would have been easy for a busy family to dismiss this as a child's excited and temporary whim. But Adrienne found willing supporters in her sisters and parents as the family decided to put their musical talents to creative use in a coffeehouse concert and fundraiser.
Family research led them to discover the importance of health programming in Ecuador, where many children in rural communities remain malnourished and clinics often lack adequate medical supplies. To address this need, WE runs a series of unique workshops, working with teachers, students and families to train community members to address health risks that are prevalent, yet often unknown in areas lacking formal public health infrastructure. When Ecuador became the goal, the rest came together.
The Gill sisters fall into fits of self-conscious giggles when Jennifer talks proudly about what they've accomplished.
Between the coffeehouse event, a board game night fundraiser, popcorn sale proceeds and an online donation campaign, the family—led by Adrienne, attests Jennifer—have raised over $4,000 to support health programming in Ecuador.
More than the money they've raised, Jennifer realized that volunteering together creates meaningful time for the family.
And it's because, as parents, she and Brady followed the lead of their children.
This time of year—with a focus on presents, pretty lights and celebrations—offer a perfect opportunity to start new family traditions that offer balance and opportunities to grow closer together while giving back as family and learning about issues that are important to kids. With that in mind, this holiday season, my family and families across the country are putting something different on our wish lists: we're taking a page out of the Gill family playbook and are looking for ways to spend more time together while making a lasting impact.