- Jan Craig: Part of our History
- Anu Saxena is a Volunteer with a Heart for Giving
- Grace and Mark Evans: Volunteers AKA Angels in Disguise
- Dawn Kelly
- Patti Schopp
- Tara Bernard-McCabe
- Jeanne Forsythe
- Linda Ghent
- Jessica Haylow
- Joanne McCombie
- Jessie McConnell
- Mandy Morrison
- Nancy Revie
- Jason Clattenburg
- Vikki Palmer
- Nicole Debeyer
- Cindy Copeland
- Adopt-A-Family Volunteer Team.
- Michael Douglas
- Mike Pecora, It's A Family Affair.
- Jane Vander Velden
Jan Craig: Part of our History
Jan's volunteer work with the Children's Foundation began many years ago through the breakfast program at Tytler Public School, originally funded by Wellington-Dufferin-Guelph Public Health. Driven to the program through her work as a nutritionist with Public Health, Jan continued volunteering for the program even when funding later came from the Canadian Red Cross Society. Jan's daughter eventually joined her as a volunteer and together they prepared nutrious food for children who would otherwise go without breakfast. In 2009, the breakfast program came to the Children's Foundation and is know today as the Food & Friends Program.
From the ranks of a volunteer, Jan's involvement with the Foundation continued to grow and in 2010 she joined the Board of Directors. Acting as Board Chair from 2012-2016, Jan continued serving as a Board Member until June of this year (2017). Thankfully, she is refusing to leave us and plans to stay on as an event volunteer and an enthusiastic advocate within the community.
Truly with a golden heart, Jan's volunteerism reaches far beyond the Children's Foundation: she has served as Board Chair for the Heart and Stroke Foundation, she volunteers with Dublin Street United Church, and organizes and prepares the weekly hot suppers at Royal City Church in downtown Guelph. She also volunteers with Syrian families, helping with everything from how to apply for licenses, how to take buses, taking them to appointments, providing support and a family connection for their children and referring them to organizations such as the Children's Foundation, particularly the Free to Play Program.
Jan's motivation to volunteer was developed at an early age and instilled as one of her core family values. "It's always been part of my lifestyle," she says. She has shared those values with her family as well and been joined by her daughter at several volunteer events.
One of Jan's most memorable experiences with the Children's Foundation is volunteering with the Southern Ontario Amazing Race. She finds it a particularly motivating and inspiring experience, driven by a remarkable leadership committee. She loves listening to the racers about their event challenges and overcoming obstacles along the way.
When asked what Jan has gained from volunteering with the Foundation, she emphasizes that it's the insight into the lives of various communities of children, particularly evident in the Adopt-A-Family and Food & Friends Programs. "The stories of families are humbling," says Jan, referring to the many life stories she's heard over the years and how positive the impact of the Children's Foundation has been on their well-being.
When asked what she would say to new volunteers, Jan said she would tell them, "I hope you get as much job satisfaction and enjoyment as I have, realizing that you are working as part of a team who are there to help you and having fun while doing it."
Thank you, Jan, for your continued dedication and advocacy! You are a huge part of our history and we would not be where we are without you.
Anu Saxena is a Volunteer with a Heart for Giving
Anu remembers when she first heard about the Children’s Foundation of Guelph and Wellington throughout the community. She remembers seeing its programs advertised in local newspapers and, with a heart for helping those in need, she was drawn to the organization.
Her first involvement volunteering with the Foundation was in 2011 when she became the Children’s Foundation Food & Friends Breakfast/Lunch Program Coordinator at Our Lady of Lourdes Catholic High School, where her son was attending. She immediately saw the difference the program made in students’ lives and stayed on as the Program Coordinator for eight years, loving every moment of it. She saw how positively the program affected students on a daily basis, helping youth unlock their potential to achieve excellent results. She truly believes that Food & Friends is “bringing healthy food to hungry minds.”
Food & Friends relies on volunteers like Anu to administer the programs within the schools; their dedicated time and support makes it possible for the Program to continue reaching the children that need it most, positively impacting the lives of local students by offering access to healthy nutrition. Currently, Anu sits on the Food & Friends Committee, representing Guelph student nutrition programs and working to improve program delivery.
