What are you grateful for this Christmas? Some of Stratford’s community leaders let us know

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At a time when life often feels overwhelming, negative and bleak, it seemed right to offer a palate cleanser — what are you grateful for this Christmas season? That question was posed to a cross-section of local leaders from various sectors. No strings attached.

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After all, like Kate McCallister said 31 years ago, it’s the season of perpetual hope.

Ryan Erb

United Way Perth-Huron executive director

“For me, the holiday season is a reminder of important values: A time to consider how to bring peace to our often hurting world and how to find joy in the midst of the many challenges. I’m very blessed to be surrounded by supportive family and friends. I cherish this.

Yet, I know the holiday season will not be easy for many. Perhaps you or someone you know is missing a loved one, struggling to put food on the table or living unsheltered. In the midst of trying times, I still see beautiful resilience and hope. Each year, I have the privilege to witness persons who overcome significant obstacles in their lives, and I have the honour of walking with people who are incredibly generous making it possible. At this crossroads, I find an abundance of hope recognizing the privilege it is to live and serve in this great community.”

Anita Gaffney

Stratford Festival executive director

“I’m grateful for the people who have come into my orbit and who have enriched, inspired and challenged me. I’m writing this note on the winter solstice. While it feels like the dark night of the soul, at times, the days are literally getting longer, and sunnier days are on the horizon. We’ll meet the challenges of 2022 by lifting one another up. Oh, and I’m grateful for coffee and chocolate, too!”

John Kastner

Stratford-Perth Museum general manager

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“It’s a tricky question these days with everything that is going on, but it didn’t take me long to land on the winning square. Volunteers.

A few years ago, then Governor General David Johnston hosted an event at city hall where a number of people, me included, were asked to speak about their experience as a volunteer. The governor general quite elegantly spoke to how the level of volunteerism in this country is one of the things that sets Canada apart from other countries.

Besides the obvious sweat equity of volunteers, there is the truth that it builds ownership in your community, civic pride and that the sector that benefits most from volunteers is part of our social safety net and social fabric of the community. On an almost daily basis, I marvel at how lucky were are here in Stratford — thanks to volunteers.

Sports alone – Rotary Hockey, Stratford girls hockey, Stratford minor hockey, Stratford Warriors, Stratford Youth Soccer, Stratford minor baseball, Hoops for Fun, boys and girls softball are all organizations with progressive ideas, and all are run almost entirely by volunteers.

And of course it’s not just sports — almost every impactful institution in Stratford has volunteers as the backbone of its organization, including where I work now at the Stratford Perth Museum.

Service clubs in Stratford do incredible work and give us things like the Rotary Hospice. A legion of volunteers helps keep the Stratford General Hospital moving, run the Stratford and District Ag Society or help at To Stratford With Love Annual Dinner.

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Do you like the new Market Square? Thank a volunteer visioning committee.

And let’s not just gloss over the role of volunteers during the pandemic. Did you get a vaccine? Have you ever seen greater efficiency than the clinic at the Rotary Complex? That was thanks to dozens of volunteers who helped the clinic run so smoothly. What could possibly be more important than that?

It’s risky to point out just one person, but I can’t help but think how lucky we were to have a person like Gail Tolley. Gail, who died earlier this month, worked at CMHC. She joined the museum board, facilitated our strategic plan, then updated it, rewrote our constitution and bylaws, refreshed polices and served as board chair. She took on Friends of the Festival and helped bring in a scheduling portal so that all the events were covered and FOFers could pick and choose their shifts over the season.

And the Festival is not alone — a small army of volunteers is at the core of Stratford Summer Music, Gallery Stratford, Stratford Symphony Orchestra, Off the Wall and just about every other organization that makes a difference in the culture sector in Stratford.

So, if your kids play sports, or you go to the theatre, take in concerts, enjoy the museum, frequent The Gallery, have been in the hospital or may end up at the hospice someday … thank a volunteer.

We are lucky to have them.”

Dan Mathieson

Stratford mayor

“Even in these challenging times, there are many things to be thankful for and, in some ways, the pandemic has made most of us more aware of our many blessings. I’m thankful for the understanding and compassion being displayed by the vast majority of people in our community for the situation we all find ourselves in.

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I appreciate the work of public health and the many individuals involved with testing and vaccination services, and the countless hours and personal sacrifices I know they have had to make each and every day to ensure timely information is received and public service is provided to our community. Front-line workers continue to be everyday heroes through the pandemic, and we simply cannot thank them enough for what they do. I’m grateful for the emergency and essential service workers, as well as those who work in hospitals, nursing homes, long-term care centres, home care settings, schools, daycares and other facilities responsible for our youngest or most vulnerable residents.

