Eleven months ago we sat down on a blustery fall afternoon to start planning the contents of our 30th anniversary edition. We quickly realized that one of the best ways to show the heart of Canada -- as it has long been mirrored in Canadian Living Magazine -- was to shine a spotlight on Canadians who make this country a better place to live. Thus, the Me to We Awards were born (with the sponsorship of Western Union and with the support of Free the Children ambassadors Craig and Marc Kielburger, and Canada AM). We sorted through hundreds of nominations from across the country to choose these great Canadians. We now present them to you. Let's celebrate them!
In the community
BRENDA WHITTLE, HAIRDRESSER WITH HEART, TRURO, N.S.
Brenda is one of those hairdressers that women confide in. And when clients confided that they had cancer, Brenda would offer to help. She showed them how to fit wigs, passed along tips on skin care after chemo, and laughed and cried with them. "I guess I just knew the right things to say," she says.
When someone called to say that he and his wife had been referred to her for help, Brenda realized she needed credentials to bolster her experience. "I hadn't even graduated from high school," she says. So 12 years ago she returned to school to earn her community service worker diploma. Now Brenda works part time to pay the bills and devotes the rest of her time to Caring for Cancer Patients, the charity she created to train hairdressers and estheticians to help people who have cancer. Brenda also hosts a retreat at a local Tim Hortons camp, and her charity provides counselling, financial help and transportation not covered by other agencies. "Being able to bring a smile to someone's face when she is in a time of trouble is my satisfaction," she says.
Click here to see Brenda in Canadian Living magazine.
Rodrigo Moreno, Toronto.
For creating a photography club that empowers kids in Lawrence Heights while providing opportunities for communication with local police volunteers.
Steve Ford and Audri Wilkinson, Oakville, Man.
For jumping at the chance to keep youth in the community by improving the local ice arena with sheer determination.
Grant MacDonald, Mineville, N.S.
For motivating citizens to transform their fractured community into a vibrant and active place devoted to preserving parkland.
Arnel Scott, Markham, Ont.
For establishing an affordable transportation solution for athletes facing financial barriers.
Colleen Whidden, 100 Mile House, B.C.
For producing community musicals and encouraging the inclusion of diverse talents in working toward a common goal.
Mallory Statham, Vancouver. For recognizing that mentors create opportunities for at-risk youth and for establishing a camp where youth can identify those opportunities.
Linda Swim, Boutilier's Point, N.S. For dedicating herself to ensuring that individuals with developmental difficulties are supported in spirit and deed by their community.
Helen Marie Twiddy, North Bay, Ont. For identifying a need for a youth drop-in centre in her former community of Huntsville, Ont., and then opening the doors of The Greenhouse.
Brenda Whittle, Turro, N.S.
BRIAN O'LEARY, HOUSING ADVOCATE, CALGARY
In Brian O'Leary's prosperous hometown of Calgary, low-income families sleep in church basements, squeezed out by an expensive housing market. And "that's not the kind of society we want to build," says the 54-year-old lawyer. To provide affordable, stable accommodation to vulnerable families, he helped found the Calgary Community Land Trust Society in 2002, with the legal support of his firm, Burnet, Duckworth and Palmer.
The trust solicits donations of land and cash to buy land, then offers long-term leases of the land to nonprofit organizations such as Habitat for Humanity. This revenue, in turn, will be used to buy more land. Twenty-seven townhouses will be finished by spring, and 15 units on a second piece of land are in the works.
Brian brings the same results-oriented drive and enthusiasm to his volunteer work that he does to his practice. Without the trust, "those units wouldn't be there," he says. "That's what makes it so satisfying." His keenness has sparked social consciousness throughout the firm. Other lawyers are taking on pro bono work and serving on the boards of nonprofit organizations. "I think we're starting to live the Me to We philosophy," Brian says.
Click here to see Brian in Canadian Living magazine.
Burris Devanney, Halifax.
For opening the eyes and minds of young Canadians to the struggles of West African people and working to prevent the spread of HIV/AIDS.
Peter Kendall, Belfountain, Ont.
For fostering environmental awareness and sustainable community development through the Niigon Technologies project, which partnered government, business and the Moose Deer Point First Nation in Ontario.
Jessica Lax and Jocelyn Land Murphy, Ottawa.
For inspiring young Canadians through The Otesha Project to make earth-friendly choices and showing by example that changing the world for the better can be cool.
Youth in action
CODY CLARK, LITTLE GUY MAKING A BIG DIFFERENCE, HECKSTON, ONT.
Ten-year-old Cody Clark is a charitable tour de force. At age seven, he raised $2,500 for the Heart and Stroke Foundation because his friend Brenna needed a new heart. And when the cardiac unit where she was treated threatened to close, he started a petition (the unit remains open).
