The Queen Elizabeth II Platinum Jubilee Medal is a provincially designated award, created to celebrate the 70th anniversary year of Queen Elizabeth II’s Accession to the Throne in 2022. A total of 7,000 medals will be awarded to Saskatchewanians who have made meaningful contributions to their communities. This year, we nominated three of our longtime volunteers. They were honoured at an award ceremony in late winter. Lawrence, Lila, and Walter have spent thousands of hours volunteering with our clients, from one-on-one mentorship to weekly English classes. Their work furthers our vision: they treat newcomers as valued equals and build lasting friendships with our clients that extend past the walls of GGP.
After decades as a reporter for the Star Phoenix, Lawrence Thoner chose to devote his retirement to supporting newcomers. Since 2009, he has spent thousands of hours volunteering with our clients. For 13 years, he has faithfully attended a weekly conversation program where he welcomes Saskatoon’s newest residents, helping them to improve their English and adapt to their new home. In 2019, he began assisting in our Literacy and CLB 1-2 classes English class, providing invaluable individual support to students with the lowest familiarity with English. Lawrence has a keen sense of who is in need of extra support, and his multilingualism enhances his ability to connect with clients and help them to feel heard. He is also a fantastic mentor, committing to many one-on-one sessions over the years. In the past year alone, he spent over 300 hours volunteering with GGP clients.
In addition to supporting clients, Lawrence is also an irreplaceable gift to GGP’s employees. GGP’s Management Team and Volunteer Coordinator can always count on him to step in and help wherever needed. In fact, in 2011 Lawrence was asked to join the Board of Directors, where he fulfilled the roles of secretary and president. He also volunteers at special events and even lends his journalistic expertise, editing proposals and reports for the Management Team. He is a compassionate, patient, and giving man who thoroughly deserves recognition for the lives his support has changed forever.
Lila Henderson has been with GGP since the very first day we opened. Almost 24 years later, she is a continued joyful presence in our office and a gift to our clients. Over the years, she has gone out of her way to offer friendship and laughter to so many newcomers. From her cheerful presence at Coffee and Conversation to her generosity in taking many interested clients to local arts events, she has continuously treated vulnerable people as esteemed equals. Lila also has a unique skill for communicating with clients who understand very little English, offering them crucial moments of connection and understanding.
Lila has volunteered in various roles throughout Saskatoon, from the Summer Players Theatre Association to her weekly morning in a first grade classroom. We are so lucky that she chose to make GGP one of her homes. Pictured above, she is making our day back in 2014, dressed in a Queen Victoria costume from a comic theatre production she did with Persephone Theatre. Lila’s lively spirit and good humour encourage the sense of ease and comfort that defines GGP to so many.
Since 2010, Walter Bergen has been devoting his Thursday afternoons to GGP’s Coffee and Conversation program, assisting refugees and immigrants to expand their English language skills and sharing invaluable knowledge as a Saskatoon-native. On warmer Thursdays, you will see Walter as pictured above: in a circle of chairs on GGP’s front lawn, engaging a group of clients in personable conversation. Over the years, he has assisted with GGP’s community events and programs at the drop of a hat. During his tenure on GGP’s Board of Directors, he was active in several committees and helped our organization get to where we are today.
Walter has also spent countless hours assisting clients one-on-one through GGP’s Mentorship program. What sets Walter apart as a mentor is his long-term investment in his mentees and the professional knowledge he brings to their conversations. His Masters in Psychology and background in teaching are a perfect fit for this role. When there is a client who needs more complex support from a mentor, Walter is the natural choice. He builds genuine friendships with GGP clients that continue years beyond their formal Mentorship sessions.
When asked why he volunteers, Walter said, “I feel I’m rewarded more than I give. I’ve learned so much about other countries. I really enjoy meeting new people, and not just meeting them but getting to know them.”