Community connectors among Future 40 finalists work to inspire others
'If you don't like what you see, volunteer,' says Kerry Midford, a Girl Guides commissioner in The Pas
From Girl Guide leaders to activists and organizers to people working to save the environment, Manitobans from all walks of life are pouring their energy into helping our communities.
"If you don't like what you see, volunteer," suggests Kerry Midford, who volunteers to help young and old in The Pas.
This group of CBC Manitoba Future 40 finalists are the people doing things big and small that keep volunteer organizations running and help those who need a boost.
Kerry Midford is an early childhood educator who volunteers on the board of her workplace, runs the Girl Guides in The Pas, teaches Sunday school and just steps in where someone is needed to do a little extra.
"I don't have kids of my own, so I've got that time to give," she said.
Midford feels she was blessed in her upbringing — although she had two open-heart surgeries as a child, with calf liver used to repair a hole in her heart — and she wants to pass on the blessings she received.
She's got a long history with the Girl Guides, starting as a Spark when she was just five, moving through Brownies, to Guides, to Pathfinders and finishing with Rangers — and then graduating from the program to become a leader.
"I decided to stay on, be a leader, give back to the kids the experience I had as a youth," she said.
Now, at 34, Midford is the Girl Guides commissioner in The Pas, the latest step in nearly 30 years of Guiding.
"I'm pretty proud of that," she said.
She also helps at places like the seniors' home where her mom works, and said she misses going to play bingo with the older members of the community since the COVID-19 pandemic started.
She hopes her volunteerism helps create more helpers in her community to keep programs going in the future, noting one of her Brownies is now a Girl Guides leader.
"If we can do these things, maybe some of these other children that are growing, they might be inspired or continue to give back to the community."
Amanda Hallett is a volunteer, an activist, an addictions and community services worker, a university student and the mother of four children whom she somehow finds time to home-school during the pandemic.
She had a tumultuous upbringing and "aged out" of Child and Family Services, she said.
"I was able to overcome that and survive, while a lot of my childhood friends did not. I have a lot of childhood friends that are part of the murdered and missing Indigenous people," she said.
"That could have been me.… I always felt like I shouldn't forget where I came from, you know, and the things that I've overcome in my life."
She found Resource Assistance for Youth as a young woman, which helped her gain a platform as a speaker. She started to win awards and went to college to become an addictions and community service worker.
While she grew up aware of addictions and their effect on the people around her, she didn't understand them well, she said.
"I didn't know that it was just a coping mechanism. I didn't know the longer effects of addictions, and I didn't know a proper way of handling it … because I always had this one lens: like, 'if I could change my life or I can make it, anybody can.' And it's not true," she said.
"I have a strong heart, soul, and I have a Creator that protected me throughout all these years and provided me with this resilience, and a lot of people, they don't."
She takes that attitude into her work with people on the street, volunteering with the Thunderbirdz, walking the core area three times a week.
"We're just a small little group, a harm-reduction group," she said. "Everything comes from our pockets, comes from our heart. We take to the streets and we pick up needles and we hand out food to the homeless."
As a university student studying criminal justice and political science, she's discovering "a whole new world," she said.
She's torn between a desire to study law and help change the way people on the street are seen, and wanting to get involved in politics and change the laws.
She has a powerful message she'd like people to hear.
"It's never giving up, always educating, always showing love, never judging somebody by their circumstances and what they have been through, because that doesn't define that person. And I think a lot of times these people are shadowed in society and they need to come to light," she said.
"A lot of people say … 'you give the voice to the voiceless.' Well, to me, these people have always had a voice. It's just nobody has taken the time to listen."
Kori Plesiuk is that mom who's always there, helping out, whether at the rink, the school or the daycare.
"You can do these things, and it can be these small little things that seem tiny at the time, but it can make a big difference," Plesiuk said of all the things she does in the community of St. Adolphe, Man.
