Already in it’s 22nd year, the Wetaskiwin Leaders of Tomorrow Awards program has recognized 603 youth and young adults from the area for their exemplary contributions to the community and continuing volunteer spirit.
The Leaders of Tomorrow held a kick-off party at the Reynolds-Alberta Museum on Jan. 19 to promote the value of encouraging youth leadership and thank the community sponsors who continue to support the program.
In attendance were representatives from the Reynolds-Alberta Museum, the County of Wetaskiwin, Manluk Industries, the City of Wetaskiwin, Wetaskiwin Regional Public Schools, Encompass Credit Union, the Rotary Club of Wetaskiwin, the Royal Canadian Legion Branch No. 86, the Town of Millet and St. Thomas Aquinas Roman Catholic school division.
Nomination forms are now available throughout the community and any community member can nominate a youth between the ages of six and 21. The nomination deadline is Feb. 21 at 4:30 p.m. The awards ceremony will be held April 24.
Each nominee receives prizes and the finalists awarded from each of the four age groups receive a trophy and a $100 cheque to donate to the charity of their choice.
“Over the years we have gained the reputation of having the best Leader of Tomorrow program in Alberta,” said committee chair John Tomkinson.
“It’s really a great thing that Canada is turning 150 years old and we’re still pushing for youth volunteers,” said Reynolds-Alberta Museum director Noel Ratch.
He feels the province’s trying economic times makes volunteerism in the community more important than ever.
Encompass Credit Union representative Mark Moran noted the Leaders of Tomorrow program is one of his favourites to be involved in. He added it always saddens him to see organizations in the community fold due to lack of volunteers and involvement.
However, fostering volunteerism in youth is a solution to potentially ward against that problem.
“It’s not about being great, it’s about doing great things,” said Moran, referring to what he feels it means to be a leader.
City of Wetaskiwin deputy mayor June Boyda, a former recipient of the Leaders of Tomorrow program, was next to take the podium. She opened with the lyrics of a Whitney Houston song, adamant in the idea the children are our future.
“Our kids need to believe in themselves to carry one,” said Boyda. She believes programs such as Leaders of Tomorrow helps instill youth with a confidence in themselves.
“In the city we support youth involvement, leadership and potential,” she added.
Rotary Club of Wetaskiwin representative Bill Milnthorpe says this year’s involvement in the Leaders of Tomorrow is bittersweet. The club folded late last year due to waning involvement. However, the club had some leftover funds, which were donated to the Leader of Tomorrow program. He says he hopes by the community continuing to support the program this fate can be avoided by other clubs in the future.
“We know that without the backbone of volunteers … a lot of events and clubs would not exist. We know that the youth are our future,” said County of Wetaskiwin reeve Kathy Rooyakkers.
“We acknowledge these inspiring youth, our future leaders,” she added.
Trustee Karen Becker stood as the Wetaskiwin Regional Public Schools division’s representative. “As a division we are very pleased and proud,” she explained, referring the division’s opportunity to support the program.
Becker says in the past her own children have been nominated for the awards and in turn has nominated youth from the community.
Felix Fanta of Manluk Industries told attendees how seeing community leaders and heroes gives him goosebumps, and how such attributes are often instilled during childhood. “I’m really happy we do something like that at an early age in Wetaskiwin.”
Ken Schubert, president of the Wetaskiwin Royal Canadian Legion Branch No, 86, says organizations like the legion consist almost entirely of volunteers, and without volunteers in the community they would cease to exist.
Councillor Pat Garrett spoke on behalf of the Town of Millet and Mayor Tony Wadsworth. She says the Leaders of Tomorrow program and supporting youth leaders enhances the success of some of the greatest resources communities have to offer.
Troy Davis, superintendent of St. Thomas Aquinas Roman Catholic school division feels the program is an opportunity to celebrate youth and encourage them to take their place in helping create innovative solutions to future challenges. “We know that in the world we live in today we certainly face a lot of challenges. For 22 years it’s been about the kids,” said Tomkinson.