For two Red Deer men, hard work and an inextinguishable philanthropic spirit have led to great reward.
Last week, it was announced during the Rotary Clubs of Red Deer and City of Red Deer gala at the Sheraton Hotel that John Johnston received the 2013 Citizen of the Year award and the 2013 Young Citizen of the Year would go to R.J. Willms.
Both Willms and Johnston were in disbelief to hear they had been nominated for the awards but were filled with joy to receive the recognition.
“I am just so proud to be a citizen in Red Deer because it is an amazing community,” said Johnston on winning Citizen of the Year. “It’s passionate and caring and I am just overwhelmed with this.”
Johnston’s work with the Red Deer Boys and Girls Club and the Youth & Volunteer Centre led to a slough of nominations. “When I had the opportunity to read the nomination letters some of them were just outstanding.”
Johnston’s strong beliefs in community led him to the conclusion that it takes three types of people to make a community work. Those with time to give “Which seems to be hard to come by these days,” those with a skill set and those with the dollars to help the other two do what they need to do.
“It takes all three,” he said. “Some people do one. Some people do all three.”
Nominators said his passion is visible in everything he does, from his contributions to the Youth and Volunteer Centre of Red Deer to his part in developing Camp Alexo, west of Rocky Mountain House.
Meanwhile, while this year’s Young Citizen of the Year award may hold less years of experience, the social impact that his work has on the young people of Red Deer is comparable. “I got the news the morning after I wrote my final exam,” said Willms on how his reaction to hearing he would be given the award.
“It felt really great to be recognized for my work even thought I don’t do it for the recognition.”
Willms, 25, and a third year Bachelor of Education student, received recognition for his work with co-founding a local organization Technology Initiative For Immigrants and Disadvantaged Institute (TIFIDI) in 2012.
The organization aims to improve technological literacy by providing under-privileged youth with computers to use in their homes.
“With language literacy children who start out with a disadvantage are found to develop a gap and as they grow that gap widens if it is not addressed,” said Willms on why he started TIFIDI. “The same thing will happen with technological literacy, so we want to address that gap before it becomes a bigger problem over the years.”
Willms, one of five children in his family, was accompanied to the event by his parents who were ecstatic to learn that their son had received the award.
“He is a very special young man,” said his mother, Margaretrose Willms.
“Did we ever expect him to be recognized like this though? Not really, but it is such an incredible honour and is so very humbling.”
Willms advises young people in Red Deer to never give up on their hopes and dreams and if there is something they want to complain about to instead “Channel it into something productive.”