Recipients of the 2016 Canada’s Volunteer Awards – National awards

Thérèse Casgrain Lifelong Achievement Award

Jean Marie De Koninck

Photographs

  • Photograph 1: Jean Marie De Koninck

    In the photo: The Honourable Jean-Yves Duclos and Lise Casgrain present Jean-Marie De Koninck with Canada’s Volunteer Award for the Thérèse Casgrain Lifelong Achievement Award on June 10, 2016, at a ceremony in Ottawa.

In 1984, when he was a professor and researcher in mathematics at Laval University, Jean-Marie De Koninck agreed to coach the Laval swim team—l’équipe du Rouge et Or —in his spare time. He quickly realized that his elite athletes were fleeing to the U.S., attracted by the generous scholarship programs of American universities. To stop the exodus of his best swimmers, he needed to create his own scholarship program.

In the fall of 1984, he was listening to a radio show about the large number of deaths caused by impaired driving, and heard that part of the problem was bar and restaurant customers not wanting to leave their cars in the parking lot and return home in a taxi. That gave him an idea: during Christmas holidays, his swimmers could offer a chauffeur service to drivers who did not feel able to safely drive home in their own cars. This is how Operation Red Nose was born in December 1984. Thirty-two years later, thanks to more than 1.1 million volunteers across Canada, Operation Red Nose has offered more than two million rides home. Moreover, each year, through the donations of customers and private sponsors, some 1.6 million dollars is collected and handed over to the 100 host organizations that organize Operation Red Nose in their communities.

There are three basic reasons for the impressive success of Professor De Koninck’s initiative. First of all, Operation Red Nose does not preach or lecture to drivers. It simply offers a free private chauffeur service to anyone who wants to get home safely with their own car. Each client can draw his or her own conclusions: next time around, it might be a good idea to call a taxi, ask a friend for a ride, or consider another, safer form of transportation. Secondly, Red Nose volunteers feel useful and that they have perhaps even saved lives, while having fun meeting other volunteers and very happy customers. Thirdly, the not-for-profit associations that organize Operation Red Nose in their regions not only contribute to improving road safety in their communities, but also raise funds for amateur sport.

It’s interesting to note that Jean-Marie De Koninck’s idea has gone beyond Canadian borders and has been adopted invarious large European cities, including in France, Switzerland and Portugal. For the past 32 years, Professor De Koninck continues to volunteer for Operation Red Nose. He likes to drive customers home, but he also takes great pleasure in listening to volunteers tell their stories about their wonderful experiences driving Operation Red Nose customers home safely.

Emerging Leader

Ryan Hreljac

Photographs

  • Photograph 2: Ryan Hreljac

    In the photo: The Honourable Jean-Yves Duclos presents Ryan Hreljac with Canada’s Volunteer Award for Emerging Leader on June 10, 2016, at a ceremony in Ottawa

At the age of six, after Ryan Hreljac heard about children suffering from a lack of clean drinking water, he collected money to build a well in Africa as part of a school project. His leadership led to the creation of the Ryan’s Well Foundation. Ryan engaged his community and beyond, including businesses, to raise awareness and money for more wells and education. In 17 years, he and the Foundation have raised almost $8 million and completed 1 000 water projects in developing countries. His initiatives helped to move at least 1 million people from the harsh cycle of deprivation to a more promising future.

Ryan uses social media extensively to inspire, inform and engage millions. He speaks across Canada and around the world. His messages are simple: Everybody has the right to access clean water; and anyone can make a difference. His experiences have also inspired youth to become engaged in charitable activities. More than $50,000 was pledged in 2014–2015 for the Foundation’s annual fundraising challenges by students from 52 schools in six countries.

Ryan’s work also develops responsible, engaged citizens who make a difference in their own communities and around the world. With Ryan’s guidance, a grade 3 student in Edmonton raised $31,000 for Ryan’s Well. Another group of young students organized a toy sale to raise money for an orphanage in Kenya and then another $1,400 for earthquake relief in Haiti. Featured in numerous documentaries, books, textbooks, newspapers and magazines, his message has always been focused on the importance of giving back through volunteerism. Believing ordinary people can do extraordinary things, Ryan works in cooperation with school boards, Canadian non-governmental organizations and the private sector across Canada and globally to bring people together for a common good.

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