Refugee, birder, artists among volunteers recognized with Premier's Awards

A group of Manitobans including birders, artists, community heritage advocates and a former refugee were recognized in Winnipeg Tuesday night for their volunteer work.

The 2017 Premier's Volunteer Service Awards were given out to seven people, including two youths, along with three organizations.

Established in 1986, the awards are presented every year in co-operation with Volunteer Manitoba. They are intended to recognize and encourage valuable services provided by volunteers in Manitoba.

The award recipients this year include Raymond Ngarboui, who arrived in Winnipeg as a permanent resident in late-2005 after living as a refugee in Cameroon.

"Volunteering for me is a way of giving back," said Ngarboui. "Who I am today, it's thanks to what I received from other people."

Since he moved to Canada, Ngarboui has served on a range of boards, including the board for Supporting Employment and Economic Development Winnipeg and Knox Church Trustees, and works to advocate for newcomers in Winnipeg.

The recipients also include Cameron Krisko, who was nominated in the youth category. He was recognized for his volunteer work teaching children with disabilities to swim and helping to bring SwimAbility Canada to Manitoba, a program that provides low-cost swimming lessons for children with special needs.

Ernie Didur, a bird advocate who helped start the Purple Martin Club in 1980, was recognized for his work defending the bird's habitat and creating purple martin towers across the province.

Others recognized with 2017 Premier's Volunteer Service Awards:

- Sylvia Dziver in Elphinstone for her work organizing the Terry Fox Run and other community events in her town.

- Lorne Schram in Pinawa, for his work organizing a meal program, an annual triathlon event and cross-country ski activities.

- Kay Slobodzian in Dauphin, for working to preserve her community's heritage, including erecting a granite Cross of Freedom which marks the oldest Ukrainian Catholic church in Canada.

- Sarah Campbell in Winnipeg, nominated in the youth category for welcoming newcomers, knitting scarves for Siloam Mission and promoting blood donation.

Along with honouring volunteer work by individuals, the awards also recognized three organizations: ArtsJunktion and L'Arche Winnipeg Tova Café in Winnipeg, and Ste. Agathe Community Development Inc.

The development organization in Ste. Agathe, Man., was instrumental in helping rebuild the area after the devastation of the 1997 flood, a news release said.

L'Arche Winnipeg Tova Café offers employment opportunities for adults with disabilities.

ArtsJunktion is run by 52 volunteers and works to distribute "junk" which might otherwise end up in landfills to artists, who use the materials in their work.

"Our volunteers are all incredibly committed to supporting the arts and supporting the environment," said ArtsJunktion executive director Julie Kettle.

"Based on Manitoba's minimum wage ... we have about $14,000 worth of in-kind volunteer hours each month. And for a small non-profit, that really makes a difference."

"Manitoba has a proud tradition of both generosity and volunteerism, characteristics which contribute to our province being the most generous in all of Canada," said Premier Brian Pallister in a news release.

"Manitobans should be very proud of the efforts made by their fellow citizens to making this province a better place for us all to live."