I’ve also come to appreciate even more those who look after our everyday needs, including people who work in retail and grocery stores, restaurants and anyone in a public-facing role. Day in and day out, they try to do their best by putting on a brave face, even when some customers aren’t at their best.

Many thanks to the City of Stratford employees who continue to provide services to our residents, and to the Social Services Outreach Team for their care and compassion in providing support for the homeless and other vulnerable people in our community.

I’m grateful for the youth and young adults who have made the best of a bad situation, even when various restrictions have meant giving up some of what should be their carefree, happy times enjoying friends, sports, activities and school.

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Fortunately, 2022 is around the corner, and I’m optimistic that it will give all of us a chance for a new beginning and a new opportunity to show compassion, kindness, respect and understanding to our families and friends and the people we encounter in our day-to-day lives. I know that we will continue to work our way through the pandemic together, and hope for things to change for the better soon.”

Theresa McMurray

House of Blessing executive director

“I am humbled by the privilege of working at House of Blessing. Daily, we see people who struggle so hard in our community. It’s heartbreaking to hear the stories of how life has happened and left the scars of struggle in their lives.

I’m grateful that House of Blessing was founded on love for the community in need, and it remains founded on those same principals 34 years later. I’m grateful for a community that rallies around their neighbours in their time of need and supports the work we do every day so people don’t leave the same as they came in. Although we all want the world to be a different place, it is the ‘now circumstances’ in a person’s life we all have a part in changing and, for that, I am grateful.”

John Nater

Perth-Wellington MP

“As we enjoy the Christmas season, it is important to look back on the past year, count our blessings and remember the things for which we are most thankful. I am thankful for my loving and supportive family. I am thankful I call this beautiful country my home. I am thankful I have the privilege of representing the people of Perth-Wellington as their member of Parliament and I am thankful to live alongside and interact with so many wonderful individuals in such caring communities.

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Over the past two years we have faced many challenges. Fortunately, we have seen people in all walks of life rise to the occasion, including our health-care heroes, our first responders and countless volunteers who have saved lives and made difficult times much easier for those in need. We have seen countless examples where challenging and critical circumstances have brought out the best in those who live and work in our communities. Our food banks have provided meals and other essential items, our service clubs have raised money to help serve their communities, charities have provided aid to the most vulnerable and neighbours have stepped up to help neighbours. I am thankful for everyone who makes our communities even better places in which to live, and I look forward to their continued excellent work in 2022.”

Randy Pettapiece

Perth-Wellington MPP

“1. Life-saving vaccines, and those choosing to protect themselves, their families and communities from COVID by getting vaccinated and getting boosted;

2. Nutritious food, farmers and everyone working hard to make our food supply chain among the most stable and successful in the world;

3. Long-term care, including those working hard to support residents and keep them safe, as well as the new beds already added and those still to come;

4. Truckers who are away from home, often for days at a time, to deliver the goods we rely on;

5. Our local small businesses, their employees and customers;

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6. Grocery stores and their employees working to put food on our tables;

7. Everyone working in public health — our local health units, hospitals, family doctors’ offices, family health teams, midwifery clinics, optometrists, dentists and many, many more;

8. Education workers and students at all levels;

9. Churches and community organizations bringing comfort and joy to those who need it most;

10. The trust, support and advice I received over the last 10 years as MPP from my constituents — especially from my wife, Jane, and my family!

I hope and believe that in the new year, our community will emerge stronger, healthier and better prepared for all that lies ahead of us. Jane and I want to wish everyone a Merry Christmas.”

Krista Robinson

Stratford Public Library systems librarian

“This year, I’m grateful for so much — my family, our health, good books … the list goes on and on. But one thing that has truly been a blessing over the past year has been going to our little cottage in Northern Ontario. Having the opportunity to get outside and hike, read on the dock, listen to the birds and spot constellations in the night sky has brought so much peace in a time where finding calm has been difficult. Spending quality time in nature truly does restore the soul.”

Geza Wordofa

Multicultural Association of Perth-Huron founder

“I’m grateful for the health of our clients and volunteers. Both members are on the front line risking their health each day to make sure those less fortunate can at least have something to look forward to this Christmas season. Even the smallest gift lights up a child refugee’s face who might have otherwise had nothing. The donation of boots provides warmth where shoes once struggled to shield out the cold and wet. It’s easier to smile when you’re not worrying about the sting of frostbite.”

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