The annual Mayor and Council Toast of Champions is an event designed to recognize outstanding individuals in our region. Every year members of our community nominate other members for this acknowledgement, and this year it was both my pleasure and honour to provide letters of support for some of the nominees. To be honest I love writing these kinds of letters as it allows me to personally acknowledge these individuals and what they mean both to me and to our community, and I am so very proud of them. When the list of nominees was revealed I was pleased to see many names I know, as well as some I do not, because it means our community is vibrant and healthy and rich in the very resource that never changes in value: people. While the value of oil may dip and dive, the value of our people remains strong and indicative of the true nature of this remarkable community.
While only some of the nominees will "win", each and every one of them deserves tremendous gratitude and recognition for what they have contributed to our communities and our region. Today I want to share a few words about the ones I happen to know personally, and what they have meant to me and my life:
Bill Bertschy - What can one say about someone like Bill? I met Bill initially through work but he quickly became a friend and mentor. Bill's quiet and gentle nature hides the heart of a bear, and he is one of the kindest and wisest people I have ever known. His work with youth and adults alike has changed many lives, and his leadership has changed our region. He is undoubtedly a true community leader and someone I am so very honoured to have in my world.
Joanna Torguson - Founder of the Fort Mac Hand Crafted Market, Joanna is one of those remarkable people who creates an entire community within a community. The Hand Crafted Market has developed an entirely new outlet for crafters and artisans in our community, giving them a place to not only showcase their products but their talents. Joanna saw a niche that needed to be filled, and so she did what community leaders do: filled it.
Kelli Stewart - How do I even begin this one without getting all gushy? I love Kelli. I love her enthusiasm, her passion for her craft (dance), her bold attitude and her mentorship of all the children and youth with whom she interacts. There are people who have made my life better from the moment they entered it, and Kelli, who entered it holding a small kitten she had just rescued from a dumpster in true Kelli-fashion, is one of those people. I always knew Kelli would accomplish great things, so this nomination comes as no surprise to me or anyone who knows and/or adores her. Just mark me down as a fan.
Kelsey Granick - One of the great joys of my life has been meeting the incredible youth in our region. Kelsey, who I first met in Fort Chipewyan, is one of those youth. When Kelsey was in Fort McMurray for an FC Edmonton soccer clinic I even had the opportunity to sit down with her and her mom and interview her, one of my favourite stories I've ever written for Connect Weekly. Kelsey is a role model for other youth, a leader in her community and really just a remarkable young women with an amazing future ahead. I am so delighted to see her being recognized as she is so very worthy of the recognition, and I know that first hand.
Michelle Thorne - Some people just live and breathe their art - and Michelle is one of them. She is at the forefront of our thriving arts and culture scene, with a strong presence in the performing arts including a co-founding role at an independent local theatre group. Her enthusiasm, her spirit and her genuine passion for her art have made her a community leader and it is a pleasure to know her, even if only a little bit, just to witness that up close.
Seville Kwan - While I only know Seville lightly on a personally basis, I have come to know her a bit more through my work on the Wood Buffalo Communities in Bloom committee. Much like our committee, Seville shows clear commitment to making our community and region bloom, not only through her professional role but through everything she does in our community as a volunteer. Seville is another one of those people who take leadership to a new level, and who is a role model all of us would do well to follow.
Fort McMurray Filmmakers Association - Oh, these five. What on earth can I say about these five people? They had an idea, and then unlike so many who talk an idea to death they ran with it, creating an incredibly successful organization in a remarkably short time. They are talented, they are skilled, they are dedicated, they are enthusiastic - and they are the kind of people we all wish we had in our community. We are lucky enough to have them in ours, and I am even more fortunate to call them friends, because each of them has enriched my life in some way. I consider them more family than friends, really.
There are a number of other nominees as well, and I encourage you to view all of them. While I do not know the others well enough to comment personally on them, I know enough to know that if they have been nominated then they have had an impact on the lives of others and made this community a better place for all of us. They come from a wide variety of backgrounds, with a diversity of experience and skills, and each and every one has contributed to this place we all call home. Each and every one is, of course, a champion and deserving of that recognition.
Take a look, Wood Buffalo. If you have ever wondered what a champion looks like, now you know. They are the people all around us, every single day, and how very lucky we are to have them indeed!