"I just love showing the next generation that they can do something without having to have ... a big degree or have all this experience — you can just jump in and volunteer."
The list of Plesiuk's volunteer jobs is long and some of the jobs have become pretty big, though.
For example, she started out as class rep on the parent advisory committee for her kids' school, became vice-president and now is president.
She was on the daycare board, became secretary and now is chair — and was a big part of fundraising for the new space they recently built in the community.
"It's up and running and it's just the most beautiful building that I've ever seen," she says.
She stepped into coaching soccer when a friend was running the community program. When her friend's kids aged out of the program, she stepped in with another woman to run soccer on Thursday nights.
"We've had over 200 kids coming to soccer," she said. "It's this big community hangout…. So that's fun."
She used to coach ringette but it didn't work with her family's schedule anymore, so they moved to hockey. She's now a team manager.
She's also a church board member, and a playground and carnival committee member.
Her favourite work, though, is as a youth leader, she said.
"When we first moved here, I kind of realized … not everybody can afford hockey. It's not a cheap pastime. And so I just thought it would be nice to have something that those kids can do that maybe don't necessarily have the ability to play hockey."
With the pandemic, the youth group hasn't been running as normal, but Plesiuk kept connecting with the kids online.
"This one kid that I thought maybe I hadn't had a huge impact on texted me on his graduation day and he said, 'Hey, I did it, and I thought you'd be proud of me.' And it just made my heart so happy."
Alannah Mckay is an Anishininew student advocate for Indigenous language revitalization, and works to end gender-based violence and lower barriers to post-secondary education.
Mckay, from Berens River First Nation and Muskrat Dam, Ont., is a University of Manitoba student in Indigenous studies and criminology and the national treasurer for the Canadian Federation of Students.
She also works on a campaign called Education for All that advocates for accessible, affordable post-secondary education.
She worked on the Canadian Federation of Students' ReconciliAction campaign, which focuses on the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada's call to implement Indigenous language graduate degree programs. The campaign successfully advocated for Indigenous language programs at more than just an introductory level at the University of Manitoba.
She also sits on the advisory committee of the National Action Plan to End Gender-Based Violence.
Daniel Hidalgo, a single father who was a permanent ward of the Child and Family Services system as a child, is working to help other dads and their children.
Hidalgo facilitates men's healing groups and the Super Dads program at Mount Carmel Clinic, which teaches parenting skills to fathers with a focus on attachment.
He's a captain/medic for Mama Bear Clan and works with Drag the Red and Ogijiita Pimatiswin Kinamatawin (OPK), which works with marginalized, at-risk young Indigenous people and their families.
Hidalgo recently founded his own non-profit group, CommUnity204, which is mostly made up of youth and young adults who were or are involved with Child and Family Services.
The group works to help marginalized people with access to basic needs, such as water, clothing and food, harm reduction, safety and housing in collaboration with similar groups.
Elise Epp is a slow-fashion activist and award-winning graphic designer for non-profit organizations.
Epp is the regional co-ordinator for Fashion Revolution Winnipeg, part of a global movement that works to change the clothing industry so garments are made in a safe, clean and fair way. The organization hosts film screenings, clothing swaps, and gives presentations about sustainable wardrobes.
She herself only buys ethical clothing or makes her own clothes.
As a graphic designer, she works for the International Institute for Sustainable Development, and lends her talents to support the Mennonite Central Committee and the North Point Douglas Women's Resource Centre.
Her design work on climate change won the Alda Centre's Flame Challenge in the graphic category in 2018.
Jaya Cosway, who's just 14, has made and given away hundreds of face masks.
Cosway, a straight-A Collège Churchill student, started making masks as part of Face Masks of Winnipeg, a group of more than 30 people who started sewing masks and distributing them for free during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The group says they have given out about 10,000 masks to non-profit organizations, women's shelters, teachers, businesses and individuals.