Impressed and moved by Food & Friends, Anu looked into the Foundation’s other programs, hopeful to become engaged in other areas of the organization. She quickly became a part of the Children’s Foundation team of elite volunteer leaders, the Sunshine Squad, advocating on behalf of the Foundation within the community and promoting its programs at community events. She also volunteers at the Foundation’s own events including the annual Around the World Gala, Fore Our Kids Golf Tournament, Trees for Tots and many third party events. No matter where the need, Anu is always willing to help with a kind smile and a generous heart, exemplifying the giving characteristics of a volunteer.
Anu says her role as a Children’s Foundation volunteer has been a humbling experience, allowing her to give back to the community in a meaningful and impactful way. It has helped her grow personally, developing a new understanding of people’s needs, right in her own community. Anu feels the Children’s Foundation is making Guelph a better place to live, and she is so happy to be a part of it.
Grace and Mark Evans: Volunteers AKA Angels in Disguise
The Food for Thought Breakfast Program started in 1999, when the principal at the time noticed that students were going into the cafeteria looking for food that was a day old or going to be discarded. The Guelph Collegiate Vocational Institute staff members realized there was a real need as students did not seem to have enough food in their lunch or get them through the day.
The need was met by the breakfast program, serving students five days a week from 7:30-8:30 a.m. out of the kitchen at St. James Church, located across the road from the school. Grace and Mark Evans coordinate the program and its volunteers, managing grocery shopping, menu planning, safe food handling, food preparation and proper clean-up. This coordinated effort ensures each student has access to nutritious food to start their school day. Grace and Mark also help fundraise for the program and make sure all receipts are balanced and handed in to the school for monthly reporting.
Even though Grace and Mark’s own children are grown and no longer involved with the program, the pair continues to arrive at St. James Church each weekday morning at 7:00 a.m. to prepare a healthy breakfast for the students who need it. They have grown to know and love the 35-40 students who visit the program daily. Their priority is certainly proper nutrition for these students, but they go on to explain that the program offers much more than that. They often interact with students who do not have a reliable adult role model at home, so they have the opportunity to truly impact all areas of the students’ lives. They often have students working on homework and talking about career choices and they do their best to model positive behaviour for the students. While they do not have a lot of rules, respect tops the list and Grace and Mark proudly report that all of the students are respectful of them, the rules and each other.
Grace loves the opportunity to make gentle suggestions to try new foods and experiment with healthy food that the students often have not had access to.
This program provides a safe space for students, with a positive and caring environment. There is no judgement, so students often feel comfortable opening up and discussing their issues. Grace and Mark often keep in touch with students after graduation and celebrate their success in post-secondary education, as well as their career and life successes. They were especially touched when one of the students supported through his high school years came in one morning for a visit. This young man attended the Food for Thought Breakfast Program regularly when he was a student at GCVI, and grew to know and respect Grace and Mark. He was so impacted by the program that he wanted his wife and children to meet these “angels” who were there for him throughout high school. The reality is Grace and Mark often do not know the reasons that bring students to Food for Thought, but what they do know is they are making a difference in the lives of many of these students.
We extend our sincerest thanks to Grace and Mark for over 15 years of volunteer service with the Children’s Foundation Food & Friends Program and all of the support they have provided to the students of the GCVI Food for Thought Breakfast Program.
Dawn was looking to volunteer in an office position which she felt would help her to both maintain her current administrative skills as well as help her learn new skills while looking for paid employment in her field.
The Children's Foundation helped me fund my children's soccer and camp fees and so I felt that volunteering with this organization would be my way of 'giving back' for the help. My volunteer work has put me in a happier frame of mind and provided me with a very positive environment to get involved with the bigger picture.
My self-esteem has been boosted by the appreciation that's shown by the staff at the Children's Foundation. They make me feel valued and I know what to expect when I come in to do my volunteer hours - courtesy, respect, support, encouragement and consistency. As a past client, and now a volunteer, I can educate others about the programs that are available. This financial support can enhance the lives of families. This makes me feel good about sharing my story with others.
I feel like I'm helping the community and that I'm part of the 'bigger picture.' Volunteering makes me feel like a more positive member of society and makes me feel like I'm making a difference. On one occasion, as an ambassador of the Children's Foundation at the Multicultural Festival, I was able to provide information about programs and services that families might not otherwise have known about. This sharing of information may result in members of the public seeking out the help that they need.
