By Stan Ashbee
Sunny South News
We Day Alberta promotes the noble notion of creating change locally and globally.
Mike Gibson, a teacher at Kate Andrews High School (KAHS) in Coaldale, is taking a group of 32 Lethbridge County students to Calgary tomorrow to experience the inspirational, motivational and thought-provoking annual event.
Gibson, along with a few fellow teachers, will join the students. Four students in Grade 8 and a teacher from R.I. Baker Middle School in Coaldale will also be joining in on the celebration. This year’s presenters at the event include Paula Abdul, Chris Hadfield, Margaret Trudeau and Rick Hansen.
“This is my fifth year and I’m excited — I’m always excited. It builds for the actual day. Once you’re there and you partake in it, to see the kids’ faces light up with cool inspirational stories, is what motivates me to come back and take on some of these projects the kids want to get involved with. We’re already well underway here — since school started with our We Create Change. We’ve already packed four lunches and a bake sale is scheduled for Oct. 31. A lot of schools wait until they go to We Day to get inspirational but we’ve been doing this for so long, we’re already well underway,” Gibson noted, adding the students from Baker were invited to try and spread the message even more.
“Since those kids come to our school next year, it’s nice to get the ball rolling.” Picture Butte students will also be attending the event.
According to Gibson, this year’s theme is “Year of We.” Past years have included “Five Pillars, One Purpose,” “Year of Empowerment,” “Year of Water” and “Year of Education.”
“We always have to do one local and one global initiative. Our local is we just helped with the food drive. We had kids that helped with the collection of food. We’ll also adopt some families this year at Christmas time. That’s usually called the ‘Hampers of Hope,’ but what I think we’re going to do this year, rather than just donate money to the food bank so they can make hampers, we’re going to make some hampers ourselves here and we’re going to find some families at KAHS in need that could use some hampers,” said Gibson.
We Day Alberta’s official website explains We Day is an unparalleled event that brings together world-renowned speakers, A-list performers, and tens of thousands of youth to celebrate a year of action that transformed communities and changed lives.
One of this year’s presenters is Canadian icon Rick Hansen. Hansen has dedicated his life to creating a world accessible and inclusive for all. He is also best known as the “Man In Motion” for undertaking an epic two-year circumnavigation around the world in his wheelchair. Hansen is also a four-time world champion, nine-time Pan Am gold medalist, and three-time Paralympic gold medalist. He is now the CEO of the Rick Hansen Foundation, an organization committed to creating a world without barriers for people with disabilities.
“My goal, at a primary level, is to try to inspire youth to believe they can make a difference in the world,” Hansen said, adding their energy and passion can help build the Canada they want. “Canada is truly part of a global society and they contribute to and learn from the rest of the world.”
Hansen said his story is an example of a small kid from a small community who had hopes and dreams. “It was the support of teachers, coaches and mentors that propelled me to, not only do my Man in Motion tour, but to have a life mission to continue to make the world accessible and inclusive for people with disabilities,” said Hansen.
Hansen believes it’s important for all Canadians to find their passion and apply their strengths that play a role in making a difference.
“When I’m speaking to youth and to other groups in other parts of Canada or the global community, I want to make sure I remind people — even though I wheeled around the world almost 30 years ago, the dream is still unfolding and I’ve been continuing to work on achieving the dream of a world that’s accessible and inclusive for people with disabilities,” he noted.
Even though a lot of progress has been made, Hansen said he hopes youth, teachers and educators will join in the journey, as they continue to drive change and help with the original goal of what the Man in Motion tour was all about — to remember not to leave disability behind in whatever they do — even if they are building a school in Africa to ensure a school is accessible. His hope is for youth to be inclusive when taking action.
“I believe the message 30 years later is probably more relevant today than it was even on the tour. Educators and parents have done a great job in getting the values of inclusiveness and of honour and respect for all people. Youth are reminded disabilities are a really big deal. It’s the world’s largest minority and there’s over a billion people on the planet living with a disability. There’s some barriers out there and they’re reminded it’s a big deal,” he explained.
The Rick Hansen Foundation has been identified as a recipient of a federal government grant to be a signature event of Canada’s 150th birthday next year.
“We’re hoping educators and youth will come to our website at rickhansen.com and join our barrier buster program and celebrate Canada’s 150th anniversary by giving a birthday gift to the country by busting down a barrier — identifying them and then busting it down and leaving a legacy,” Hansen said, adding applicants can look at their schools or community facility to see if there is a playground, weight room, gymnasium or theatre stage that needs to be made accessible or perhaps a portable or maybe a school needs an automatic door opener, visual signage or an emergency preparedness program for people with disabilities.
“If they just look around they can find and then apply to our foundation for barrier buster grants up to $30,000 to help address the problem. They just don’t find them, they actually help break them down,” said Hansen.
During Canada’s 150th celebration, the foundation is creating a series of awareness events across the country and 50 youth will be selected to travel to Ottawa for a youth summit on May 22 — the anniversary of the end of the Man in Motion tour.
“To inspire these top leaders to keep moving forward in whatever they do in their life. To be barrier busters and agents of change,” Hansen added.