THE INCREDIBLES

Or­di­nary fam­i­lies are do­ing ex­tra­or­di­nary things for com­mu­ni­ties at home and abroad. Let’s give them a round of ap­plause. TEXT LISA VAN DE GEYN

Canadian Living - - Contents -

The 2017 We Fam­i­lies awards cel­e­brates the phi­lan­thropy of three Cana­dian clans

Wow! We can’t be­lieve it’s been 13 years since Cana­dian Liv­ing part­nered with We, the fam­ily of or­ga­ni­za­tions that in­spires and em­pow­ers chil­dren and adults alike to think be­yond them­selves and give back to lo­cal and global com­mu­ni­ties in need. What be­gan as a sim­ple award cer­e­mony cel­e­brat­ing Canada’s char­i­ta­ble change-mak­ers is this year turn­ing its en­tire fo­cus to fam­i­lies. Both as a unit and in­di­vid­u­ally, these moms, dads, kids and even grand­par­ents have com­mit­ted to mak­ing the world a bet­ter place. For oth­ers, they’ve sac­ri­ficed free time, spend­ing money, fam­ily va­ca­tions and birth­day presents—and for that, they de­serve to be cel­e­brated. Ear­lier this year, we called for nom­i­na­tions and shared the sto­ries of the most ex­traor­di­nar­ily self­less fam­i­lies on­line. Read­ers did the rest. After weeks of vot­ing, you chose the winners of our very first We Fam­i­lies awards. Here, we tell their tales.

TIM BENKO AND SHELLY AP­PLE­TON-BENKO were mar­ried for a decade be­fore their kids came along, and they spent a good chunk of their time in those early years of mat­ri­mony giv­ing back to their com­mu­nity. Shelly’s stint help­ing out at the United Way of the Lower Main­land in B.C. re­ally made an im­pact. “I was in­spired to see how, with small cash dona­tions and vol­un­teers will­ing to do a lit­tle ex­tra work, a per­son’s qual­ity of life can be im­proved,” she says.

Once her brood came along, Shelly con­tin­ued vol­un­teer­ing, even with a baby on her hip and tod­dler in tow. Do­nat­ing time and en­ergy be­came a fam­ily project, al­ways part of the kids’ lives: “I’ve al­ways worked full time, so find­ing a bal­ance was some­times the hard­est part, but we al­ways seemed to make it work,” says Shelly.

To­day—with son, Morgan, 19, and daugh­ter, Faith, 13, in their Cloverdale, B.C., home—giv­ing back con­tin­ues to be a fam­ily af­fair. And the kids are very much a part of de­cid­ing which causes to support. One year, for ex­am­ple, Morgan and Faith picked their school li­brary to fo­cus on. The school’s ex­ist­ing li­brary had been an­nexed as a class­room due to a rapidly grow­ing stu­dent body, so Tim and Shelly or­ga­nized a Book Lover’s Ball that raised funds to build a loft li­brary. “We cre­ated a comfy place where kids could re­lax and read,” says Shelly.

They joined the We move­ment six years ago, when Shelly went to an eco­nomic sum­mit in Sur­rey and heard We co­founder Craig Kiel­burger speak. So moved by his story, she con­vinced the rest of the fam­ily to take up the cause of rais­ing money for de­vel­op­ing coun­tries. The troop has been in­volved in plenty of fundrais­ers since then, in­clud­ing the popular Benko Fam­ily Charity Golf Tour­na­ment, which has raised more than $35,000 since 2015. The first year, the pro­ceeds paid for a class­room in Kenya, and in sub­se­quent years, they helped fund a com­mu­nity gar­den in Los Rios and a kitchen in Bellav­ista, both in Ecuador.

The fam­ily doesn’t just vol­un­teer from afar—they’ve trav­elled to Kenya and Ecuador to get their hands dirty, too. In an­tic­i­pa­tion of the trip to Kenya, the Benko kids ran small class­room fundrais­ers (such as a Fri­day pop- corn sale) to buy $50 goats for fam­i­lies in the com­mu­ni­ties they would be vis­it­ing; when they re­turned home, Faith gave a slide-show pre­sen­ta­tion to her school about how the new goats had ben­e­fited the fam­i­lies they met. “Hav­ing par­tic­i­pated at a lo­cal level, we were primed to help raise funds to build a class­room in Kenya so chil­dren there could en­joy learn­ing in a bet­ter en­vi­ron­ment. Help­ing from home gave us the mo­men­tum to help abroad,” says Shelly. “We feel pretty strongly that our kids should share the love wher­ever they can. Prac­tis­ing grat­i­tude is never a bad thing.”

ASK THE MO­ROSE FAM­ILY what they’re most pas­sion­ate about and their answers will re­volve around be­ing char­i­ta­ble. They can thank mom Gabi for their giv­ing spirit; for the past eight years, the Toronto-based teacher has been a We lead ed­u­ca­tor in the pub­lic school

( where she works. So it wasn’t a sur­prise when, two years ago, Gabi, her hus­band, Walt, and their two daugh­ters, Maya, 14, and Chloe, 9, be­came a We Fam­ily. “As our kids grew up and par­tic­i­pated in We events at school, we be­gan ini­tia­tives at home,” Gabi says, adding that her fam­ily wants to demon­strate that small ac­tions can lead to big changes.