When I think about what impact volunteering has on others, I'm reminded of my childhood and going to camp for a week with my brother. The volunteer camp counsellors really cared about the campers, they helped me feel more confident and helped me in building new friendships with the other campers. I grew personally and in my relationship with my brother through this experience.
When I told my son that I was volunteering, he seemed proud of me. He can see that I'm interested in helping others and that is providing a positive example for him.
Patti doesn’t only coordinate one Food and Friends student nutrition program, she coordinates three at Waverley Drive public school - a breakfast, snack and lunch program. She has also taken a leadership role as a mentor and site supervisor for many University of Guelph students.
Patti is a member of the Children’s Foundation Sunshine Squad - a group of volunteers that represent the Children's Foundation at community events. Patti has helped at Ribfest, the Fergus Family Info Fair and many other events. She truly is a ray of sunshine with her big smile and wonderful laugh.
Tara Bernard-McCabe was presented with the 2011 Volunteer of Year Award. Tara fulfills the very demanding job of program coordinator for not just one but two student nutrition programs in Shelburne. She has managed these programs with efficiency and creativity, making one of the programs financially self-sustainable with her incredible ability to garner support from the community and businesses in Shelburne. She inspires us with your energy and commitment to the student nutrition programs and the students that attend.
"I am proud to be involved in an organization like the Children’s Foundation that makes a difference in young people’s lives.”
Jeanne Forsythe has played a significant part in the phenomenal growth of The Children’s Foundation. In 1976, while she was an employee for Family & Children’s Services, she was involved in the establishment of the Stephen Promoli Memorial Fund. The Fund was started by the Family & Children’s Services Board of Directors to honour the memory of Stephen Promoli who tragically lost his life while on a canoeing trip. The purpose of the Fund was to provide life enrichment opportunities, like summer camp and sports and arts activities to disadvantaged children in Guelph and Wellington County.
Jeanne has great memories of the early years and being involved with fundraising that included many nights in bingo halls and forming an early partnership with the Guelph Wish Fund for Children event held in March of each year. She also played an important part in engaging both of the school boards into referring disadvantaged children for funding of school and community enrichment programs.
In 1991, Jeanne played a role in the transition of the Stephen Promoli Memorial Fund to become part of the newly formed Children’s Foundation of Guelph and Wellington. She continued with similar roles in fundraising and granting funds for children in need. She was actively involved in the establishment in 2001 of the Promoli Family Fund in memory of Fred Promoli, former Executive Director of Family & Children’s Services. The purpose of this fund was to establish a scholarship program for youth in the care of Family & Children’s Services. Once she retired from Family and Children’s Services in 2005, she took on a new role with The Children’s Foundation as a member of the Marketing Committee on which she still sits. She is very excited about her role in celebrating the history of the organization while making progress for the future. She was very pleased with the Guelph Mercury feature that was distributed in June, 2008 in that it was a great way to tie all of the programs and work that The Children’s Foundation does together.
A smile comes to her face when she recalls receiving letters from kids that went to camp and how great of an experience it was for them during that summer. However, the greatest reward comes on the occasions when she is approached in public by adults who recognize her, thank her, and let her know that an important part of their childhood was the funding that they received for camp or other activities. To see how these children have grown into fine adults is what makes all of her work worthwhile.
Linda Ghent was presented with the award for Volunteer of the Year in 2012. Linda has shown true dedication for the JD Hogarth nutrition program by being the program coordinator for over 6 years. The program at JD Hogarth makes healthy snacks available to its 570 students all five days of the week. To make this happen, Linda spends countless hours a week on every aspect of the program: shopping, fundraising, food prep, and food distribution. We are inspired with her energy and commitment to the program and the students that attend.
Congratulations and Thank you to Linda for all that you do!
Jessica Haylow is an inspiring young lady who goes above and beyond by giving her time to support our Food and Friends Program. Two years ago, Jessica agreed to take on the responsibility of enhancing the Sacred Heart School Snack Program. She has excelled at volunteer management, menu planning, financial accountability and most of all the amazing way she connects with the students of the school. Jessica has an incredible commitment to ensuring that the students at Sacred Heart are getting nutritious snacks. She has also helped to bring security to the program by raising one of the highest dollar amounts during the Live Free campaign this past March.
"It brings me great joy seeing the students get their healthy snack which is helping to facilitate in their daily learning. Seeing the excitement on the students’ faces on snack day is the most rewarding feeling I could ask for.”
