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By Mark Pavilons
The importance of volunteering hasn't gone unnoticed.
In fact, it's celebrated.
Marking the 10th Give Back Awards, this year's winners donated almost 6,000 hours of community service in their four years of high school.
The Give Back Awards, led by Neighbourhood Network, were showcased by Magna International, during National Volunteer Week. These students, who received a cash prize from Magna, “demonstrated an outstanding dedication to community involvement.”
Philanthropist, volunteer and celebrity Joan Kelley Walker spoke to recipients this year, offering her insights.
Joan's charitable efforts have continued to assist organizations and communities around the globe. She's the recipient of the Queen's Diamond Jubilee medal for her charitable work over the past 16 years as an ambassador for World Vision and has worked closely alongside Mercy Ships, generously donating to their cause.
Though she's known for her pop-culture reality show appearances on The Real Housewives of Toronto, Joan's volunteering ventures are in fact remarkable. She continues to assist wherever she is able and urges others to give back, dream big, volunteer, and donate – no matter how large or small the contribution may be.
“This is a huge deal, there are many people cheering on your success and waiting to see what your futures hold. This is a really great starting point. From here, you can do anything,” Walker told the crowd as one of the keynote speakers.
“This room represents countless hours of hard work and dedication, all in an effort to make an impact. To make a difference, to make the world a better place.”
Walker relayed the story of 15-year-old Faith Dickinson of Peterborough. She is the founder of “Cuddles for cancer, which makes blankets for people who need comfort. Faith has been awarded the Diana Award named after Princess Diana and she has been invited to the Royal wedding of Prince Harry and Megan Markle.
“So you never know where these things will lead and it's incredible for young people like yourselves to be recognized in this way,” Walker said.
“As you all know, in volunteerism, as in life, everything and everyone matters, any gestures, big or small make a big impact. There is power in volunteerism that has the potential to create change in the world for the good of our society. It also spreads a message to future generations that reaching out to others through humanitarian causes and volunteerism creates a better world.”
She asked the audience to think about what motivates them to volunteer.
“For me, volunteering is human compassion at the highest level. It doesn't matter how you volunteer. Some people write a cheque, others are in the trenches doing hard work, others are planning and strategizing. Whatever gift you have, whatever gift you share, it matters. Big or small, it still comes from the same place of compassion and giving that serves others.”
Walker said volunteering can be as simple as being mindful, asking people how they are doing and just being polite.
Walker said a great example of the power of students creating change occurred following the Florida school shooting. Students and teens stood up for what they believed in.
“It isn't easy to stand up against the system and political leaders, but never was the voice of students heard so loudly and their message so clearly conveyed on a world stage. People were watching, observing, and forming their own opinions. In some cases changing their opinions. I don't want to be political at all but the point is that because students were clearly asking for something they created a voice for themselves. I applaud that. There may not be change immediately but you have to start somewhere, to create a window.”
Walker cited another example of compassion following the Humboldt bus tragedy.
“Look at the outpouring of compassion and support there has been for the families, teammates, the Broncos team itself, the town. So many people could relate to it that it created far reaching compassion from strangers all over the world. The Broncos president said ‘love and care and compassion are stronger than ever before.' I think, that is one positive thing to come out of an otherwise dismal situation.”
Walker said she was honoured to be one of very few members of the public, non-government and non-NGO, to be invited to the United Nations conference on the status of women in New York City.
“I was there as a representative/ambassador of World Vision Canada. One of my greatest take-aways from that conference is that there are many incredibly smart, dedicated people working tirelessly to help others. Many volunteers and NGOs are trying to find the best way to work together, not independently. It makes sense to share knowledge, experience, data, strategies, etc.
“That approach works for volunteerism at all levels, not just at the UN. It certainly works here in our community, too.”
The concept/theme for this year's national volunteer week was “celebrate the value of volunteering.” While volunteering is seen as a selfless act, a form of service, many volunteers will tell you that you get more than you give.
“Whatever your motivation, I always encourage people to have goals. Any goals, life goals, goals that may change. You can choose your own path and create your own way.
“Setting a goal and deciding on steps to get there creates an intention which creates energy and focus to work towards your goal.
“I encourage everyone to seek out mentors and leaders that you admire. Ask questions, gain insight, then, in turn mentor others and share your knowledge.
“I've had the fortune to volunteer and do charity work in many countries around the world and here at home. I can't even tell you how much those experiences fill up my soul.”
Excerpt: The importance of volunteering hasn’t gone unnoticed. In fact, it’s celebrated. Marking the 10th Give Back Awards, this year’s winners donated almost 6,000 hours of community service in their four years of high school.
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