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A legacy of volunteering

One of WSD's biggest community supporters was recently honoured with a major national award.

The Laura Milner White Committee was honoured at Canada's Volunteer Awards in December. Laura's mother Sheila Milner and daughter Elizabeth White made the trip to Ottawa to accept the award on behalf of the committee.

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The Honourable Jean-Yves Duclos presents Sheila Milner, accepting on behalf of The Laura Milner White Committee, with Canada's Volunteer Award for Community Leader (Prairies) on December 5, 2017, at a ceremony in Ottawa. Supplied Photo

The committee's roots date back to the early-2000s, when Laura Milner White began offering her time to help a single-parent family at Mulvey School.

"It started with Laura volunteering with just one family, mentoring two daughters," said Sheila.

Before Laura passed away due to cancer in 2005, she shared the volunteer spirit with her friends and family.

"We always talked about the importance of giving back to people," said daughter Elizabeth White, who started volunteering with that first family as an early teenager, along with her younger sister Julia. "It was just a part of our lives. Spending time with that family didn't feel like volunteering, they became a part of our family. We still see and talk to them to this day."

What began as an informal volunteer effort at Mulvey evolved into the Laura Milner White Committee and then expanded to other WSD Schools.

Today, the committee is comprised of a long-term organizing committee and a large volunteer force that all work together to develop and provide after-school programming for students at Mulvey School. The committee has also supported schools such as David Livingstone, Gordon Bell, King Edward, Niji Mahkwa, Pinkham, Wellington, William Whyte, Victoria-Albert and many other schools over the years.

The committee has been a key partner in major undertakings like the Inner City Soccer League, which has shared the joy of teamwork with thousands of students from countless countries, to afterschool music lessons, cooking programs and much more.  The committee's other projects include: sending children to summer and winter camps; purchasing technology, books, fitness equipment, playground equipment, musical instruments, art supplies and other materials for schools and extracurricular clubs; helping to develop the Panther Field at Gordon Bell High School; supporting nutrition programs; supporting the Gowns for Grads program and many more initiatives.

The gift of time

For the volunteers involved with the committee, the reward is simply being able to share the gift of time and serve as positive role models to students.

"I was driving a group of girls to their skating club one day, and one of the students asked if I had gone to university. I said that I had and that I had graduated with a business degree. She was so interested to learn more about the degree, what I had studied, if I liked it and what future job opportunities it could lead to. She told me that she didn't realize 'business' was a degree. She was so attentive and genuinely excited about everything I was saying," Elizabeth White said. "She continued to speak about how she moved to Canada from Africa and how education meant a lot to her, especially as a young girl. That is a moment I will never forget."

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A few months later, the student was selected by her teachers to be the recipient of the Laura Milner White Award. The award is given to graduating students from Mulvey, Wellington and Victoria-Albert who show leadership and give back to their community.

"I presented her with the award and after the ceremony, she ran up to me and hugged me in tears saying she would never forget that moment. The principal sent me an email later that day saying she had asked for a copy of what I had said about her because she kept replaying it in her head and wanted to remember it forever. Seeing the excitement in her eyes when she realized the impact she'd had on her school community and that she had been recognized by her teachers for it was amazing. That will forever be one of my favourite memories from my involvement with the committee and Mulvey School."

Strengthening the school-community connection

Laura's family and friends have also established an endowment fund through the Winnipeg Foundation. The committee holds fundraisers regularly to support initiatives that will impact students' day-to-day lives. To date, over $700,000 has been raised for ongoing programs and new initiatives.

"This committee has been able to break down the barriers and provide many enrichment opportunities for our students," said Mulvey Principal Peter Correia. "There are so many initiatives and positive things that our students would not normally have the opportunity to participate in, but the committee and volunteer energy makes it happen."

Whether students participate in sports, music or other after school clubs, it all serves to strengthen their connections to their school and community.

"The enrichment opportunities offered have an impact on academics and attendance, and also serve as an avenue for another level of connection to the school community," Mr. Correia said.

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When it comes to the longevity and lasting legacy of the Laura Milner White Committee, Mr. Correia said the reason is simple.

 "It originated in Laura's kindness and genuine love of giving back. And everything that has come since has just been a snowball effect of Laura's original genuine acts of kindness," he said. "There's a true attitude and belief that community makes a difference. WSD sees the value in those community partnerships. They're alive and well and embodied by the Laura Milner White Committee."

If you are interested in volunteering in WSD, either through the Laura Milner White Committee or other areas, please visit our volunteering webpage.

Donations can also be made to support the committee's afterschool programs and projects, all in benefit of students, through the Children's Heritage Fund (click here). Please indicate "Laura Milner White Committee" on your donation.

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