By Chris Clark
All across Ontario, remarkable youth are dedicating their time and energy to bettering their communities and the world. In West Grey, a pair of tomorrow’s leaders are being recognized today.
The prestigious Ontario Junior Citizen of the Year awards program annually recognizes dozens of outstanding youth from across the province. Nominees may be involved in community service, contribute to their community while living with a physical or psychological limitation, performed acts of heroism or bravery, or simply shown a commitment to making life better for others. They are the special young people who are making a lasting impact, and among those nominated locally are Natalie McDonald and Julia Grein.
Natalie McDonald, 13, has dedicated a great deal of time and effort raising funds and awareness for Easter Seals Ontario and for children and youth with physical disabilities. Natalie has spinal muscular atrophy and is fully disabled. She is, however, a determined young person who does not let her disability get in the way of what she wants to accomplish.
On the occasion of her 9th birthday, generous Natalie encouraged friends and family to make donations to Easter Seals instead of giving her presents. Since that time, Natalie’s annual birthday party has expanded into a family fun night and dance. Over the past four years, she has raised more than $25,000 and collected in excess of $2,000 in Canadian Tire money for the benefit of Easter Seals Ontario.
In addition to fundraising, Natalie has spoken at many public events and spoken with the media to better educate others. She involves her peers in her successes, and travelled throughout Ontario last year as one of two provincial Easter Seals ambassadors. She understands her disability, and is friendly to everyone she meets.
Natalie has grown into an admirable young person who has selflessly given her time and efforts in support of other children,” said Bruce Power President and CEO Duncan Hawthorne in a letter of support. “She is a shining example of what a young person can do to make a difference.”
Natalie has a great deal of initiative and determination to go with her confident and positive attitude, and she genuinely wants to make a difference for others. She has organized fundraisers at her school, and is always appreciative of the support she receives. At age 10, she assisted the town of Hanover as an advisor while they prepared their accessibility plan.
Natalie McDonald is an extraordinary girl with determination, spirit and a special gift for helping people,” former Hanover Post editor Lori Culliton wrote in support. “She epitomizes the Junior Citizen definition.”
Bayshore Broadcasting reporter Robyn Garvey echoed those sentiments, describing Natalie as someone who has taken it upon herself to try and make the world a better place. Her zest for life and passion for helping has indeed made Natalie’s community a richer place.
Natalie is the granddaughter of Grace VanHarten of Mount Forest.
Sixteen-year-old Julia Grein, of Durham, is a hardworking young person with a strong sense of values. She surrounds herself with positive thinkers, encourages those around her to succeed, and is a well-respected student at John Diefenbaker Secondary School in Hanover.
Julia has completed nearly 300 volunteer hours within her community, and her list of activities and achievements is extensive. She has volunteered with the Grey Bruce Singers, assisted her former public school as a classroom assistant, and has helped with Sunday school and vacation bible schools at area churches.
Fostering her passion for science, Julia has volunteered at the Grey Bruce Animal Shelter, plays an active role in the Durham Agricultural Society, and has volunteered at Filsinger’s annual Apple Blossom Festival. She has also been a West Grey Mayor’s Youth Advisory Committee participant, is a member of her school band and student council, and has volunteered her time at a wide variety of community fundraisers.
Julia has had to overcome obstacles and criticisms along the way, but always leads by example as she encourages her peers to engage in their community. Involving herself in an assortment of community activities has helped Julia overcome shyness, and helped her become a confident and caring individual that has the ability to see a need and act on it.
She is an award-winning public speaker, and has earned several awards for her work on science fair projects. Julia is an honour roll student, yet remains humble about her many skills and achievements.
Julia is a model student, provides insight into all endeavors, and excels in many areas,” JDSS music teacher Stephen Peckham said in a letter of support. “She is deserving of high recognition for all her hard work and dedication.”
Julia attacks the problem and not the person,” science teacher John Twelves added in a further offering of support. “She has already accomplished more than most teenagers ever will. Her school, church and community are much better off due to this young lady’s efforts.”
Successful Junior Citizen of the Year recipients or not, both Julia and Natalie are remarkable individuals whose stories illustrate the passion, initiative, creativity and leadership evident in the best of our youth today.
The Ontario Junior Citizen of the Year Awards are co-ordinated each year by the Ontario Community Newspapers Association on behalf of its 300-plus member newspapers. Julia’s and Natalie’s local weekly newspapers are the Mount Forest Confederate and West Grey Progress.