A long-term Haileybury volunteer says if people want to make a change in their communities, they have to roll up their sleeves and go at it.
This week, Réjeanne Bélisle-Massie, a 71-year-old retired teacher, received the June Callwood Outstanding Achievement Award for Voluntarism.
She was among 16 recipients in Ontario recognized for their exceptional contributions at a virtual ceremony held Jan. 27.
“If you want your community to grow and be vibrant and dynamic, you’ve got to get involved. If you want change, you got to get involved,” Bélisle-Massie said. “Volunteering for me means a lot. It means change, it means having your community grow, be welcoming.”
Bélisle-Massie said she learned she was going to receive the award last spring. Because of the ongoing pandemic, the award ceremony was postponed until this winter.
“I was overwhelmed by it but I think there are a lot of other people more deserving than me. And I would just like to stay in the background and not be highlighted,” she said.
Bélisle-Massie, who was raised in a francophone family in Sudbury, said volunteering was a value that was instilled in her and her siblings by her parents.
She studied in Ottawa and was a part of the first cohort at the Faculty of Education at the University of Ottawa. When she was offered to teach at a high school in Haileybury, she accepted it and hasn’t left the community since.
When she first came to Haileybury in 1971, she said it was a different community that wasn’t open to francophones.
“You have to stand up and fight for what you want. It’s very important for me that Temiskaming Shores be bilingual because we’re not that far from the Quebec border,” she said. “If you want people from Quebec to come into your community, you have to offer them services, greet them, welcome them in the language that they speak.”
She has been teaching for 31 years before retiring in 2002. Her volunteer experience includes serving as the president of the ACFO Temiskaming and organizing Village Nöel Temiskaming and Festival des Folies Franco-Fun.
Bélisle-Massie is currently the president of Le Centre Culturel Artem and the Temiskaming Art Gallery treasurer.
“At Centre Culturel, we have people from First Nations and Métis Nation on our executive, so it’s very important that contributions and culture of these two other communities be recognized,” she said.
She was also awarded the Order of the Pléiade in 2019.
“I’m very, very grateful for the recognition but I know there are a lot of other people more deserving than I to get that,” said Bélisle-Massie.
Dariya Baiguzhiyeva, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, TimminsToday.com