Gwen has impacted the lives of so many in her life and spent 33 years as an Educator in various schools, with most of her career being at Holy Cross School in Winnipeg, MB., and has also played a significant role in developing supports and services for those living with intellectual disabilities.
She has received two prestigious awards in her lifetime. First, in 2002 Gwen was awarded the Queen Elizabeth II Golden Jubilee Medal. It was a commemorative medal created in 2002 to mark the fiftieth anniversary of Elizabeth II’s accession. The medal was awarded in Canada to nominees who contributed to public life. Then in 2015, she was awarded the St. Mary’s Academy Marion Award for Excellence. An award given to recognize and honour loyal alumna for outstanding professional accomplishments, and a commitment of service and generosity to others.
Gwen founded Open Arms Independent Living in 2005 to support her son Anthony, along with two of his peers, and fundraised to build a community home and supported living program.
When she retired from teaching in 2012, she went on to work at Fairfax Community Resources as the Training Coordinator for 8 years offering extensive training services to Direct Support Professionals in providing quality support to those living with intellectual disabilities. She has been now been officially retired for two years.
In addition to sharing these gifts, she is the Founder and Coordinator of the Tabs for Wheelchairs Program here in Manitoba.
The Tabs for Wheelchairs Program raises money through collecting metal pop can tabs in order to purchase specialized wheelchairs and custom mobility enhancements for children and youth. It takes approximately 1500 tabs to make up one pound which converts to about 40 – 60 cents. There are approx. 50,000 tabs in a 30-40 lbs. bag and around 300 – 350 bags (14 – 18 million tabs) get filled each year. An annual presentation is usually held each June at Holy Cross School’s Gymnasium where the recipient(s) is given their brand-new specialized wheelchair. Additionally, the recipient(s) for next year is introduced so that everyone leaves feeling motivated to keep the momentum going.
Gwen continues and has been leading the program for 24 years, with the help of many volunteers and community champions, and they are overjoyed with how many wheelchairs they have been able to provide. Presently, there are over 166 schools, 265 companies/groups and over 150 individuals collecting tabs.
For 19 years, Anthony, Gwen’s son, (who was living with Down Syndrome) was her biggest helper. He bagged 80% of all the tabs that came in every year. “He was such a great worker,” Gwen says. “This was something that we could do together that felt really good and gave Anthony a sense of purpose.” Anthony passed away just two days before the 2017 wheelchair presentation at the age of 32.
Gwen lives to be purposeful and loves helping and meeting people, especially the families. She pays tribute to Anthony by adding, “His passion for bagging the tabs made it an even greater purpose for me. Not only was I helping individuals receive specialized wheelchairs but I was able to spend valuable time with my son doing something that he loved to do. Anthony was such a pleasure and truly a privilege to raise. I learned a great deal from him.”
To learn more and get involved, email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Words of wisdom and empowerment from Gwen
I asked Gwen what she feels has been the most valuable lesson she learned in 2021, and this is what she had to share.
“I think the worldwide pandemic challenges and adversity we experienced in 2021 truly reinforced the most valuable lessons I had learned earlier in my life.
Faith has been my steadfast foundation and I have relied on it to guide me through many difficulties I’ve had to face. I always believed that there was a higher power and purpose, and that even if things didn’t go the way I had planned, by having trust, faith, and perseverance, things could still work out for the greater good in the end.
I had a very different vision for my retirement in 2020 and the time that would follow. However, the circumstances of these last two years once again made me rely on my faith and pushed me to see beyond what I had originally envisioned. The restrictions on nearly all of the activities we never gave a second thought to before was an opportunity to step back and think about what really mattered. What was most important, and how in the face of our current situation, could I still make it happen?
All my life, I believed that “Happiness is in Giving”. Even though I actually couldn’t be physically present with family and friends at this particular time, there was still an opportunity to reach out to all those who could benefit from either an early morning “happy” text, a friendly phone call checking up to see how they were doing, running an errand for someone who couldn’t get out otherwise or delivering surprise Tim Horton’s sandwich breakfasts.
If the past couple of years have shown us anything, it’s that we have to focus on what truly matters, persevere beyond the barrier of our present circumstances, and even in these dark times, find ways to be a light to those around us!”
I asked Gwen to share her message of strength and empowerment for other women to start 2022 with a positive mindset, and this is her inspiring response.
“Life will always have many challenges and difficulties. It’s our choice whether we approach them with a negative mindset, or make the effort to try and be as positive as we can.
As Mother Teresa said: “Not all of us can do great things but we can all do small things with great love!” No matter the situation, if we are guided by this quote, always striving for outcomes that extend great love and care to others, we all have the opportunity to make a lasting positive impact and difference.
I believe this is how we need to continue to step into 2022 and keep moving forward. With an ongoing pandemic and raging war, love, kindness, and generosity are more important than ever!
We all have different experiences, different talents, and different ideas. In whatever ways we can, let’s use our gifts and be the change we want to see in the world!”
WOW! What an incredible honour to be able to share Gwen’s story with you. A woman who truly takes the time to care and share her gifts with the world – there is such uplifting hope that comes from acts of kindness and her pure heart. Her passion and zest for life and helping others is truly inspiring. Thank you for reading Gwen’s story, and let’s keep supporting and empowering each other as we continue the journey to live our best lives!
GWEN YOU ARE PHENOMENAL!!!