Nova Scotia

'They're everywhere': Eskasoni family of 7 recognized for volunteerism

A family of 7 from Eskasoni is being recognized for a long history of helping the community. The Johnsons are the recipients of the 2018 Family Volunteer Award.

Tom, Carol Anne Johnson and their 5 children received Nova Scotia's 2018 Family Volunteer Award

Tom and Carol Anne Johnson, and their five children, are the recipients of Nova Scotia's 2018 Family Volunteer Award. (Wendy Martin/CBC)

Tom Johnson of Eskasoni First Nation, N.S., uses an app on his mobile phone to stay in touch with his wife and five children, to try to keep track of their busy schedules.

"I'll message the 'family group' in WhatsApp," he told CBC News. "That's the easiest way to contact everyone."

Johnson, the executive director of Eskasoni Fish and Wildlife, his wife, Carol Anne, and their children, ages 16 to 27, are definitely busy. They help out at a variety of community and social events. "So many, it's hard to list them," Carol Anne said.

That's what earned them the 2018 Family Volunteer Award from the province of Nova Scotia this week.

'They're everywhere'

This is the first year that Mi'kmaq communities have been included in the annual awards, which recognize volunteers from 75 municipalities.

The family award is given to just one recipient in the province.

Jeannine Denny, who works in sports and recreation for the Eskasoni Band, nominated the Johnsons.

"They're everywhere," said Denny. "Any kind of benefit, fundraiser, they always volunteer as a family."

Their lengthy volunteer resumé includes the community Christmas telethon, the Eskasoni Summer Games, Winter Carnival, and the annual powwow.

The Johnson family of Eskasoni receive the 2018 Family Volunteer Award. (Submitted by the Nova Scotia Department of Communities, Culture and Heritage)

Their daughters, Karlee, Kalolin and Lainee, have performed at a variety of cultural events and volunteered as emcees.

Two of the girls are now away at university.

Sons Thomas Jr. and Brandt volunteer with youth sports.

"It's in our culture," said Tom, who said he was "surprised" to learn the family had been singled out for their efforts. "You know, you're always asked to help out your fellow man, your elders, other people. You don't even consider it volunteering, it's a way of life."

But it's a family tragedy that helped the family recognize the importance of offering a helping hand.

In 1994, one of the Johnson's daughters drowned accidentally, at the age of 4.

Carol Anne, a school administrator, still remembers the support of the community, and the small gestures that showed that people cared.

"Even a visit, at the time, after she passed away," said Carol Anne. "I know it may not seem like volunteering, but you give yourself to that person for that time, and we definitely appreciated it, and it never went unnoticed."

Even now, Carol Anne said a highlight of her volunteering is being able to help out at events, called salites, after a member of the community has died.

'We all care about each other'

"Everybody comes together and they donate an item, and all the money goes back to the family to help with funeral expenses, or whatever they need at that most difficult time," she said.

The Johnsons next volunteer commitment is taking part in a Mi'kmaq language group, organized by Eskasoni's chief.

"We are fortunate to have our language intact," said Tom. "But [the chief] realizes that a lot of the children aren't speaking it."

Carol Anne said in a tight-knit community like Eskasoni, it's rewarding to be able to give back.

"Everybody knows each other. We all care about each other. When we see one person or one family that's having a hard time, we try our best to lift them back up."

About the Author

Wendy Martin

Reporter

Wendy Martin has been a reporter for nearly 30 years. Her first job in radio was at the age of three, on a show called Wendy's House on CFCB Radio in Corner Brook, N.L. Get in touch at wendy.martin@cbc.ca