“Pick something you love and never give up.” Her message was simple yet powerful. The room was still as Annaleise Carr spoke at Brant Food For Thought’s annual volunteer appreciation luncheon on Thursday at the Best Western Plus. The 5’3” 16 year old high school student from Norfolk County, and Silver Birch Award winning author, captivated the audience as she shared her story.  Struggling with speech problems at the age of 5, Annaleise appeared poised and confident as she addressed close to 120 nutrition program volunteers.

With a heart for children and a strong desire to especially help those battling cancer, she set out to use her God given swimming talent to become, in August of 2012, the youngest person ever to cross Lake Ontario in under 27 hours, breaking the original record set more than fifty years earlier by Marilyn Bell. She has since completed a crossing of Lake Erie.

Although too young to volunteer at the camp at the time, over the last 3 years, Annaleise has raised awareness and more than $420,000 for Camp Trillium, a local childhood cancer support centre that offers year-round recreational experiences to bring children with cancer and their families together.

“What defines power and success in today’s society?”, expressed Carr. “Is it the team with the most championship wins, or the goalie with the lowest goals against average, or the athlete with the most gold medals?”. She reminded us that, “to the most successful athletes, winning or losing is not the important thing; instead, it is being able to balance sports with all the other important things in life like family, friends and school.”

Her experience in the water draws a similar parallel to the impact that volunteers have in a community. “A drop of water by itself can seem small, even insignificant”, says Carr, “but when you put a drop into a lake, a ripple forms. This one drop then becomes significant as the ripples spread out farther and as more rings form. The same applies to our lives too as we touch the lives of others around us.”

National Volunteer Week 2015 spotlights the ripple effect of every voluntary action taken. Volunteer Canada President and CEO, Paula Speevak, said it this way. “A volunteer action is like a stone thrown in a lake: its effect has a direct impact. At the same time, like ripples, volunteer efforts reach out far and wide to improve communities. The impact of volunteering goes well beyond the hours given, the values shared or the skills contributed. It can be found in smiles exchanged, bold new directions taken by agencies, revitalized neighbourhoods and major shifts in public attitudes”.

Brant Food For Thought staff honoured the memory of past volunteers and contributors who recently passed away: Greg Woodcroft, Ed Schellenberg and Pauline Maidment.  Program Coordinator, Gisèle Budgell, presented an initiative called “The Kindness Ripple Project”, as a way to memorialize friends and supporters of Brant Food For Thought and continue their legacy of giving. Budgell encouraged volunteers to perform random acts of kindness in memory of a past volunteer and urged them to consider what type of ripple effect their actions could create.

Community Development Coordinator, Judy Maidment, thanked all the volunteers. “You are the backbone of this organization. We couldn’t do this without you,” said Maidment. “Thank you for the countless hours that you shop and chop, prepare and deliver healthy snacks and meals to keep the students well-nourished and ready to learn. Your investment of time is so greatly appreciated”.

And investment it is—over 400 nutrition program volunteers in close to 60 programs serving more than 1.1 million snacks and meals are projected to log for the current school year close to 42,700 hours in time. According to the Ontario Trillium Foundation‘s calculations, that translates into more than $725,000. Thank you to everyone who contributes in any way to the success of student nutrition programs in Brantford, the County of Brant and Six Nations of the Grand.