Student volunteers showered in praise

Ponoka found an inspiring way to kick off National Volunteer Week, celebrating the accomplishments of its youngest volunteers

Hailey Rausch

Hailey Rausch

Ponoka found an inspiring way to kick off National Volunteer Week, celebrating the accomplishments of its youngest volunteers through the Leaders of Tomorrow program.

This year more than 35 elementary, junior and high school students were nominated for the program based on their selfless lifestyles and dispositions.

The 17th annual awards ceremony was held in a packed gymnasium at Ponoka Elementary School on April 21.

The ceremony was graced by a number of delegates who could do nothing but sing praise to the students and their families.

Education is one of Encana’s main areas of contribution, and Don Letwinetz, community relations advisor, attended to speak and hand out awards.

“The Leaders of Tomorrow program is probably one of the most favourite of Encana,” said Letwinetz. “It’s a privilege to contribute, not a right.”

Lois Spate, principal of Ponoka Elementary School and someone who knows a lot of the nominees well, could barely contain her excitement for the students.

She told them, since Ponoka is a small community with personal connections between its residents, their good deeds could be traced back through Ponoka’s history through those they’ve helped. “We’re all cheering and applauding your efforts.

“You’ve had a lot of positive influence in the lives of others,” she added.

While the ceremony was a celebration of the past, Spate said it was also a glimpse of the future. “It’s also an opportunity for us to challenge you.”

County Reeve Gordon Svenningsen also attended to congratulate the volunteers who help make up the county’s backbone.

“This county would not be what it is today without the efforts of many, many volunteers,” said Svenningsen. “Keep up the good work, it makes our community strong.”

Town Coun. John Jacobs also commended the youths on their never-ending efforts to contribute to and better their environment for everyone. “At a young age you’ve chosen a wonderful path. Remember, the possibilities are limitless.”

This is the first year each nominee received a special certificate from Wetaskiwin MP Blaine Calkins. Although he was not able to attend the ceremony, he wrote a letter in his place.

Guest speaker Brandi Buss, who attends the University of Alberta, was a Leader of Tomorrow winner in Grade 5. She shared many life lessons she’s learned with the students through a gradually built philosophy.

“Be you, be fearless, surround yourself with positivity and always remember where you come from.”

Buss told the students if they work hard and remain positive many great opportunities will present themselves. However those opportunities aren’t without their challenges.

“Allow yourself to make mistakes but don’t allow yourselves to dwell on them,” she said.

Every elementary school nominee is recognized but only two junior and senior students receive awards. This year Hailey Rausch and Rebecca Wesner were the junior winners.

The senior winners were Taylor Baron and Paige Raugust.

Raugust was surprised she was nominated because of the other nominees in her category.

She started volunteering her time as a young girl in church and because of her passion for giving, never stopped. “It lets you appreciate other people, you learn to understand other people.”

“A smile can change the world,” she added.

Raugust wasn’t the only one at the ceremony who knows the power of the smile.

“Love watching the youth. I like to watch the expressions on their faces,” said program chairperson Leanne Brusegard.

“It’s amazing. I really think they need to be encouraged so they carry on,” she added.