For her dedication and support of the Children’s Foundation, Jessica was awarded the 2010 Volunteer of the Year award.
Pictured to the right is Glenna Banda and Jessica Haylow
On behalf of the Food and Friends team and The Children's Foundation - congratulations to Jessie McConnell on the well deserved nomination for the Women of Distinction awards. Jessie, Breakfast Program Coordinator at the GCVI Breakfast Club, has been nominated in the Volunteer Category. Ann Murray, Rector’s Warden, from St. James Anglican Church who host the program wrote this great letter in support of Jessie's nomination:
My acquaintance with Jessie began in the late spring of 2011 when she applied to be the Co-ordinator of our Breakfast Club for G.C.V.I. students. From the outset, I have found her to be enthusiastic, innovative and extremely conscientious as well as remarkably personable.
As a very busy third year university student in the Family Relations & Applied Nutrition Department, University of Guelph, she, nevertheless, has been able to carry a very responsible load as the Co-ordinator of our Breakfast Club, held every weekday morning at the church. This has required that she be out of her house and at the bus stop in time to ensure she arrives at the church at or before 7 a.m. every Monday through Friday during term in order to set up the parish hall for the students and lay out the breakfast in time for the students’ arrival before 8 a.m. Despite considerable health challenges, she never complains, is considerate, totally reliable and routinely seeks out ways to improve the program.
Her tasks as the Breakfast Club Co-ordinator go well beyond the daily on-site activities, since she is responsible for ensuring that the menu-planning and grocery shopping meet the on-going nutritional needs of the students and this she does with aplomb. Moreover, she is responsible for seeking out and applying for funding in a timely manner from a variety of granting agencies and organizations and has gone out of her way to seek other sources of funding from her own personal connections.
She interacts very well with our adult volunteers and has recruited a large team of university students who volunteer in the program as well – a clear indication of the benefits of her engaging personality, her exceptional leadership skills and her genuine commitment to the Breakfast Club. She is certainly a strong role model for women; both for the high school students who use the Breakfast Club and for her university peers. When one considers her relatively young age, her accomplishments are even more impressive.
Although my experience with Jessie is limited to her work here at St. James, I am well aware of her many other interests that greatly enhance the life both of the community at large and of the university. When I was asked to provide a letter of support for this nomination, I accepted without any hesitation. On behalf of the St. James Community, I confirm that Jessie McConnell is highly deserving of the recognition that comes with being named a Woman of Distinction in Guelph.
Tell us why you decided to become a Food and Friends volunteer and the impact the position has had on you.
"The classic stereotype of a volunteer is someone who has lots of time to spare and is looking for something to do. For me, this is not the case! Despite my busy schedule, I do my best to arrive early every Wednesday morning at the breakfast program organized by Chef Nicole at Centre Wellington District High School in Fergus.
When it comes to volunteering, not everyone is motivated by the same factors. Not only is it a great way to start your day, but I volunteer for a variety of reasons, including my desire to ensure children start their day well-nourished. As the oldest child of a shift-working single mom living on a tight budget, a healthy breakfast wasn’t always available and my sister and I often went to school hungry. Many years later, after obtaining a degree in nutrition, I recognize that students who are given a nutritious breakfast daily, make significant improvements in learning, school attendance, behaviour and self-esteem. The specific thing I like about the program at CWDHS is that breakfast is available to all students, thus alleviating any social stigma that may discourage children from participating in these breakfast programs. In fact, on any given day we can serve up to 600 students a healthy, balanced breakfast, giving them all a jump start on their day of learning.
I’ve been privileged to meet many wonderful staff and student volunteers who commit their time to provide a nutritious breakfast to students who might otherwise go without. For all of us, when you volunteer for a cause you believe in, motivation comes easy!"
Volunteer at Wake Up Wellington Breakfast Program
Centre Wellington District High School
I love volunteering for The Children’s Foundation of Guelph and Wellington. Why? Because it’s a place where I can use my gifts and skills to bless others and nothing feels better than that!
My association with this organization is quite by accident. It’s one of those – it’s not what you know, it’s who you know! One of my most wonderful friends works for Food & Friends – she was looking for volunteers and that’s all I needed to know. It wasn’t that I was particularly passionate about this organization, it was because I cared for the workers that I became a volunteer. The passion grew.
