By Manotick Messenger Staff
History was made at Manotick Place Saturday night.
The Manotick Next Generation Kiwanis Club received its charter, becoming the first club of its kind in Canada and the fourth in North America.
The club grew out of the Key Club, sponsored by the Manotick Kiwanis Club at high schools in the area. The Kiwanis Key Club is an international service organization for high school students. As a student-led organization, Key Club’s goal is to encourage leadership through serving others. Key Club International is the high school branch of the Kiwanis International family, classifying as a Service Leadership Program and more specifically as a Kiwanis Youth Program.
The charter night drew a large crowd of Kiwanis Club members from the Manotick club and from the Ottawa club. Longtime Manotick Messenger publisher and editor Jeff Morris was the guest speaker. It was the first time Morris has spoken publicly about his stem cell transplant and his ongoing battle with multiple myeloma, an incurable blood plasma cancer. Morris was hospitalized for most of November, 2020. In 2019, he lost a quarter of his skull to a tumour and required emergency brain surgery. Morris spoke about the miracle that led to his cancer diagnosis, and the positive effects that battling cancer has had in his life.
He also spoke directly to the young people in the Kiwanis Club, telling them the things that he wished he could go back in time and tell his 18-year-old self, including the true meaning of the word ‘hero.’
“Everyone in this room is a hero,” he said. “The word ‘hero’ is often misused. You aren’t a hero if you score a goal in the Stanley Cup or get a touchdown in the Super Bowl. Maybe you can be a role model, but not a hero. Heroes are people that make selfless sacrifices to make their community a better place. Every person in this room is part of the 10 per cent who give, not the 90 per cent who take. Those are true heroes.”
Kiwanis International Past Governor Phil Rossy served as the emcee for the evening. Rossy praised the commitment and dedication of the young Kiwanians, and congratulated them on becoming the first Kiwanis Next Generation Club in Canada.
One of the Next Generation members, Milind Kumar, is a leukemia survivor who gave a riveting speech about the role volunteering has played in his life. Kumar told his story of how he woke up one night with severe back pain. He was taken to hospital, where it was discovered that he had leukemia. He talked about how having leukemia changed his life and his priorities, and how the group of volunteers in the Manotick Kiwanis Next Generation Club were super heroes.
Aaya Mahdi, who just finished her first year of studies at the University of Ottawa, is the President of the new club. She has been a volunteer in the community for several years and became involved in the Key Club while she was a student at John McCrae Secondary school in Barrhaven.
“I wanted to start a volunteer group at our school, but I didn’t know how,” Mahdi said. “I found the Key Club, and then I found the Manotick Kiwanis Club, who sponsored Key Clubs at different schools. I contacted them and we had a meeting at the library, and it took off from there.”
Mahdi said she was introduced to volunteer work by her mother, who is a social worker.
“I always loved helping out,” she said. “I loved setting up and taking down for volunteer events. I loved getting out and meeting people and being a part of something positive. I even did a puppet show for kids at the local public library.”
With guidance from the Manotick Kiwanis Club, Mahdi put the word out at her school about the new club. She called a meeting, which included some free pizza.
“People kept coming to the meetings, even when there wasn’t pizza,” she said.
The club started by doing things like reading to kids at the library, or making sandwiches for homeless people at the Ottawa shelter.
Mahdi said the club was doing well, and it was growing. Then, in March 2020, COVID-19 arrived.
“The club had begun to grow,” Mahdi said. “We had a very successful first year. And then, COVID hit.”
With Mahdi and many of the club members in Grade 12 during the 2020-21 school year, the club had to adapt.
“It was challenging for us to stay active during that year, but we did some memorable things,” Madhi said. “We produced a video for front line workers to thank them for everything they had done during the pandemic. We were also able to help run the Relay for Life event.”
Several schools run a Relay for Life event each year. The event is a fundraiser for the Canadian Cancer Society. With one of the members of the group fighting leukemia, the event took on special meaning. Kumar was Madhi’s doubles partner on the McCrae high school badminton team, and they have been friends for years.
“A lot of things were put on hold during the pandemic and the lockdowns,” Mahdi said. “But cancer didn’t stop. It was important that we were able to have an event.”
Throughout the year, the club found creative ways to raise funds and to keep the students engaged. They hosted virtual trivia nights and had other online events. The year was not the way the group wanted to spend their last year of high school, but Mahdi said the lessons learned in being resilient and adapting to unexpected situations proved to be invaluable.
Mahdi said that the most important thing their Key Club learned from the Manotick Kiwanis Club was developing leadership skills.
“Traditionally in a Key Club, the President will bring in projects and everyone will work on them,” she said. “I wanted our club to be different, and have every member come up with a cause. We had 70 members in our club, and each member brought in a cause they wanted to do a project for. I wanted every person in the club to experience being a leader. Kiwanis is a great service organization, but it is also a great leadership institution.”
Although she is now a student at uOttawa, Mahdi went back to McCrae to visit the club and see how things were going. Part of being in a leadership position in a Key Club is to ensure that the next group of leaders is ready to step in and run the club.
“I hope what we started continues to grow from year to year,” she said.
With the Manotick Kiwanis Next Generation Club, Mahdi is also hoping for growth.
“There was a group of us that stayed in Ottawa to go to school, but many of our members went to Queen’s, or Western, or a school in another part of the province,” she said. “We have a solid group now and we are hoping to grow as word gets out about who we are and what we are doing. We are meeting once a month so it is a low commitment, but we will have a lower commitment with a bigger impact in the community.”
Rossy and Manotick Kiwanis President Debbie Mulvihill presented the club’s charter to Mahdi. Both praised her and the group for the tremendous work and initiative they have taken to get the club off the ground and to grow volunteerism in the community.