City teens get honours from Duke

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Three win gold level for Duke of Edinburgh's Award

Three St. Albert graduates were recognized by the Duke of Edinburgh last week for their efforts to enrich their lives and support their communities.

St. Albert residents Katie Fitzgerald, Kaitlyn McTavish, and Jordan Poirier were three of the roughly 150 Albertans who received their gold level Duke of Edinburgh’s Awards last Friday at the Markin MacPhail Centre in Calgary.

The Duke of Edinburgh’s International Award is a non-competitive, non-academic, self-directed program that encourages youth ages 14 to 25 to become better citizens through community engagement. The gold level of the award (which consists of a certificate and a gold pin) requires participants to go on an adventurous journey, complete a residential project, and spend 12 months learning a skill, being physically active, and supporting their community.

Presenting the awards was the Duke of Edinburgh himself, Prince Edward.

It was kind of a surreal experience to meet, speak, and shake hands with the prince, Fitzgerald said.

“You always see pictures of royals, but you never think you’re going to meet one.”

The prince was kind of funny and did a great job of making everyone feel at ease, she added.

Adventurous lives

A Paul Kane graduate, Fitzgerald said she volunteered with St. Albert’s BAM for Youth, the SOARing program, and the Amplify Festival to earn her award. She also took art classes and learned to play the acoustic guitar.

She also spent three weeks near Udaipur, India, building latrines for a local school through Free the Children.

“There were monkeys everywhere,” she said, and the homes were made mostly of clay and dung.

Most children in that part of India have to drop out of school by Grade 8 to help out on the family farm, Fitzgerald said. Others are unlikely to go to post-secondary due to their position in India’s caste system. By supporting the local school, Fitzgerald hoped to help local families get on solid financial ground so their kids could get more education.

Another PK alumna, McTavish said she swam, canoed, biked, cross-country skied, and played badminton as part of her gold award efforts. She also twice went to Ensenada, Mexico, with the St. Albert Evangelical Lutheran Church to build homes for the less fortunate.

Many homes in that area were overcrowded, with one family living out of a van and another living in a home made from garage doors and a tarp, she said. It was an eye-opening look at another culture.

“Some people may not have much, but they’re happy with what they have.”

Bellerose graduate Jordan Poirier said he was inspired to pursue this award by his former teacher, George Mentz. Earning it saw him attend Camp Rockstar in Camrose, serve drinks to patients at the Sturgeon hospital, and hike down the treacherous Kalalau Trail in Hawaii.

The trail is 14 kilometres long and in a completely remote part of the island of Kauai, Poirier said. On it, he encountered steep hills, thick jungle, rocky terrain, naked bushmen showering under a waterfall, and the infamous Crawler’s Ledge – a 46 cm wide trail with a steep rise on one side and a deadly drop to the ocean on the other.

“It really sounds scarier than it was,” he said – it was more of a really steep hill.

Poirier, Fitzgerald and McTavish are all now pursuing post-secondary degrees. Fitzgerald is now an ambassador for the Duke of Edinburgh’s Award program and hopes to promote the program to St. Albert students starting next year.

“I’m super excited to be on the other side of the award now.”

The Duke of Edinburgh award teaches you to take care of yourself and others, and looks great on your résumé, Poirier said.

“It’s an enriching experience.”

Details on the award can be found at www.dukeofed.org.

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Kevin Ma

Kevin Ma joined the St. Albert Gazette in 2006. He writes about Sturgeon County, education, the environment, agriculture, science and aboriginal affairs. He also contributes features, photographs and video.