The kids are all right

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Leaders of Tomorrow winners show compassion starts at any age

The Leaders of Tomorrow awards, which recognize young people who are making a difference in the community through their volunteer efforts, are proof that the future of volunteerism in St. Albert is in good hands.

Whether they are collecting books for other schools, helping out at the library or hospital, lending their time to Special Olympics and the St. Albert Food Bank or raising funds to build clean water sources in underdeveloped countries, this year’s crop of Leaders of Tomorrow prove the youth of today are truly citizens of the community and the world.

The Leaders of Tomorrow will be introduced to the crowd at the Volunteer Citizen of the Year and Leaders of Tomorrow Awards May 5 at 10 a.m. at St. Albert Alliance Church. Tickets are $20. Call 780-459-6666.

Will Drake: Six to 12 years

At the age of only five, Drake learned of the lack of clean drinking water around the world. In response, he and his family started a campaign for Charity: Water called Jack and Will Went Up a Hill to build a well in Africa. He organized a bottle drive, sent out flyers and sorted the bottles. When the bottles and donations were tallied up, Drake had collected $4,000. Through an online auction and more donations, that total ballooned to $17,000, which went towards building six wells in different communities in Africa.

In 2011, Drake learned of the Human Sympathy Association in Kimamba, Tanzania (HUSA), which supports the needs of orphans and vulnerable children. When Drake learned a planned home for these children had been halted due to famine and a poor economy, he raised $6,000, which helped lead to completion of the house. Drake has continued to raise money for HUSA through asking students to collect spare change, a bake sale, a used book sale and other initiatives.

“Will Drake has become synonymous with change and leadership at Sir Alexander Mackenzie School. The students are inspired by him, and the entire school atmosphere is a climate for change,” writes his Grade 2 teacher Janelle Grice.

Nyall Hughes: 13 to 15 years

The question isn’t what Nyall Hughes is doing; it’s what isn’t she doing.

Her volunteer commitments are numerous – she has worked as a reading buddy at the St. Albert Public Library, helping Grade 2 students with their reading skills. Hughes has helped deliver fliers for the St. Albert and Morinville food banks, as well as collect food. She has collected birthday bag items for local youth of families who use the food bank, volunteered at blood drives, made a baby blanket for a giveaway and helped out at soup kitchens, much of which was done in conjunction with her church, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints.

Hughes has also planted trees, made puppets for the hospital, visited seniors’ homes at Christmas and helped make and collect blankets for the homeless.

“Nyall is a really fantastic girl. She does service with a smile, has an uplifting attitude with those who serve with her, and is the type of person who serves because she cares about people and is going to make a difference,” writes one of her references.

Vanessa Peynenburg: 16 to 18 years

Vanessa Peynenburg turned a diagnosis of anorexia nervosa into an opportunity to ensure other teens didn’t suffer the same condition.

Peynenburg has started her own online and community-based campaign called Be Your Own Kind of Beautiful, which helps raise awareness of eating disorders, body image and mental illnesses. She has spent the last year also serving as Miss Teen St. Albert World and in doing so, has volunteered with Special Olympics, the St. Albert Children’s Festival, the St. Albert Catholic High School Mission Team and Free the Children, which seeks to help local global youth become empowered citizens.

Other commitments, particularly during her time as a member of student council, include helping raise money for the St. Albert Food Bank, the Veterans War Fund, the Canadian Cancer Society, Roots of Change and Chalice, a Catholic organization working to alleviate poverty around the world. She has also lent her time to community events such as St. Albert’s 150th anniversary celebration, the Lifestyle Expo, Rock’n August, Canada Day, Light Up St. Albert and the Mayor’s Charity Walk.

“Vanessa tackles every task with a tenacious attitude. Her drive, passion and charisma are evident in each event that she takes on,” writes one of her references.

Matthew Alves, Jadynn Gansauge, Simon Burke, Steven Howe and Addison Wong: Youth Group

Led by teacher Kara Weis, this group of students from école Marie Poburan (EMP) decided to spread the joy of the written word by collecting books and donating them to schools that did not have as many as they did. The idea originally came from Matthew Alves, but Jadynn Gansauge, Simon Burke, Steven Howe and Addison Wong quickly stepped up to help. They started collecting books from everywhere they could, even winning some money through a radio station contest and spending the money on books at Chapters. The entire group spent their recesses sorting, counting and stacking books.

In the end, the group donated 2,000 books to St. Catherine’s School in Edmonton, which educates many students whose families are new to Canada. After presenting the books, the students sat down with the Grade 1 class and started reading to them.

“I have spent the whole school year trying to teach my students that they are never too young to make a rally big difference,” Weis wrote. “It only takes one idea to make a difference. My students took that message to heart and did something even bigger than I imagined 10-year-olds from my class could do.”

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About Author

Scott Hayes

Scott Hayes joined the St. Albert Gazette in 2008. Scott writes about the arts, entertainment, movies, culture, community groups, and charities. He also writes general news, features, columns and profiles on people.