With a new year just around the corner, one thing I know for certain, looking back on 2013, is that Winnipeg has heart. The countless volunteer hours, the quiet acts of kindness, the passionate giving of heart, mind and soul -- this is what makes up an indelible part of the story of our city. Over the past year, I have learned a lot from the volunteers whose incredible stories of selflessness I have witnessed. Below are just a few things that I have learned from them:
1. One person CAN make a difference
Take Eva Whitmore, who decided she would use her exceptional organizational talents to spread some happiness to women living in shelters. She brought the Shoebox Project to Winnipeg, a national non-profit group that collects and distributes gifts to women in shelters in the form of shoeboxes full of items a woman would enjoy but not splurge on in difficult times. Last I heard, nearly 700 shoeboxes had been donated to the cause by Winnipeggers and distributed to women's shelters across the city.
2. Age is but a number
At 99 years of age, Pat McFadzean proved that you're never too old to volunteer, bringing her inspiring message of empowerment and continued growth of self-awareness for 34 years to Toastmasters in Manitoba. Or there's Harry Paine, who at 80 years of age, continues to channel his social activism into wonderful food for all, volunteering in the kitchen at the Winnipeg Folk Festival for over 40 years now.
3. Volunteering is a family matter
When 11-year-old Jenna Sigurdson's father, Blair, was diagnosed with Parkinson's disease, the little girl became a passionate volunteer for the Parkinson Society Manitoba, raising not only money, but awareness about the cause. She went door-to-door and single-handedly raised $11,626 for the Society.
Also, when Cheryl and Steve Rondeau's eldest daughter, Crystal, was diagnosed with spinal muscular atrophy, the entire family, including sibling, Cherisse, decided to turn the diagnosis into an opportunity to raise awareness and help others living with muscular dystrophy as well as their families. For the past 13 years, the family has contributed more than 1,500 volunteer hours to Muscular Dystrophy Canada.
4. In sharing your story, you can help others going through similar struggles
After losing his vision, 37-year-old Robb Hempel, a true testament to strength and courage in the face of adversity, used all he had learned throughout his personal journey to help others by volunteering for the CNIB. And for Lisa Jarma, who had struggled with depression for years, taking action to combat the stigma associated with mental illness came in the form of volunteering at the Mental Health Education Resource Centre. Another example is Gertrude Hambira, a union activist from Zimbabwe who had to flee her country -- her life in danger for speaking out about the human rights of farmers -- brought her inspiring story to the international stage by volunteering for Amnesty International here in Winnipeg.
5. Sometimes it is about offering the hand of friendship in difficult times
Gerda Klassen, a 76-year-old quiet-spoken woman, has volunteered throughout her life with Open Circle, visiting people living in prison and offering, caring, non-judgmental support. While Peter Stanley, a 51-year-old man known as the gentle giant, volunteers with Hospice and Palliative Care Manitoba, offering companionship and comfort to those living their last days.
6. Following your passion can help others
Wanda Luna took her passion as an artist to another level when she created the Dream Room Project, transforming children's bedrooms into magical spaces of healing by painting inspiring murals on their walls. Another example of passion-fuelling action is Alan Greyeyes, who has had an incredible impact on Canada's aboriginal music scene, helping implement the Aboriginal Music Performers Camp, and volunteering as the founding vice-chairman of Manito Ahbee festival and the Aboriginal People's Choice Music Awards. And who could forget Mary Burton, a busy grandmother and pillar of volunteerism in Winnipeg's North End, who took her pride in the community in which she was raised and still lives, dedicating her time to events that bring people together like Picnic in the Park?
7. Even our four-legged friends need a hand -- and sometimes can be phenomenal volunteers themselves
Jenn Harder's love for animals lead her to volunteer to drive 950 kilometres to save a litter of puppies for the Manitoba Mutts Rescue, while Winnipeg Blue Bombers long snapper, Chris Cvetkovic's passion for animals saw him not only start his own non-profit organization to help Winnipeg's no-kill animal rescue programs, Cvet's Pets, but also organize a group of his CFL friends travel to Mexico to volunteer for a week with spaying and neutering animals for the organization Cats and Dogs International (CANDi). And of course there was Score, a little dog with a big heart and one of the most memorable volunteers at Grace Hospital, who retired this year. She provided joy to patients in the psychiatric ward and comfort to those in their final stages of life at Grace Hospice.
8. Volunteering together can bring you closer
With a wedding and baby on the way, Meghan Hillyard and Matthew Taylor's love for one another was evident, but what made the couple even more special is they share their joy, their laughter and their love with people who are living their final days, making a special dinner every other Sunday for residents at Jocelyn House Hospice. And parents Tom and Nadia Chaput demonstrated to their twin girls, Oksana and Tamara, the true spirit of giving by volunteering countless hours for Operation Red Nose during the holiday season, making sure their fellow Winnipeggers get home safe.
So as we ring in the New Year with friends and family, we should take inspiration from the incredible Winnipeggers volunteering of their time to make a difference in the community, and ask ourselves, what am I going to do this year to help others?
If you know a special volunteer who strives to make his or her community a better place to live, please contact Carolyn Shimmin-Bazak at email@example.com.