James Struthers wants young Winnipeggers to take pause from all the hustle and bustle that often characterizes the holiday season to think about what gift they will give to their community this coming year.
This gift he speaks of has more value than a new, impressive iPhone 5 or a luxurious bottle of Lady Gaga's latest perfume. Struthers wants youth to give the gift of their time.
This is why the young musician has created the #GiveYourGifts event, a benefit concert to raise awareness of the need for young people in this city to step up and lend a hand.
"The #GiveYourGifts event is not just a show," says Struthers. "It's the spirit behind it -- we're trying to tell young people they need to use their time, their talents, their energy to do something to make this city a better place for everyone. Find something you're passionate about, get involved and make a real tangible change in the lives of others."
Struthers, who was born and raised in Winnipeg, achieved musical acclaim last December when his single, Blue Christmas, soared to No. 8 in the charts, sharing the Top 10 spotlight with the likes of Justin Bieber and Michael Bublé. In the last two years, he has travelled Canada twice over and released two EPs and four music videos.
But despite the hectic schedule, Struthers has always remained grounded and felt no matter the success, he must try to use his talents to create change and give back to the community that helped foster his love for music.
He says from a young age, his parents always encouraged him to volunteer his time, knowledge and skills. When Struthers found out the average age of donors and volunteers within the community was rising with the demographic shift of the baby boomer generation, he knew he had to reach out to his large, mainly younger fan base here in Winnipeg to create change.
"For the younger generation, this type of behaviour (volunteering and donating to charities) isn't always encouraged," says Struthers. Inspired by his involvement in national events such as We Day, Struthers decided to champion the message the younger generation can make a difference by organizing a benefit concert here in Winnipeg.
The #GiveYourGifts concert will take place Thursday at 7 p.m. at the Garrick Centre and all proceeds will be donated to United Way of Winnipeg. Performing alongside Struthers will be media darlings the Treble, iTunes sensation Take Me to the Pilot (whose song Green Eyes was recently featured in a United Way of Winnipeg campaign video), and prodigy Dane Bjornson, who has been likened as the next Justin Bieber.
In order to demonstrate to youth they practise what they preach, all of the musicians involved in the concert have been volunteering throughout the community in United Way partner agencies such as the West Broadway Youth Outreach, as well as busking to raise money for United Way.
Struthers volunteered for the United Way of Winnipeg's annual Koats for Kids campaign, helping to bring awareness of Winnipeg families' need for warm winter gear. He sorted out donated items in order to get kids suited up for the season more quickly.
"People like James and others who, by all rights could be focused on getting their own start in life, are using their talent and time to inspire change that will benefit others," says Kris Owens, United Way of Winnipeg's director of communications.
"#GiveYourGifts helps us celebrate the amazing work our agency partners are doing thanks to Winnipeggers' support. At the same time, it's highlighting some of the challenges and issues we're facing as a community and showing a new generation of youth that they can make a difference. After all, they're the leaders of tomorrow. They will inherit the future we're making today."
Struthers is also encouraging young people to post their stories, videos and pictures of how they are making a change in the community on the event's Facebook page or United Way Facebook page, or by tweeting a link with the hashtag, #giveyourgifts. The person with the best story will win an Epiphany acoustic guitar.
"I feel like it's a real blessing to be part of the #GiveYourGifts event," says Struthers. "What means the most to me is the message that young people need to get involved. No one should live their lives entirely by themselves."
To learn more about the #GiveYourGifts benefit concert, visit www.unitedwaywinnipeg.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 .