Musings from the ever-changing, ever-amazing and occasionally ever-baffling Fort McMurray, Alberta.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

On Medal Winners, Friends, and Community Heroes - Arianna Johnson and Nathaniel Crossley

One of the greatest pleasures I have had during the course of this blog has been the opportunity to meet people who inspire me. They can be involved in so many different things, from sport to politics, but the thing they have in common is their passion for what they do. The ones I have always found the most inspiring, though, are those who give freely of themselves for the betterment of others. Others might call them philanthropists, or volunteers. In the case of the two people I am writing about I happen to also call them friends.

Arianna Johnson is the Executive Director of the Wood Buffalo Food Bank, but she is also so much more. She serves on boards for various organizations, and when she moved to this city she threw herself into it, making a career and a life and many, many friends. When I began writing about non-profit organizations she was one of the first people I met, and I am eternally grateful as her passion and drive for what she does helped me find my own, and she taught me so much about non-profits. Nathaniel Crossley is an eleven year-old boy who is a student - but again he too is so much more, raising over $9000 to build wells in Africa, being an i2P ambassador, and now off on a new trading adventure destined to end in a trip to Africa to see his wells, and climb Mount Kilimanjaro. It seems like Arianna and Nathaniel have passion for philanthropy in common, but they now have something else in common, too. They are now going to both be recipients of the Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Medal.

In case you don't know this medal is in honour of the Queen's Diamond Jubilee, 60 years on the throne. It is an honour to receive it, and not a small honour. It is a HUGE honour as only 60,000 people across our nation will receive this medal - ever. It is meant to celebrate those who have given to their community, and who have made significant contributions and achievements in this country. I cannot think of two better individuals in our region to receive this honour than Nathaniel and Arianna.

You see, Arianna talks a lot about what mentors have meant to her, and about how they changed her life. And so too she mentors others, including people like me, who come to her with questions and thoughts about non-profit organizations. She has helped me to navigate through a landscape I didn't understand, and she did so patiently. And she is tireless advocate for the food bank and it's clients, seeking every opportunity to make it stronger and better. And Nathaniel? Well, he is the future. In that young, bespectacled young man I see a future leader, much like another young man, Craig Kielburger (Craig founded Free the Children at the age of 12, and it is now the largest children-helping-children organization on the planet). The amazing thing is that Nathaniel is already leading, having accomplished more in his short time on this planet than many adults three times his age. In Arianna and Nathaniel I see two leaders - different genders, different ages, different life experiences, and different plans, but the same end goal: to effect change in this world, to leave it a better place than they found it, and to improve the lives of others.

There is one other thing these two have in common. They are both quite modest about what they do, brushing it off as "no big deal", and not really expecting any glory. But isn't that what true heroes do? They do what they do because it is the right thing, and not for any expectation of recognition or reward. They do it for what it does for their heart, and for the hearts of others, not for their wallet or their resumé. They do it because it is their passion.

I could say I am "proud" of my friends, but that is inadequate. Last night when I heard my friends had received letters notifying them of their new status as recipients of the Diamond Jubilee Medal my heart almost burst with pride. I contacted Arianna right away, and Nathaniel's parents, too (as his parents, dear friends of mine, are the inspiration and support he needs to do what he does). I congratulated them, and told them how proud I am. I am proud they are members of my community. I am proud they are making a difference in the world. And while they may be honoured to receive this medal I am deeply, deeply honoured to be considered their friend, because these are the kinds of friends that bring out the best in us. These are the kind of friends, and people, who lead by example, and encourage us all to be the best we can be, and to pursue our own passions. These are the kind of leaders this community, and this entire world, desperately needs. And we have them right here, in Fort McMurray.

And so to Nathaniel Crossley and Arianna Johnson I say congratulations on receiving the Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Medal - and thank you. Thank you for inspiring this community. Thank you for leading the way. Thank you for doing what you do, every day, medal or no medal. Thank you for changing the world. This medal is only a small bit of the recognition you both richly deserve. I stand here today and applaud you, not for winning a medal, but rather for being who you are, and bringing your passion, vision, and drive to Fort McMurray to share with the rest of us. That is truly the greatest honour this community could ever receive. So while Arianna and Nathaniel may be honoured to receive a medal I think it is this community that has the true honour - because Arianna and Nathaniel belong to us, and that is a tremendous honour indeed.

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