Take Maya’s 12th birth­day. In­stead of a gift-filled party with friends, she planned a pay-it-for­ward chal­lenge. Guests were grouped into teams to com­plete 12 ran­dom acts of kind­ness through­out the com­mu­nity, in­clud­ing do­nat­ing to the lo­cal food bank and tak­ing cook­ies to a fire sta­tion. “Birth­days can be self­ish,” says Maya. “I wanted to show that even though I’m only one per­son, I can make an im­pact on the world.”

Maya’s lit­tle sis­ter, Chloe, is also do­ing her part—for her last birth­day, she col­lected pet sup­plies for the lo­cal an­i­mal shel­ter in lieu of presents. “It makes me sad that some an­i­mals live in shel­ters for years,” says Chloe. “Col­lect­ing pet toys, blan­kets and food in­stead of get­ting gifts made for the best birth­day.”

Even the fam­ily’s favourite hobby—pin­ball—has been turned into a char­i­ta­ble pas­time. Pin­ball for Change—a se­ries of tour­na­ments to raise funds to build class­rooms in Kanambu, Ecuador—has raised more than $15,000 since its be­gin­ning. “We of­ten take for granted ac­cess to school­ing,” says Gabi, who wants her kids to take noth­ing for granted. “We’ve taught our chil­dren to think about oth­ers and work to­gether to pro­vide for peo­ple near and far.”

ASH­LEY QUACKENBUSH, 23, cred­its her grand­par­ents with her fam­ily’s com­mit­ment to vol­un­teer work. Her 90-year-old ma­ter­nal grand­mother, Rae Kil­gour, spends her days mak­ing pneu­mo­nia vests, hats and socks for kids over­seas (her cloth­ing keeps lit­tle ones in hot cli­mates warm at night when tem­per­a­tures drop), and she knits beau­ti­ful quilt blocks to make blan­kets for cancer pa­tients. Ash­ley’s pa­ter­nal grand­mother was also big on help­ing oth­ers back in her day—she had been heav­ily in­volved with her lo­cal 4-H On­tario, serv­ing as one of the lead­ers at a lo­cal club.

“They showed us how im­por­tant it is to give back to oth­ers, es­pe­cially within our lo­cal com­mu­nity,” says Ash­ley, adding that her par­ents in­stilled the im­por­tance of charity by tak­ing their four kids to help at church din­ners and com­mu­nity cleanups and to visit the el­derly and those con­fined to their homes due to ill­ness or dis­abil­ity.

When Man­i­towan­ing, Man­i­toulin Is­land, Ont.–based Ash­ley started high school in 2008, no one was sur­prised when she be­came in­volved in her school’s vol­un­teer SHARE (Stu­dents Help­ing All ’Round Ev­ery­where) com­mit­tee and Go Green club; it’s also where she learned about Me to We. “My whole fam­ily got in­volved in help­ing out with events,” she says. “As each of the Quackenbush chil­dren have gone through high school, we’ve stayed in­volved in the charity on our own time to help our com­mu­nity.”

Since they started rais­ing money for We Charity, the en­tire fam­ily—which also in­cludes dad Tom, mom Betty Lou and sib­lings Chrys­tal, 21, Michael, 19, and Ja­son, 16— has par­tic­i­pated in a slew of events. Among the highlights? Join­ing We Scare Hunger, for which they gath­ered non­per­ish­able items for the food bank at Hal­loween, and Ash­ley’s trips to Tan­za­nia and Kenya to help with school­re­lated build­ing projects. Ash­ley says be­cause of these trips—and the lack of com­mu­nity ac­cess to wa­ter she wit­nessed—she’s cur­rently rais­ing aware­ness about wa­ter by giv­ing short pre­sen­ta­tions in her com­mu­nity and fundrais­ing to build wa­ter wells in Africa through small ef­forts like bake sales. “Not only does giv­ing back make us feel good but it also helps us gain a new per­spec­tive, de­velop new skills, make so­cial con­nec­tions and grow as in­di­vid­u­als,” she adds. “We want to help oth­ers to find their pas­sion to get in­volved.”

CLOCK­WISE FROM TOP A fam­ily selfie from a hike in Shuswap, B.C., last sum­mer; Tim and Morgan Benko build­ing the foun­da­tion for a school ex­pan­sion in Bellav­ista, Ecuador; Morgan and Shelly Ap­ple­tonBenko at We Day in Cal­i­for­nia this past spring, catch­ing up with old friends, Maasai war­riors Wil­son and Jack­son; the whole fam­ily en route to Bellav­ista in March 2016.

ABOVE The fam­ily at a re­cent Pin­ball for Change fundrais­ing event to ben­e­fit ed­u­ca­tion in Ecuador with We.

ABOVE The Quackenbush clan (from left): Tom, Betty Lou, Ash­ley, Chrys­tal, Ja­son and Michael.

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