Cody often visited the hospital himself, due to ear infections. During the long waits he felt "sad and lonely, with nothing to do," he says, so he dreamed up Cody's Comfort Kits, packed with books, crayons, small toys and teddy bears. He has donated 140 to local hospitals and designed Grandma and Grandpa kits, too. Cody raises most of the money for the kits himself. With a hand from his mother, Janice, he started Cody's Poor Boy's Supper; last year's event raised $7,380.
"Doing good work makes me glad inside," says Cody. That gladness shines against a dark shadow, though. When Cody was five, his dad was diagnosed with lung cancer and his mom with melanoma shortly after that. "I thought I was going to be an orphan," he says.
His mom is now cancer-free but his dad is terminally ill. Cody raised money for the local palliative care centre, "so my dad has a room when he needs it."
Click here to see Cody in Canadian Living magazine.
Regis Dudley, Waterloo, Ont.
For establishing recycling programs at her summer camp and high school.
Samantha Milner, Beaconsfield, Que.
For starting her own businesses and turning over a portion of her profits to charity.
Natasha Richardson, Port Moody, B.C.
For responding to the plight of impoverished children by embarking on volunteer vacations and organizing fund-raisers.
Hannah Taylor, Winnipeg.
For launching a foundation that spreads her message of sharing and caring for others while she raises money for homeless people.
Marilyn Ize-Dukuze, Toronto. For bringing hope â€“ through books, fund-raisers and field trips -- to children who have been victims of war, violence and prejudice.
Jessica Johnson, Vancouver. For letting her love of writing and performing be her vehicle to raise funds for paediatric cancer research.
Kaitlyn McIntyre, Mallorytown, Ont. For "protecting those who protect us" by raising money and supplying protective vests to police K9's in Brockville and Cornwall, Ont.
Hunter Robinson, Brantford, Ont. For benefitting many causes -- victims of Sept. 11, cancer research, a local food bank -- with his unrelenting fund-raising.
In the workplace
MIKE KEHOE, DRIVEN ENVIRONMENTALIST, ST. JOHN'S, NFLD.
Four years ago Mike Kehoe was unloading luggage, wreathed in the blue smoke that was belching from another cab beside his own when a precocious eight-year-old passenger piped up, "What are you taxi drivers doing to my environment?" When the cabbie repeated the remark at the family dinner table that night, his teenage daughter, Lisa, said, "You guys are leaving a mess."
Since then Mike has worked hard to prove her wrong. First, he found several other taxi drivers who were keen to limit their industry's impact on the environment. Then, after partnering with the City of St. John's and Environmental organizations, they formed Smart Taxis Encouraging Environmental Respect (STEER) in 2002. STEER teaches local cabbies how to cut emissions by maintaining their vehicles and reducing idling. Next, STEER would like to target teen drivers and, with help from the federal government, expand the program to other communities. It's quite an accomplishment for a man who used to be "an armchair environmentalist," not an activist. In fact, when STEER began, he and his fellow cabbies wondered if they could really make a difference, says Mike. "Now I know we can be ambassadors for the environment."
Click here to see Mike in Canadian Living magazine.
Jan Dale, Coquitlam, B.C.
For rallying her coworkers and colleagues on a national level to band together and raise thousands of dollars for charitable projects in Vancouver and across
Rebecca Fleisig, Waterloo, Ont.
For launching Walk the Walk, a campaign designed to show teachers and students how to act on their ideas and create a better world.
SELENA MELL, CULTURAL AMBASSADOR EXTRAORDINAIRE, QUESNEL, B.C.
For the cultural forum at École Baker Elementary School, principal Selena Mell has dressed in everything from a voyageur's sash and blouse (a nod to her French-Canadian heritage) to a vibrant Indian sari. Selena, 37, began the biannual forum in 2001 to encourage kids to celebrate their own and other cultures. Although Quesnel, like most small towns in the B.C. interior, is not as ethnically diverse as cities such as Vancouver, it draws students from a variety of backgrounds, and 25 per cent are First Nations.
The forum has flourished over the years. Now the gym buzzes with colourful costumes, dancers and music, and smells beckon from the concession, which features a multicultural platter of foods from around the world. Exhibitors from every school in the district take part, competing for prizes with displays. The kids' faces light up with pride when they talk about their own heritage and show off their traditional dress. For some, it's the first time they've shared their culture with anyone outside their families.
Selena loves planning it all. "Putting on a large event that celebrates culture is like putting on a birthday party for the kids," she says. "It's a positive experience that creates huge memories."
Click here to see Selena in Canadian Living magazine.
Sabra Desai, Mississauga, Ont.
For upholding human rights and social justice by improving the delivery of education and municipal services to the highly diverse population of Toronto.
Andrew Donaldson, Toronto.
For breaking down cultural barriers by encouraging the congregation of his church to delight in new traditions through music.
Paul McKenna, Tottenham, Ont.
For building a bridge between world religions through his Golden Rule poster.
Judy Tethong, Victoria.
For teaching by example and showing youth that compassion and commitment can make a difference in the battle against intolerance.