Elaine Ranville sees volunteering as a way to connect with community.
The inspiring kokum -- a Cree word for grandmother -- has been volunteering with the Winnipeg Aboriginal Sport Achievement Centre (WASAC) for more than a decade now, giving children and youth a sense of belonging and a listening ear as well as working hard to build their self-esteem.
"I really love volunteering for WASAC," beams the retired mother of three and grandmother of five. "I've learned so much about community.
"I was with MTS for 18 years. I worked in a building all day long and that was it. I really didn't know what was going on outside, especially in my own community. Once I began volunteering for WASAC, I realized what was going on in my community, and I just knew I had to get involved, I knew I had to give back."
The WASAC focuses on building aboriginal youth's leadership and mentorship skills through sport and recreational programs. The organization helps to remove barriers for thousands of children every year and is Canada's largest employer of aboriginal children and youth.
It gets kids in grades 4-6 from more than 80 schools in Manitoba to participate in its summer camps. Everything, including snacks, sports equipment and transportation to and from programs, is provided to children free of charge. Children learn about different aboriginal cultural teachings and crafts along with different sports and recreational activities. The same youth who participate in programs are then encouraged to become leaders and are provided with the tools to mentor younger children.
Ranville's journey with the WASAC began at a Métis community dance 10 years ago. She ran into Kevin Chief, now provincial minister of child and youth opportunities, and told him she had retired and was looking to volunteer in the community. He strongly encouraged her to get involved with the WASAC.
Since then, Ranville volunteers twice a week, grocery shopping and making sandwiches for the children at the summer camps, helping children participating in the winter hockey program get fitted for their equipment, making headdresses and dream catchers, or even driving youth around to get their social-insurance-number cards or driver's licences.
"Elders and seniors, like Elaine Ranville, who give so freely of their time, embrace the true spirit of generosity," says Chief. "Her efforts ensure WASAC's education, sports, recreation and cultural activities will touch the lives of thousands of children and youth."
In 2008, Ranville won the prestigious Ka Ni Kanichk honorary grandmother award. Nominated by Chief, the award goes to First Nations and Métis grandmothers who preserve and protect traditional knowledge and practices.
Wendy Hallgrimson, program co-ordinator at the WASAC, was once a participant and has nothing but good things to say about Ranville. "Elaine, she's great. She's been my mentor for years," Hallgrimson smiles.
"She's always someone the youth can talk to. She always has good advice. She's a good listener. She can relate. I grew up in the North End, and she grew up in the North End, too, so it's nice having someone you can talk to."
Hallgrimson describes the WASAC as family. "You never are alone," she said, adding volunteers such as Ranville gave her a sense of belonging and helped her overcome shyness.
To learn more about the WASAC and how to get involved, please visit the website at www.wasac.ca
If you know a special volunteer who strives to make his or her community a better place to live, please contact Carolyn Shimmin at firstname.lastname@example.org