Back in March I had a most extraordinary lunch. The food was great, the view was amazing, but what made it particularly memorable was the company.
It was the day I met McKenna Modler.
McKenna is a bright, articulate young woman, with infectious enthusiasm and a smile that could brighten the darkest of days. She’s also someone who has endured over 70 stressful and difficult treatments for brain cancer.
While it is quite tragic that someone so young and full of life had to go through all that, what made McKenna truly memorable was what she did about it. She, with the help of her family, created McKenna’s Dream Team to help raise money to support the Children’s Cancer Fund at the Kingston General Hospital — a fund that helps pay for expenses, such as travel and child care, that come with having a child receiving cancer treatment.
As of the spring, McKenna had raised over $115,000 to help ease the burden that families face in an already emotionally taxing time.
When we met, McKenna was being recognized as one of 12 Ontario Junior Citizens of the Year, an annual award sponsored by TD and Direct Energy and organized by the Ontario Community Newspapers Association. (Full disclosure, I am currently the president of OCNA.)
These awards celebrate young Ontarians between the ages of six and 17 who are involved in worthwhile community service, have performed acts of bravery, are contributing to their communities while living with physical or psychological limitations or who are good kids who go above and beyond what would normally be expected for someone of their age to make the world a better place.
In the nine years I’ve been involved with the Junior Citizen program, I’ve never failed to be inspired by the recipients. Among McKenna’s fellow award winners were a seven-year-old who runs marathons to raise money for Canadian Olympic and Paralympic athletes, the youngest person ever to swim across Lake Ontario (who raised $230,000 for Camp Trillium, a camp for kids with cancer, in the process), an artist who used her skills to raise funds for a suicide prevention program and a teen who freed the victims of a major car crash that involved five of her classmates.
Every year, when the tributes to each of the winners is read, I get a lump in my throat and anyone looking in my direction might notice my eyes are a little mistier than usual.
It’s hard not to be inspired by these kids, many of whom — like McKenna — have every reason in the world to focus on themselves, but choose to help others instead.
If you know a young person who inspires you by serving as a shining example to the community, you can nominate them for an Ontario Junior Citizen of the Year Award by downloading the forms at ocna.org/juniorcitizen or by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org before Nov. 30.
— Gordon Cameron is Group Managing Editor of Hamilton Community News.