Garden of giving

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Nothing tells the story of Athabasca University better than the success of our students and alumni — people who are making their marks on the job and in their communities.

Jacqui Empson-Laporte, AU's 2016 Volunteer Service Alumni Award recipient. [photo credit: , 2016]

Jacqui Empson-Laporte, AU’s 2016 Volunteer Service Alumni Award recipient. [photo credit: Maria Denomme, 2016]

Meet Jacqui Empson-Laporte, BPA ’14,  from Goderich, Ontario.

When Jacqui Empson-Laporte answered a call from Athabasca University this past summer, her instinct was to panic. Had there been a mistake with her degree? Was it being rescinded? Not even close. AU was calling to tell her she’d been chosen as the university’s 2016 Alumni Volunteer Service Award recipient — words she soon met with relief and tears of delight.

The 44-year-old federal government environmental specialist resides in Auburn, Ont., an idyllic green-space haven an hour north of London, adjacent to Lake Huron and ready-made for canoeing, fishing and hiking.

For Jacqui, volunteering is effortless; part DNA, part parental upbringing.

“As kids, my parents usually dragged us to whatever they were volunteering in. They very much instilled a sense of community and volunteerism in myself and my three brothers,” she says, recalling how her family always pitched in to help, wherever it was needed.

“My parents just said to me, ‘you know, we’re very lucky; we live where we live and who we live with – our neighbours and our community – [it’s important] to give back to those in your community who may not be so lucky.’”

Giving grind

Her volunteer trajectory started when she was a child volunteering at her community church. Later, she became a Big Sister, a Beaver leader with Scouts Canada, and a soccer coach. In college she founded a group that helped students get work experience. And today, the mother of teen-aged twin boys and a college-age son (and stepmom to a pair of twenty-something girls) keeps her schedule jam-packed, juggling her full-time job with night shifts at Victim Services of Huron County, something she describes as “one of the most rewarding things I have ever done.”

My parents just said to me, ‘you know, we’re very lucky; we live where we live and who we live with – our neighbours and our community – [it’s important] to give back to those in your community who may not be so lucky. ~ Jacqui Empson-Laporte

Her role is to visit accident scenes, or to accompany police on civilian death notifications, or to be a first responder to domestic violence calls — something she concedes is her most challenging volunteer role.

Each year, four AU Alumni Awards are presented to deserving Alumni who each receive this award depicting the beautiful work of renowned artist Ted Harrison

Each year, four AU Alumni Awards are presented to deserving Alumni who each receive this award depicting the beautiful work of renowned artist Ted Harrison

“We’re initial crisis responders so we might give some safety planning tips or just some encouragement to say to the victim, ‘you’ve done a very brave thing, you have to carry on; here are some next steps,’” Jacqui explains.

“I find it very challenging because the person is in a very overwhelming place – and nothing will get fixed overnight.”

If that weren’t enough, she also volunteers for Budget Buddy with Rural Response for Healthy Children, providing financial goal-planning tips for low-income families.

And she has no plans to stop.

Her retirement goal is to one day build a community garden. But she asserts she doesn’t wear rose-coloured glasses: “I just try and make the best of whatever situation … just knowing that you did something to help make the community a better place.”

On Thursday, Oct. 20, in her hometown of Goderich, AU’s Alumni team will present Jacqui with the 2016 Athabasca University Alumni award for Volunteer Service.

Way to go, Jacqui!

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