Cosway took over leadership of the organization in April and is now the driving force behind the project, distributing sewing kits (with donated materials) to mask-makers and completed masks to those in need.
Cosway hopes to be a math teacher and open a home decor shop someday, as well as continue to help her fellow Manitobans.
Jeanette Sivilay is literally making a career out of her work for food security in Manitoba.
The co-ordinator of the Winnipeg Food Council, who grew up in Steinbach, is working for a resilient and just food system for Manitoba.
As part of her work, she established a Victory Garden at the St. Vital Arena in summer to provide fresh produce to people in a nearby housing co-operative.
She's spoken at events such as the Canadian Association of Geographers annual meeting, the Direct Farm Marketing Conference and the South Osborne Farmers' Market.
Her master's thesis on the local food movement and potential for transforming Manitoba's food system won the best master's thesis prize from the University of Manitoba's Clayton H. Riddell faculty of environment, Earth, and resources.
Sivilay was a founding member of the Canadian Mennonite University's Metanoia Farmers Worker Co-op, which works the farmland at the Winnipeg university. The farm is run on a community-supported agriculture model — consumers buy a "share" of the farm and get a portion of its produce for their investment.
She also worked with Sharing the Table Manitoba, a network of farmers and food enthusiasts working for change in the food system.
Justin Langan is a 2SLGBTQ Métis youth leader and mental health advocate from Swan River.
Langan's first role as a leader was as president of his high school student council. His leadership work has expanded to include seats on the Manitoba Metis Federation's northwest youth advisory committee and provincial youth advisory committee, and he's a youth leader in Manitoba's friendship centre movement.
He also is a youth representative on the RCMP national youth advisory committee and was one of 250 youth delegates from across Canada at the Jack Mental Health Summit.
He's editor-in-chief of the Métis youth newsletter The Cart and he's helped to establish a Métis youth scholarship in the Parkland area, on top of volunteering at hundreds of events.
He has a diploma from Assiniboine Community College in interactive media arts and was nominated for a Canadian Association of Journalists award for a mini-documentary about meth in Manitoba. He's currently studying in the faculty of arts at the University of Manitoba.
He has won a Manitoba Indigenous Youth Achievement Award and was recognized as a National Champion of Mental Health.
Whitney Hodgins is an advocate for people with disabilities and mental health needs in Brandon.
Hodgins is first vice-chair of the Manitoba League of Persons with Disabilities and, as a recent graduate of Brandon University, served four years with the Brandon University Students' Union and two years with the Canadian Federation of Students-Manitoba.
She was the first Brandon University student to win the Future Leaders of Manitoba Award for her professional contributions and volunteerism.
She speaks publicly about autism and mental health, and is trained as an anti-stigma youth speaker.
She has overcome obstacles associated with her disability and mental health needs, and is speaking her truth to educate the public and empower those around her to make change.
Michael Barkman's goal is to make Manitoba more equitable and sustainable for everyone.
Barkman is chair of Make Poverty History Manitoba and the Manitoba public policy co-ordinator for the Community Economic Development Network.
As an anti-poverty activist, he worked with others to get the City of Winnipeg to create a poverty reduction plan and is now a community member of the city poverty reduction strategy core working team.
Previously, he was chair of the Canadian Federation of Students-Manitoba, leading campaigns on the importance of accessible post-secondary education and targeting sexual violence on campus.
He also is involved in LGBTQ activism.
In his spare time he is involved in Winnipeg's theatre and improv community.
Whitney Morrison devotes her considerable creative and entrepreneurial skills to humanitarian causes.
She is the strategic director and co-founder of Makegooders, a Manitoba non-profit dedicated to recycling books and toys for children in need.
With a background in business, she's also a fundraiser for the United Way, and serves as a board member on the finance committee for the Central Park Food Patrol.
She's also a mom, "focused on raising her daughter with a sense of community and giving back," says her Makegooders biography.
With files from Shannah-Lee Vidal