Volunteering to transform communities
At Athabasca University, our goal is simple: Transforming Lives, Transforming Communities.
Each and every day, our students and alumni are giving selflessly of themselves and transforming their own communities, as well. Through our alumni awards, we acknowledge students who make outstanding achievements, and volunteerism is a common thread we see in most of our award winners.
To recognize Volunteer Canada’s National Volunteer Week, which is April 7-13 this year, we want to highlight the impressive contributions some of our alumni—and future alumni—have made over the past few years.
Annette Cyr, 2018 Volunteer Service Alumni Award
Annette Cyr is a savvy business woman whose grit and determination will help reduce Canada’s melanoma cases and raise awareness of the disease. She saw AU’s MBA program as a way to help her launch her consulting company and provide some added credibility, and while studying was diagnosed with melanoma.
In 2009, after collaborating with others, she helped found the Melanoma Network of Canada with $25,000 of her own money to help with start-up costs. She volunteered full-time hours for this organization while still running her own consulting company. It employs a team of four, and is the sole organization in the country focused on melanoma.
Fiona Smith, 2018 Future Alumni Award
Fiona Smith has overcome a great deal to be able to pursue a higher education, including being diagnosed with dyslexia and dyscalculia, and PTSD from childhood abuse. After being stung by a wasp in 2007, she developed Systemic Mastocytosis, a rare and incurable cellular disease that causes repeated, life-threatening anaphylactic shock.
After a two-and-a-half-year legal battle to have her disability claim accepted, she won the first case in Canada after arguing it all by herself. She decided to volunteer her time to help others with disability claims, and co-founded the Mastocytosis Society of Canada. She also volunteers her time to help newcomers, refugees and immigrants hoping to learn English and those who need support building their resume.
Anthony Montgomery, 2017 Volunteer Service Award
Anthony Montgomery says volunteering is in his blood and he’ll never tire of helping those in need. His volunteer work began early on in life as he helped local animal-rescue charities, and he found the same joy helping people at the Calgary Drop-In Centre and the Tom Baker Cancer Centre.
Anthony struggled with traditional learning environments, but through AU and with support of the Access to Students with Disabilities (ASD) office, for the first time he felt optimistic about being able to succeed in school. His optimism was well-placed, as he has now graduated with a bachelor of professional arts in human services, which is a nice cap to all his volunteer work.
Robin Bleich, 2017 Future Alumni Award
Robin Bleich is an experience law-enforcement officer in Ontario’s Niagara region, and is an active volunteer there with multiple organizations including Children are Safe and the Niagara Children’s Planning Council. As an AU student, working on her bachelor of professional arts degree in criminal justice, she made invaluable contributions in her role as council member of the Athabasca University Students’ Union.
That spirit of giving back and transforming her community is also reflected in her professional work. Within the Niagara Regional Police Service, Bleich is program coordinator for the School Police Emergency Action Response (SPEAR) program. She’s also dedicated to her professional community, serving with the International Association of Chiefs of Police.
Jacqui Empson-Laporte, 2016 Volunteer Service Award
Jacqui Empson-Laporte has a bachelor of professional arts degree in governance, law and management, and has also done graduate work legislative drafting, both with Athabasca University. And this is all in the midst of raising teenage kids, working full-time with the public service in Ontario.
For her volunteering is effortless; it has been a part of her life since she was a child volunteering at her community church. She has since taken on roles as 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, when she’s not working her full-time job she’s on night shifts at Victim Services of Huron County or volunteering to support low-income families with financial goal-planning.
Julie Lys, 2016 Distinguished Alumni Award
It has been more than 10 years since Julie Lys finished her master of nursing degree at AU, and she has been hard at work transforming her community since then. She proudly champions her northern Métis heritage and works to support her community member of Fort Smith, in the South Slave Region of the Northwest Territories.
She has made it her life’s mission to promote education among Fort Smith’s Indigenous learners, serving with her community’s education board and helping to develop Fort Smith’s Phoenix School for youth—an alternative platform to provide students with a flexible education.
Sarah Stephens, 2015 Volunteer Service Award
Sarah Stephens has always put her heart and soul into the myriad community volunteer projects she works on. The master of nursing graduate volunteers because of the variety of people and situations she encounters, and it helps her to connect with patients in the nursing world.
And volunteering each year for causes like the Belcourt Brousseau Métis Awards (BBMA) each year is a family affair. She was brought up to believe that you need to give back, because you’re only going to reap what you give. After suffering a debilitating injury while pursuing her degree, she found AU’s flexibility allowed her the leeway to keep up with her volunteering and finish her degree on her own terms.