What an amazing journey it has been. Volunteering for The Children’s Foundation of Guelph and Wellington has allowed me to be involved in the community; meet new friends; make a difference and have fun while doing it. Life doesn’t get better than that!
My ‘volunteer style’ is of the episodic volunteer. Basically, that means I like to volunteer for something that has a specific beginning and end. I’m not very effective sitting on a board or committee or anything that takes a long collaborative time to process. HOWEVER, if you ask me to sell raffle-tickets at the upcoming dinner/dance fundraiser – I’m in! I love the thrill of being totally immersed while I’m volunteering.
I’ve found several volunteer areas in The Children’s Foundation of Guelph and Wellington where I can utilize my episodic volunteering gifts. Where can you have more fun that filling up water bottles at the annual Guelph Rifest? Or how about selling tickets and being the ‘runner’ at the Fall Gala? So much fun, while supporting awesome staff in an organization that makes a significant positive impact on the lives of children and their families – right in our own community.
I may never see the recipients of my volunteer efforts, but I know they are out there. I read the impact statements; I see the fund raising dollars grow; I know this organization makes a difference…and for that I am grateful for the opportunity to volunteer with them.
Volunteering is a great community sport – it’s free and fun – give it a try – you’ll be glad you did!
(Jason working on the Children's Foundation's Santa Claus parade float in 2013)
"We make a living by what we get but we make a life by what we give" - Winston Churchill
Jason Clattenburg makes a living by working at Toyota Manufacturing but that is such a small piece of who he is. Jason has been an incredible volunteer to the Children's Foundation in so many ways.
Southern Ontario Amazing Race Director for 7 years (going on 8!) with countless hours going into meetings, planning, constructing, executing, and clean up. It is almost a year round commitment with very little down time.
Worked on the Santa Claus Parade float in 2013.
Volunteers for the Trees for Tots program every year.
Builds the major decor pieces for the Around the World Gala for the past two years, bringing our gala to another level.
In just a call, Jason is there with a smile to help us with random things like picking up 120 cases of donated Wellington Brewery beer for our golf tournament!
We were thrilled to be able to honour Jason as our Volunteer of the Year at our Gala in October and look forward to every opportunity to work with him in the future.
Jason with his Volunteer of the Year award at the Viva Las Vegas Gala on October 18
Vikki is relatively new to our team of volunteers here at the Children's Foundation, and what an asset she has become! Vikki volunteers on a weekly basis, coming to the office by bus. We are so impressed with her dedication; no matter what the weather holds, heat or rain, she will be here smiling and ready to go.
Vikki sees her volunteer involvement as an excellent way to keep her computer skills current, and her strong administrative skills help our team to keep things running smoothly. Because of volunteers like Vikki, we are able to efficiently and effectively deliver important programming to families in our communities that are most in need of support.
Vikki proudly shares that it has been her children that have encouraged her to volunteer, as they have grown up volunteering for various community agencies. Vikki believes that volunteerism enhances a person's well-being and says that “the passion of the Children’s Foundation is infectious” and has benefited her in a very positive way.
As a single parent herself, Vikki has an unwavering compassion for the families that are supported by the Children's Foundation; she warmly greets and assists them in our office and her kind gentle ways make them feel comfortable and happy to see a welcoming face.
Vikki's openness and warmth is a prime example of the true compassion our volunteers share here at the Children's Foundation of Guelph and Wellington.
Nicole has always volunteered in the community, she believes that it's everyones calling to provide service. "It just makes sense to me to share my cooking skills, to teach students to cook and to provide other students with nutritious meals at little or no cost.
"The fundraising activities for the breakfast program at my school have provided a valuable networking oppurtunitiy which increases my engagement in the community. The Food & Friends Program has became a part of my identity and has given me a sense of purpose in providing such positive benefits to students through cooking and serving others. When you help someone else you feel better as a person and it gives you great purpose in life.
"My volunteer programs are also appreciated financially by parents in the community who otherwise might not be able to provide nutritious meals for their children. Children who otherwise might not eat breakfast do better in class and in life in general when they receive a nutritious meal. I can see positive changes in a lot of students who are involved in the breakfast program and the volunteers have developed their social skills through their involvement. Two student volunteers now attend the Stratford Culinary School as a result of the positive influence of their volunteer work with our breakfast program.
