Theresa Tougas is a woman of action. Years ago, when one of her children was attending an after-school karate program she couldn't just sit on the bench and watch, so she started holding the practice bag. When a few children from her neighbourhood asked if they could walk with her to the school where she works as an educational assistant, Tougas started a "walking school bus" for 20 children.
"I always just say, 'I do what I do because I do it,' " Tougas laughs. "With the walking school bus, well, it's just so nice to hear kids talking and laughing together as we all walk to school. And kids get to school on time."
Tougas believes when parents take the time to volunteer, they set a positive example for their children. The 38-year-old mother of four -- son Taylor, 19; daughter Maggie, 15; son Riley, 13; and daughter Alexis, 9 -- recently won the Judy Aiken Award from the Manitoba Association of Parent Councils for her 10 years of volunteering with both the Lord Selkirk Elementary School Parent Council and throughout the school community in the Winnipeg School Division.
"I think it's so important to teach my children that giving is better than receiving," beams Tougas. "If I make somebody smile, then good, I've done my job for the day."
The award was established in 2004 to honour the memory of Judy Aiken, a longtime member of the Manitoba Home and School Parent Teacher Federation which later became the Manitoba Association of Parent Councils (MAPC), an organization of school-based parent groups. Aiken's family and MAPC established the award to recognize individuals who, through their actions and efforts on behalf of their school parent associations, have made a significant contribution to their school community.
Tougas started to become involved with the Lord Selkirk Elementary School Parent Council because she felt it was important to be invested in her children's education. Aside from creating the walking school bus, Tougas has volunteered for a number of the school's sports programs (including karate, baseball, soccer, flag football and running club) and has helped fundraise and organize special events.
Tougas encourages students and families to become more involved in their school community.
"Parents find Theresa very easy to talk to and they usually get a big hug from her," says Jaylene Kewley, Lord Selkirk Elementary School Parent Council member. "She is a true mentor."
Tougas has also been involved with the Neighbourhood Alive Committee in Elmwood since 2010 and has volunteered for Habitat for Humanity and Folklorama.
She is succeeding at making an impression on her children. Her eldest son has volunteered with sandbagging and during the winter he shovelled neighbours' driveways. Her 15-year-old daughter has taken a leadership role as the first female football player at her high school. Her 13-year-old son has helped volunteer for events such as school Christmas dinners. And she's even seen her youngest child pick up a broom after karate classes and help sweep the floor.
When Tougas was given the news she would receive the Judy Aiken Memorial Award, she was taken aback. "I always like to be behind the scenes. I'm not used to being out there in front," she laughs.
Her 15-year-old daughter told her, "No good deed goes unnoticed, Mom. I'm so proud of you."
"To me, volunteering means so much, giving back to the school and the community," says Tougas. "It has opened up new friendships for me and makes me feel good as a human being."
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: firstname.lastname@example.org