Floyd Wiebe gets a lot of attention from the media, to the point that he sometimes turns down interview requests.
Part of it is being media-savvy. He says he wants to pick interviews that suit his purpose, but beyond that he just doesn’t have enough time for every reporter looking for a drug/crime-related quote.
"I’m involved in so many public, media things, not just the foundation," said Wiebe, referring to TJ’s Gift Foundation, which he co-founded with wife Karen.
Right now, he has his hands full preparing for the 7th annual TJ’s Gift Gala Evening, happening May 15 at Canad Inns Polo Park, to raise funds for the foundation committed to drug-awareness and named after his late son, T.J.
In 2003 a brutal drug-fuelled murder took T.J.'s life. The loss led Wiebe to create TJ’s Gift Foundation to fund peer-to-peer programs for youth drug awareness in schools.
Besides that work, Wiebe is also on the board of the John Howard Society, a member of Manitoba Organization of Victim Assistance, an executive with the Gang Action Interagency Network, and has a full-time job as executive director of Gang Awareness for Parents.
The week before last he was in Ottawa helping craft the Victim’s Bill of Rights, he said, and with the recent news that one of the men involved in his son’s murder was being released the media circus began again.
So, there’s just not enough time for everything, but one thing he says he always makes time for is young people who reach out to him.
Wiebe speaks to students at schools, and his foundation hosts Battle of the Bands and a subsequent Rockin for Choices Concert at the MTS Centre.
All of it is wrapped up in drug awareness and keeping youth drug-free, and Wiebe makes it clear he’s there for any youth who want help or advice.
"Last year I put out my cell number on the overhead screen at the MTS Centre, I answered 8,000 texts in the month of March," Wiebe said.
"I do a lot of one-on-one answering questions to kids."
He recounts anecdotes like spending two hours texting with a teenager considering cocaine use.
"The end result is he didn’t do cocaine, that day. There’s no guarantee that he won’t do it sometime, but he didn’t do it that day," he said.
And then there was the girl who saw him speak four years ago at her school, and then saw him again two weeks ago and sent him a text saying she had kept the card pledging not to do drugs in her purse these past four years.
That kind of thing, he says, is not only rewarding but shows him that his time is well-spent.
Pat Burgoyne, assistant superintendent in the Louis Riel School Division and the person who administers funds granted to them by TJ’s Gift Foundation, believes the money Wiebe gives them is well-spent as well.
She sees the peer education model "where students are learning from each other" about substance abuse as creating a new culture in schools.
"Learning from each other, supporting each other, and working together… is what leads to the success of this," she said.
Students who may have closed their eyes to peers struggling with drugs in the past are now standing up to support them, she said.
"It’s almost a development of a culture amongst the students, it is a caring and supportive environment… at the end of the day I think that’s what these students are looking for, that they have that sense of belonging and caring that everyone wants to have."
An endorsement like that helps explain why the LRSD has purchased two corporate tables for $1,300 a pop for the May 15 gift gala evening. Wiebe says the five-course dinner at Canad Inns Polo Park is "not a rubber chicken dinner, believe me, we’re having beef tenderloin." The evening will include speakers, videos, and live entertainment.
Individual tickets are $100 and can be reserved by emailing Floyd@TJsGift.com or call 204-229-9633. TJ’s Gift Foundation is online at www.tjsgift.com