"Volunteer students tell me that they really look forward to attending my cooking class and helping with the breakfast plan. Their enjoyment of volunteering helps them to appreciate the school environment as a whole."
Nicole said that when she was a cadet in Girl Guides, there was a leader volunteer who was very kind and positive and made her feel more included in activities, providing a sense of belonging within the group. She understands that this is the kind of impact you can have on people when you volunteer. Nicole has also shared her spirt of volunteerism with her two daughters and they have also volunteered with the breakfast program at their highschool. "My daughters seem to have followed in their mother's footsteps as they believe in the importance of community service."
Nicole is making many lives brighter!
When Cindy Copeland moved to Guelph over 10 years ago from Toronto, she wanted to get out and meet some new people and get involved in the community. She decided volunteering would be a great way to do so. Cindy found the Children’s Foundation Adopt-A-Family program and has now been with the program for 11 years.
Since she first began volunteering, the Adopt-A-Family program has grown from supporting a few hundred families to now helping over 900 families. Cindy shared that, “when the program first started, it was literally run out of the purse of one of the founding Adopt-A-Family volunteers. A family was referred by a social worker, money would come out of that purse to go shop for them, and the need would be met. It wasn’t formal, there was no tracking or paperwork, it was simply a few women who cared about children and families in need. We felt this special season was one time when we could come together to make someone’s life a little brighter.”
“It is just humbling that there are so many families right here in Guelph and Wellington County that simply cannot make Christmas happen for their children,” said Cindy. Her affection and commitment to this cause is contagious and spreads both through the Adopt-A-Family workshop and her personal life. Cindy’s family members and friends get involved in many different ways because of her enthusiasm and her family is very supportive of her volunteerism because they are very proud of what she does.
Cindy works close to full-time for a few months leading up to Christmas, but it doesn’t stop there as she works throughout the year preparing for the season. One of Cindy’s personal traditions is using cloth gift bags instead of paper wrapping as there is just so much waste. She decided the Adopt-A-Family families should be part of this tradition as well. Cindy purchases fabric all year and Adopt-A-Family takes over her home for months before the holidays as she organizes sewing bees to make these gift bags. This year, Cindy and her sewing elves have made over 1,000 cloth gift bags. Cindy says, “What’s really nice is a lot of the bags are not holiday prints so they can be used by the families year round. Hopefully, this allows the families to carry these warm feelings with them wherever they go.”
Cindy speaks fondly of one close friend who, along with her sister and 94-year old mother, makes handmade quilts for the program. This friend doesn’t even live in Guelph, and yet she still chooses the Adopt-A-Family program to donate over 40 beautiful handmade quilts, just so the families will feel loved and special over the holiday season.
In speaking about the challenges of volunteer work, Cindy admitted that there can be times when things seem difficult. “Years ago, the program was run solely by volunteers which was a lot of work, and there were at times conflicting views and ideas of what to do. There is no permanent home for Adopt-a-Family, so every year the program is faced with the challenge of finding a suitable location. The setting up and tearing down is a lot of work.”
Cindy’s volunteer work is a big commitment and there are things in her personal life that go without in order to make this program happen. In spite of the sacrifice and the challenges over the years Cindy said, “it’s the warm, fuzzy feeling that I get working on the program that keeps me coming back.” She was quick to add that, “ the Adopt-A-Family volunteers are only one piece of the puzzle. There is also the donors, the families and the social workers that are part of the whole.” But Cindy sees the Adopt-A-Family volunteers as “the glue that holds it all together.” Cindy’s reward is seeing the outcome of all the hard work and so many families being supported over the holidays. That is true meaning of Christmas to an Adopt-A-Family volunteer.
By volunteering with Adopt-A-Family, Cindy has not only found a meaningful way to give back to her community, she has also developed wonderful friendships and lasting memories.
The Children’s Foundation is indebted to all the volunteers who tirelessly run the Adopt-A-Family Program year after year. “It’s amazing how many volunteers come back every year to work together in order to create a special Christmas for children,” commented Program Director, Karyn Kirkwood. “Cindy, like so many of our volunteers, shies away from the spotlight, preferring to shine the light on the whole team. Her leadership at Santa’s workshop exemplifies all the best qualities one would expect in one of Santa’s elves, and I can’t imagine the program without her warmth, humour, and can-do attitude on the team.”
