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  • Writer's pictureMartin Zeilig

Mireil Kehler Being Awarded the Sovereign’s Medal for Volunteers

Mireil Kehler was, in her own words, “truly humbled and honoured” to be recognized and to be the recipient of this Sovereign Medal for Volunteers.

Mireil Kehler with the Sovereign’s Medal for Volunteers. Photo credit: Martin Zeilig, Voxair Photojournalist

Her comments were made on the evening of June 8 at a ceremony in the Wing Chapel.

Kehler, Manager of Housing Service Centre for Winnipeg at the Canadian Forces Housing Agency, was awarded the medal for her many years of volunteering with Dreams Take Flight.

In 1989, Dreams Take Flight had their inaugural flight after several Air Canada employees in Toronto planned a trip of a lifetime, notes the their website.

They flew 70 special children on a DC-9 aircraft to Walt Disney World in Florida. By 1997, the charity had expanded across Canada, including a chapter in Winnipeg. Once a year, each chapter replicates the inaugural flight. For a very long and exciting day, children with medical, mental, physical, social or emotional needs get to have an adventure in a world-renowned theme park in California or Florida. All expenses are paid thanks to sponsors and volunteers.

“I have been asked to present Mireil with the Sovereign’s Medal for Volunteers the highest honour for volunteerism in Canada,” Bev Watson, National President of Dreams Take Flight, said at the ceremony.

“Volunteering is the time you give to strengthen your community and improve others’ quality of life as well as your own. It is the practice of providing time and skills for the benefit of others and causes rather than for financial benefit.

“My volunteering evolved from picking up birth certificates for kids at the Vital Stats office during my lunch breaks when I worked at Air Canada, to joining the Winnipeg Chapter Committee Board and being fully part of the entire planning of the children’s registrations to creating my own ‘sub-committee’ to process all the applications, review nominations letters and calling parents to let them know their child was selected.”

Many dreams children touched “my heart in a big way”, she continued.

“The day of flight is a special day for those kids and I know along with the hundreds of other volunteers, that was always the main goal,” Ms. Kehler said.

“I will never forget my first flight as a group leader and the young girl who was so quiet and shy. At the park, she smiled and was so grateful for having this opportunity. She had never experienced a plane ride, never seen so many wonderful people wanting her to have a special day.

She told me about her siblings back home and how she wanted to bring them back a special souvenir, these kids were so thoughtful and thankful.

But what broke my heart is when we arrived back home from the trip. No one showed up to pick up this young girl, no parents or loved ones.

I sat with her for several hours (1 a.m. in the morning) my heart sank, this is when I knew that this little girl deserved a day like this, to put her daily ‘adult problems’ away, so she could just be a kid and have some laughs and smile and have joy in her heart.

This was also true for another young girl who had received a kidney transplant and had to take a bag full of pills each day. She was so polite to ask for a little bit of milk on the plane so she could take her medicine.”

She also mentioned the mother who flew in from a northern community with a baby, and forgot some essentials like baby formula.

“I met her at her hotel to deliver baby formula and a lost birth certificate just so her other child could make it on the flight to Disney world,” Ms. Kehler said.

“These kids changed my world view. Each flight, each year, these are only a few of the many moments which brought a sense of purpose to me and those around me.

The days leading up to the flight were sleepless nights and long, long hours, after working a full time job. But, it’s all been worth it.

The Sovereign’s Medal. Photo credit: Martin Zeilig, Voxair Photojournalist

I share with you all here in this honour because, each and every one of you here has been a support to me, and have helped me to make all these years of volunteering possible.

So to each of you here, a big thank you for being part of my community, and for being part of my story.”

This is not the end, this is a continued story, she emphasized.

“So, I encourage you all to find something that means a lot and become a volunteer. It’s the most fulfilling job you’ll ever have,” Ms. Kehler said.

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