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The inspiration of Peace Medal winners Rob's Blog

Dear Friends of the Y:

There are some days when we have the great fortune to meet a person who inspires us by doing what they do, in a quiet and unassuming way. Work that carries on unselfishly and improves the lives of others. Last week week’s presentation of two YMCA Peace Medals provided all in attendance with that opportunity.

Mezaun Hodge, the medal recipient for the Brockville area, spoke about her experience growing up in the 70s and 80s when there weren’t any resources or anywhere to turn to when faced with race-related issues, and experienced racism was wasn’t discussed. It’s not a scenario she wants for kids today. “I want them to feel safe and to be able to come forward and talk about it. No one should be embarrassed about who they are or what religion they practice. We should celebrate what makes us different and unique.” This is the vision behind Diversity Advisory Coalition of Leeds & Grenville (DAC), which she co-founded in 2020. She is dedicated to educating others on the importance of disrupting racism and building a more inclusive community, now and for future generations.

Heather Haynes was awarded the Peace Medal for Kingston and area. Her mission is to support some of the most vulnerable children and women in the Democratic Republic of Congo and includes educating more than 400 children and providing salaries for 23 teachers and auxiliary staff at a school she and her supporters built. This is in addition to providing housing for 30 of the youngest orphans in the community. Her relationship with the community inspired her to create an 80-painting art installation entitled Wall of Courage and form a non-profit called The Art of Courage where people can donate, sponsor a child, volunteer or show support a myriad of ways. She said that: “Providing for the children has been my main focus and I have had to think way outside of the box to find solutions [for fundraising during the pandemic]. This is how I ended up with producing The Common Thread, a short documentary about my pursuit to find purpose in what I create and my struggle to understand why much of Western society ignores the violence in other parts of the world.” Heather is looking for partners and hopes to find 10 new child sponsors before Christmas.

Looking out at the audience while Mezaun and Heather spoke, I could tell that I wasn’t the only one who was moved. Their words resonated perhaps more so given the time of year and as we all continue to grapple with the effects of the pandemic and the increasing divisiveness that seems to surround us.  

This has been a challenging year, but one that has also provided opportunities to think differently and to reach out to others in our communities to gauge where the Y can play a role, including work on the international stage. (More on this in the new year.)

Heading into the holidays, I feel inspired by the efforts of those who surround me and am optimistic for what we can achieve together the year ahead.

Whether you are celebrating this holiday season or simply having a bit of a break, I wish you and your loved ones a restful and happy holiday and a very happy new year.

I would also like to take this opportunity to thank Y staff for all their great work this year. I hope they are able to spend time with friends and family, and to take time to relax and rejuvenate. For myself, I will be enjoying the outdoors, and a trip to Toronto with Jean and Declan (Go, Raptors!), then spending New Years Eve with my mom in my hometown of Woodstock, Ontario.

My very best wishes to you as we look to our futures, forging a path of peace.