Each year, the Rick Hansen Foundation presents a Difference Maker of the Year award to recognize one Canadian student who has followed in Hansen’s footsteps by overcoming adversity to make an outstanding contribution to his or her community.
This year, a Williams Lake student has won the award.
“Definitely awesome,” said Hayden Kalelest during an interview last week during the Punky Lake Wilderness Hockey Camp he was participating in at the Cariboo Memorial Complex.
The Difference Maker of the Year Award was announced by the foundation Monday Aug. 29 with comments coming from Rick Hansen himself a few days later.
“I want to extend a heartfelt congratulations to Hayden Kalelest, a Williams Lake local, for being the Rick Hansen Difference Maker of the Year,” Hansen said in recognizing the award.
“We need more youth like Hayden who truly lead by example both at school and in his First Nations community. Hayden’s courage, perseverance and leadership are what our next generation of future leaders are made of.”
His auntie Anna Kalelest, who was with Hayden at the hockey camp was equally thrilled that Hayden won the award? “I think it’s awesome. He’ deserves it. He’s come a long way.”
Hayden contracted a respiratory virus when he was nine months old, causing diminished lung capacity and as a result has struggled with various physical and learning difficulties.
Despite his challenges Hayden leads by example.
A Grade 6 student at Marie Sharpe Elementary School, Hayden is going into Grade 7 at Lake City Secondary’s Columneetza Campus this week.
During his time at Marie Sharpe, Hayden has become a positive role model for his peers, both at school and in his First Nations community.
He’s an enthusiastic leader on his sports teams, and has taken a teammate with autism under his wing, encouraging the student to compete, said Marie Sharpe Principal Calvin Dubray in the letter recommending Hayden for the award.
Inspired by a Grade 7 student who mentored him in the school’s Big Buddy Reading Program, Hayden mentored several vulnerable younger students to help them appreciate the value of reading at any skill level.
He was also a popular lunch monitor for the Grade 1 and 2 students, comforting them when they hurt themselves on the playground.
He has embraced other activities at his school, from setting up chairs and tables for special events, to participating on the Student Leadership team, to representing the school in showcases such as Hoop Dancing.
Since Hayden has taken on (and been given) more leadership responsibilities in the past two years, he has changed noticeably as a student, Dubray said.
His family also believes his life changed during this time when he participated in a sweat lodge with his uncle and connected with his spirituality and culture, Dubray said, adding that this year Hayden won the school’s Most Improved student award.
“I like helping,” Hayden said in his interview at the hockey camp.
He also talked about the fun he and fellow students had helping out the Marie Sharpe parent advisory group in August to provide the Kid Zone activities at the South Cariboo Garlic Festival.
“We helped with the activities we all sold 500 raffle tickets,” Hayden said.
Going in to Grade 7 at Lake City Secondary’s Columneetza campus this week Hayden said he is looking forward to making new friends and continuing to play hockey.
He said he has been on skates almost from the time he could walk and has been playing hockey since he was six years old and enjoys volunteering at Stampeder games.
He says his favourite subjects are math, social studies and despite limitations of his lung condition, physical education.
“I’m just trying to be my best,” Hayden said in the school interview for the award.
In transitioning to middle school this year, Hayden said he hopes to play as many sports as possible, despite relying on puffers to ease the pressure in his lungs.
By continuing to embrace his challenges head on and overcome obstacles, Hayden is truly a Difference Maker the foundation stated in announcing the award.
In 2016, the Rick Hansen school program received 1,671 requests for Difference Maker certificates.
To be nominated for the Difference Maker award registered educators who request certificates are asked to share outstanding stories about their students.
For more information about the program check out http://www.rickhansen.com/Blog/ArtMID/13094/ArticleID/129/Announcing-the-Rick-Hansen-2016-Difference-Maker-of-the-Year.