Let us take this opportunity to say thank you to Cindy for all of her efforts over the years. She has made such a huge difference in the lives of so many families.
Adopt-A-Family Volunteer Team.
The volunteer team Christmas spirit abounds this year at the site of Adopt-A-Family (AAF) on Huron Street in Guelph.
Claire is a volunteer editor and she works in the office ensuring that every detail of the donor and recipient paperwork for AAF is accurate and complete. Claire loves her position and states that "what keeps me here is the people", meaning all the other volunteers as well as the donors and recipients. Her exclamation that "you make friends here and they stay your friends" suggests that Claire has found a place where she belongs helping others in need experience a better Christmas. Claire has 'corralled' a bunch of her friends into helping out with AAF. Some of these friends are from other communities so the help that these volunteers contribute is from a far.
Linda has been a volunteer for six years with AAF and found out about the program through a friend when she first moved to Guelph. She loves Christmas and this is her way of giving back to the community. Linda shared the fact that AAF started with 1 volunteer about 25+ years ago and now recruits over 40 volunteers in order to be able to fill all of the needs of the program. Among the volunteers are Linda's husband and some of her friends. Linda explains that many of the needs that recipients ask for aren't what you'd expect at Christmas time, as requests such as food and sanitary products far outweigh asking for a 'treat' gift. Linda loves volunteering as the rewards of helping families in need is enormous and she is overwhelmed with the "thank you notes" the program receives from the family recipients. As a mother and a grandmother, Linda says that her volunteer work generates respect from her entire family. Linda's gift to her family this year is adopting a family on their behalf the gift that keeps on giving.
Pat has been volunteering for three years, doing filing and other administrative support tasks. The Women in Crisis referrals are special to Pat; sometimes the Christmas wishes might be as simple as a Christmas tree. When asked what she likes about volunteering for AAF, Pat responded that the volunteer team has good leadership, you get to know the people, build relationships, and for a lot of the retired people, this has taken the place of the working relationships they once had.
Joanne is retired, and has been a volunteer and donor for five years. She was looking for some way to give back to the community in a way that is exemplified by the philosophy of AAF. Joanne can see the impact of the Christmas spirit in every aspect of AAF including the volunteer team, donors and recipients. She is so happy to help everyone experience the joy of Christmas, supported by the look of happiness "that you can see on everyone's faces". Joanne is spurred on by the other volunteers as their excitement is 'contagious'. Joanne credits much of the success of AAF to how much the donors love giving to the program as that's 'key'. Some of the donors are friends of Joanne's from the Toronto and Brampton area as she has spread the word far and wide. She noted that there are also donors who were former recipients of the program who are now in a financial position to 'pay it forward'.
Joanne says it's all about the engagement, we feed off each other as volunteers. We all just want to be part of the excitement. What makes this program unique is that the volunteers help with the organization of the program therefore they really get to feel a sense of ownership. Right from the beginning they take the time to work through the whole process with you, volunteers even help with the interviewing and training of new volunteers. Joanne recalls that for years the program was run solely by volunteers, and it has only been in the past few years that there has been a dedicated staff person involved full-time.
Cindy is a volunteer that has been with the program for 11 years. When she moved from Toronto to Guelph she was interested in meeting new people. She saw an Adopt-A-Family volunteer ad and responded to the call for help, as she too was looking for a meaningful way of being involved in the community. Cindy speaks of the warm fuzzy feeling and the reward of seeing the outcome of her and the team's hard work. Cindy has adult kids who are proud of what she does, which includes sewing of fabric gift bags, shopping year round for Adopt-A-Family, and donating space in her home to store all the items and cloth bags prior to moving into the temporary AAF home every year.
As a whole, the volunteers talk about the wonderful leadership they have benefited from, and the teamwork that happens when things get busy. One of the greatest wishes of the Adopt-A-Family team is that they may one day find a permanent home. As the need grows and the workload increases, the volunteers tire after a busy season. Setting up and tearing down would be one less job to do at the end of an already busy season if they have their own home.
They are collectively so proud that the program has grown, from helping just a small number of families when it first began to now helping over 1,100 families, and they are all so humbled by the fact that there are so many families who just can't make Christmas happen. Many of the volunteers speak of a wonderful Christmas they have had the privilege of enjoying with their families and they want similar experiences for all children.
