My Volunteer Story: Michele Ward

A retiree in 2012 from the local school board after 28 years teaching business studies, later part of special education and ESL programs, Michele Ward continues her involvement in volunteering, a journey that began in 1997.

That journey started at the Trillium Mississauga Hospital, where every Thursday night for a whole year, Michele was the face of patient inquiry at the site, as well as fielding phone inquiries from patients’ relatives and friends.

In 2001, it so happened that, after adopting a son, Michele had occasion to visit the Byngmount Early Years play centre in Lakeview (Mississauga), an outing that became a daily destination for her son, and ultimately saw mother as a significant participant volunteering in its community kitchen. As often happens, her volunteering evolved into a leadership role, and from 2001 to 2004, ever the teacher, Michele conducted ‘cooking classes’ for parents that included newcomers who both needed and wanted to learn Canadian cooking techniques, ingredients, recipes, with English skills as an added bonus!

‘Special needs’ education during the latter part of her teaching career proved to be a real handful, as one might expect, yet there was a hidden benefit associated with concentration in that program: Michele developed an easy rapport with vulnerable students and people who genuinely need more than ‘a little extra attention’ in order to have a proper, productive, and meaningful place in the community.

When she retired in 2012, she brought this experience to Port Credit’s Compass (a well-known food bank and local community outreach centre), where she began volunteering in its kitchen twice a week, cooking in meal programs for Compass clients and the public that continue to this day.

In the past 2 years, Michele has focused on that organization’s weekly men’s group, where for many, she has been both a constant contributor cooking and a ‘den mother’, always willing and ready to lend an ear, plus a helping hand outside the kitchen for Compass clients. She also assists in collection of food items from local merchants, firmly believing that product that may no longer be saleable ought not to go to waste.

Her personal philosophy that embraces volunteering: “Learn, Earn, and then Return.” To accomplish this for as long as she has, Michele has not let diabetes and other health issues curb her enthusiasm or her resolve to continue to volunteer. And there’s absolutely no doubt that she does make a significant difference, in addition to being active in mind and body, which helps her own health and wellness.