Mathew Cicero and Josh Tiessen are dedicated to making life better for others – and that commitment has garnered each of them a nomination into one of the province’s most prestigious youth award programs.
The Stoney Creek natives are among 150 nominees in the running for an Ontario Community Newspapers Association 2012 Ontario Junior Citizen of the Year Award.
“I’m kind of surprised; I didn’t think I’d be nominated for anything like this,” said Mathew, a 13-year-old St. Martin of Tours Catholic Elementary School Grade 8 student. “I feel honoured, it’s pretty special.”
Josh shares the sentiment.
“I’m really honoured just to receive the recognition,” the 17-year-old Cardinal Newman Catholic Secondary School graduate said. “I don’t do what I do to get awards and be recognized, but it’s always nice, though, to receive that encouragement that what you’re doing really is making a difference.”
Mathew is dedicated to assisting his fellow students and teachers at school.
He heads up morning announcements, helping students and teachers deliver the news of the day.
Mathew also looks after junior kindergarten students during recess and volunteers as a library helper to ensure students always find the books and resources they’re looking for.
In addition, he volunteers as a tech crew member, ensuring assemblies and special presentations run without a glitch. He is also bus patroller, making sure junior and senior kindergarten students get to their buses safely and promptly.
Mathew also has participated in the Catholic board’s annual Walk with Christ: Justice for the Poor pilgrimage – a fundraiser that has generated close to $600,000 for development projects in the Dominican Republic, Haiti and Uganda – and put together gift-filled shoeboxes as part of Samaritan’s Purse Canada’s Operation Christmas Child for children in Third World countries.
Teacher Dan Graziani said Mathew is a role model who goes above and beyond to help.
“Mathew is well-known to all in our community because of his high involvement and positive attitude,” he said. “He respects others’ feelings and supports his peers. He truly is a great example of a good kid who is making life better for many.”
For Mathew, it’s all part of being a good Catholic.
“Jesus was always lending a hand to people in need, so I just thought I’d be a mere image of him,” he said, adding he doesn’t expect awards or recognition for anything he does. “I just do it to help out everybody. It makes me feel good knowing that I’m contributing in some way.”
Josh also understands the importance of lending a hand.
The young “high realism” artist, who has exhibited his art for six years in more than 20 exhibitions and sold upwards of 60 original works and 100 limited edition giclee prints to Canadian and international collectors, donates his work and time to many causes.
Josh has made art donations to numerous community groups and charitable organizations locally and beyond, including Friends of the Eramosa Karst (FOTEK), the Hamilton Naturalists’ Club, City Kidz, the Canadian Lyme Disease Foundation, Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation of Canada and Samartian’s Purse Canada to help raise money for various initiatives.
He also is actively involved in preserving the natural environment, having participated in FOTEK’s tree planting events, Hamilton Naturalists’ Club hikes and Bruce Trail cleanups.
In addition, Josh volunteers his time to speak to students about art, the importance of preserving the natural environment and using their gifts and talents to make a difference.
Cardinal Newman principal Michael Gravina said despite all the success, Josh remains a “humble, appreciative and faithful young man.”
“While he was a student at Cardinal Newman, he was respected by his peers and teachers. He was always giving of his time and talent and donated a number of his works of art to charitable organizations,” he said. “His presence as a member of our community made us proud and we could not ask for a better role model for our students to follow. His successes in his artistic field are unprecedented within our school community, but even more notable is the sincerely humbling and caring personality that he shares with all who have the pleasure to know him.”
For Josh, there’s nothing more important than giving back.
“I feel like I’ve been given a gift for art, but also the opportunity to give back financially with my efforts,” he said. “Really, what motivates me is my love for God, his creation and his people. That’s what I see as being really important to me, more than success.”
Mathew said helping out at school keeps him busy, but he wouldn’t have it any other way.
“I don’t really mind it; I don’t mind having a full plate,” he said. “It makes me happy to know that students and teachers feel like they can count on me for certain things.”
Josh said everyone in the world is gifted in some way.
Everyone has been given different talents and has a purpose in life, he added.
“I think in all different ways, we can really give back to the community that way. What I say to kids when I’m speaking to them at schools is, ‘Don’t let anyone look down on you because of your age, but be an example to people, really, to people who are older,” he said. “Sometimes we feel like just because we’re young, we can’t do it or we think, ‘When I turn 21, then I’ll be able to help out with things,’ but really we have such a unique opportunity here in Canada and so much freedom. Your teenage years or your pre-teen years, those years you have, really, the most amount of time to achieve your greatest potential to really give back and there’s so many amazing opportunities out there for you to do just that.”
The Ontario Junior Citizen of the Year Awards have honoured the best of Ontario’s youth since 1981. The program recognizes outstanding young people age six to 17. The 2012 recipients will be posted Friday, Jan. 25 at www.ocna.org.