Truth be told, the Adopt-A-Family volunteer team is one that has been years in the making. In a recent interview with some of the volunteers who have served the longest they tell a story of friendship, inspiration and community. They describe the program as a Win-Win-Win-Win. The donors win by contributing to something so special; the social workers win by being able to ensure families they are working with get the help they need at Christmas (not to mention getting to deliver the presents, just like a real-life Santa Claus!); and the families win by receiving not only the generous gifts from their 'adoptive' donors but also by receiving the gift of hope. And finally, the volunteers win, knowing they are the glue that holds it all together and that through their tireless efforts as Adopt-A-Family elves, so many children will be helped. It's a wonderful Christmas for everyone involved.
Michael Douglas started volunteering for the Children's Foundation in 2015, in the years he has been involved in the organization he has become instrumental in the planning and organization of Trees for Tots. Michael has taken this event on in a profound and very personal way. It is with certainty that we can say this event would not be what it is without his dedication and outstanding support.
Mike Pecora, It's A Family Affair.
Mike Pecora originally learned about Trees for Tots when he read an article in the local newspaper. Mike was impressed with the work that Children’s Foundation is doing locally, and felt inspired to get involved. Having equipment that would be of benefit to Trees for Tots, and strong belief in volunteering for the community, he signed up as a volunteer and has been involved with Trees for Tots for the past 3 years. His wife Kate and eight year old daughter Sophie joined the team 2 years ago. As Mike puts it "We look at it as an excellent family opportunity to contribute to a great cause and help local children."
“The drive to the morning orientation meeting includes a pep-talk for Sophie about helping people in need and giving our time in a selfless way, with no expectation of thanks. Everyone has a job on our family crew…I drive and load trees, Kate organizes the routes, donations and directions and Sophie is the ‘runner’, hanging the door flyers and gathering the donations. Volunteering for Trees for Tots gives us a sense of community and being part of a well-organized event. An event that offers great value to donors, a needed service to residents and raises much needed funds for a very worthwhile cause. We think of the many blessings that we enjoy on a daily basis and are conscious of the fact that this is not the case for many others in our community. We do not volunteer to make ourselves feel good or to promote anything other than the fact that we all have something to offer to others in our community”.
Mike hopes that anyone considering volunteering in any way, locally or otherwise, takes the opportunity soon, “It will make a difference, we see how dedicated everyone from Trees for Tots and the Children’s Foundation is and are so happy to be part of this great event. We look forward to doing it for years to come."Coming Soon.
Jane Vander Velden
Meet Jane: Jane is a teacher and volunteer coordinator with the Children’s Foundation Food & Friends Student Nutrition Program at Centre Peel Public School.
Jane was the driving force behind the development and growth of this school’s morning meal program. She started the program 10 years ago, seeing a real need at the school. “The children were coming to school hungry and just were not able to learn properly.”
She tells the story of one family that was experiencing hard times and the children were coming to school hungry; there was no question that this family needed a little more. Jane saw the need and made sure the children got enough food to get them through the day, often feeding them lunch and snacks.
It was realities like this that drove Jane to start a morning meal program at the school. Since then, with the support of Food & Friends, Jane has been providing breakfast to students two days a week. It did not take long for other teachers to notice the benefits and Jane knew she had to find a way to feed each student every day of the week.
In the beginning Jane had a huge undertaking in front of her and took on all of the necessary tasks: she shopped early Monday mornings from a 24-hour grocery store, prepared the food, delivered it to classrooms, and cleaned up afterwards. Today, Jane can be truly proud of how the program has developed. With a great system in place and the Ontario Student Nutrition Services food delivery program, morning meals are now offered daily, effectively and efficiently by teacher facilitators.
The program is not without its challenges: there is little money and fundraising is difficult. Many families are from Mennonite communities and work long hours on family farms. Jane said her reward is giving every child the ability to learn: the smiles on their faces make all the difference.
Jane’s experience volunteering with the Children’s Foundation Food & Friends Program has given her the reward of knowing what she is providing proper nutrition so every student has the opportunity to learn and grow.
Jane is retiring at the end of this year and will be leaving her post as the program coordinator for the Centre Peel morning meal program. She has left a great legacy and we thank Jane for the huge difference she has made in the lives of local children.
Best of luck in your next phase of life, Jane, thank you for all the great work you have done and the difference you’ve made!