Students achieve Duke of Edinburgh gold awards

Governor General presents honour during ceremony

Right Hon. David Johnston, Governor General of Canada, presented several South Shore students with prestigious gold Duke of Edinburgh awards on April 22 at Saint Mary’s University in Halifax, at a ceremony held to celebrate their achievement.

Forty-five Canadian youth volunteers were presented with the gold awards of achievement, including five individuals from this area.

“Honestly, I’m most excited about meeting the Governor General because he’s pretty high up in the chain and I don’t normally see people that high up in the chain,” said Gregory Curry of Chester Basin, who achieved the award through Royal Canadian Sea Cadet Corp 351 Llewellyn, the Chester branch of the Navy League of Canada, before attending the ceremony. “I mean, you may see them in the news once in a while, but actually meeting them in person is quite a neat thing.”

Dean Larder of New Ross also achieved his award through this organization. Allison Smith, a former student of Park View Education Centre, and Meghan Ernst, set to graduate this spring, both live in Lunenburg and achieved the award through their school. Carla du Toit of Conquerall Mills was also recognized for her volunteer efforts in her community. She received the award independent of an organization.

“I really just enjoy helping others. That’s just what I wanted to do since I was little,” said Ms Smith, who is now 19 and enrolled in the continuing-care program at the Nova Scotia Community College campus in Lunenburg. “I think probably the biggest influence was my mom. She always gets out and volunteers a lot and she would take us with her, and I think it just became something I liked to do as well.” Ms Smith was already doing most of the activities required to achieve the award on her own when a teacher recommended the opportunity to her. Now, her two younger sisters are also enlisted in the Duke of Edinburgh program, and they recently received bronze and silver awards.

The same teacher signed Ms Ernst up for the program. “She automatically signed me up because it was about volunteer work and outdoor activity, and those are the two things that I really enjoy,” she said, adding that she learned more about herself and found herself through the program. She will enter the nursing program at the University of Prince Edward Island after she graduates.

The award program, in essence, is a self-development program. It’s a personal challenge available to participants between the ages of 14 and 24 that recognizes life skills contributing to a participant’s ability to make a difference to him or herself, his or her community and the world.

“I definitely learned a lot more than I thought I was capable of, and it basically pushes or challenges you to try different things, and that’s what I definitely got out of it,” said Mr. Curry, who became involved in the program through cadets. “I discovered myself as I was progressing through the program.” Mr. Curry is now a graduate of Forest Heights Community School and has joined the Canadian Forces. When not working in the navy, he’s teaching wrestling at Sackville Sports Stadium, which involves a combination of skills he picked up while going through this program.

With adult guidance and assessment, participants of the non-competitive and self-directed program are challenged and assessed in four areas: service to the community, physical participation in various recreational activities, an individual skill they possess and have developed, and an adventurous journey or outdoor expedition. To qualify for the gold award, participants must also take part in a residential project that requires spending five days and four nights doing a planned project or training in the company of unfamiliar peers. Ms Smith attended a leadership camp at Acadia University before heading off to high school, Mr. Curry trained as a fitness and sports instructor at a cadet camp and Ms Ernst attended Ecounters with Canada in Ontario.

Since the program began in 1956, over eight million youth in 143 countries have achieved this recognition for undertaking numerous voluntary and challenging activities, including over 500,000 youth from Canada since 1963. Over 44,000 motivated volunteers from Canada participate in the program each year. The award has operated in Nova Scotia since 1972, and over 4,000 people have achieved bronze, silver and gold awards in that time.

“If any youth have the chance to do this program, do it, because it definitely shows you new skills, gives you more confidence and attributes that you never knew you even had until you started this program,” said Mr. Curry.

The Governor General attended the ceremony in Halifax as the national chair of the Duke of Edinburgh’s Award in Canada.

“This award exemplifies and acknowledges those who contribute to their communities in meaningful ways, practice good citizenship, and self-development,” said Connie Miller, Nova Scotia executive director of the Duke of Edinburgh’s Awards, in a press release for the event. “It’s not hard to imagine the significant contributions these young people have made, and will continue to make, to the fabric of life in Canada because of their participation in the Duke of Edinburgh’s Award.”

As originally published in LighthouseNOW Progress Bulletin

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