Volunteers recognized at Stars of Alberta awards

·4 min read

It's been a hard year, but the light at the end of the tunnel is made a bit brighter by Albertans who lend a helping hand to those in need.

You may see them organizing parades for health-care workers, dedicating programs to youth or just cheering up those around them.

Some of those volunteers had their efforts recognized on Monday at the 2020 Stars of Alberta Volunteer Awards.

The awards started in 2000 and coincide with International Volunteer Day — a global initiative established by the United Nations General Assembly in 1985.

Since the ceremony's launch, 136 Alberta volunteers have received the honour.

This year's ceremony was done over Zoom due to COVID-19 restrictions, but still celebrated the nine recipients' invaluable contributions.

Joyce McCoy, one of this year's winners, is a resident of Didsbury who works toward making her community a better place.

McCoy retired in November 2019. Over the last few years she's built websites for local businesses, crocheted poppies for Remembrance Day and organized parades for health-care workers.

Kat Chaytor
Kat Chaytor

"If you're a volunteer, you know, you just get such satisfaction from helping others and from making your community better," she told The Homestretch on Thursday.

McCoy says that at beginning of COVID-19, she organized two appreciation parades for workers at the local hospital and long-term care facility.

The volunteer also started a Facebook page called "A Better Didsbury" to support local businesses dealing with economic hardships.

"It became a very essential place for people to go find out who is open and you know what restaurants were open, if they were doing dine-in or take-out that sort of thing," she said.

"It's become a great place for the community to know what's going on in our businesses."

A young Albertan also saw his name on the list of awards.

Brennan O'Yeung, a mechanical engineering student at the University of Calgary, turned his passion for science and escape rooms into a volunteer organization dedicated to Indigenous youth.

Supplied by Brennan O’Yeung
Supplied by Brennan O’Yeung

The program is called "Escape with STEM."

"The award means more to me than just the recognition. It really means that my work in the community is being validated and people are really, you know, seeing the impact that Escape with STEM has been able to give to others," he told The Homestretch on Friday.

O'Yeung says his organization combines escape room style experiences with STEM — Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics.

"Escape with STEM was created to inspire youth, especially in the Indigenous sector, to engage more with STEM related concepts … and hopefully inspire them to pursue a career STEM in the future," he said.

He says the response has been overwhelmingly positive.

"When we were at a school, there's one particular girl who was incredible at solving the puzzles with her teams…. At the end of the day, her mom actually came up to me and said, 'Well, thank you so much for putting on the workshop for us today. I just want to let you know that my daughter really enjoyed working on the puzzles and typically in classrooms, she's not as strong with the strength of learning in terms of examination,'" he said.

"'But with hands-on activities … she was really able to shine and it's really helped her confidence.'"

The program is specifically geared toward Indigenous youth because of what O'Yeung observed within his own university program.

"There is a disparity, especially in Indigenous youth that were in STEM and specifically engineering, so basically putting those two together, I thought, why couldn't I do something to maybe provide some opportunities and initiatives," he said.

"It's about that impact that we can make on others."

Full list of recipients

Here is the full list of this year's recipients of the 2020 Stars of Alberta Volunteer Awards:

  • Amanda Hardman (youth), Stony Plain

  • Brennan O'Yeung (youth), Calgary

  • Joyce McCoy (adult), Didsbury

  • Jayanta (Jay) Chowdhury (adult), Calgary

  • Frieda Maynard (senior), Edson

  • Kathleen (Kathy) King (senior), Edmonton

  • Salima Versi (breaking barriers – anti-racism), Edmonton

  • Anjum Mullick (breaking barriers – fighting gender discrimination), Edmonton

  • Kelly Ernst (breaking barriers – LGBTQ2S+ advocacy), Calgary

With files from The Homestretch.