Strong Start volunteers make such a difference in the lives of children in our community. Whether they are working one-on-one with children in schools as Letters, Sounds and WordsTM Volunteer Coaches, with groups of children in community centres as Get Ready for SchoolTM Volunteer Instructors, or in our office as Materials Assistants, their gift of time is truly priceless.

On April 13, 2016, the contributions of two outstanding Strong Start volunteers were recognized at the Kitchener-Waterloo Volunteer Action Centre’s Volunteer Impact Awards, a wonderful way to celebrate National Volunteer Week. Dawna Whitehead won in the category of Youth Mentorship and is one of Strong Start’s longest standing Letters, Sounds and Words volunteers. Marian Snyder won in the category of Administrative Action, going above and beyond to help the staff at Strong Start’s office in a variety of tasks.

Here is a small excerpt from the nomination letters which helped lead to their awards.

Dawna Whitehead

Dawna Whitehead is one of Strong Start’s longest serving and most dedicated volunteers. She has been helping young children learn to read for more than 13 years as a Letters, Sounds and Words Volunteer Coach and received the Wilmot Township Citizen of the Year Award in 2013 for her involvement with Strong Start. Dawna is also the Site Co-ordinator for the program at Forest Glen P.S. Her passion for advancing Strong Start’s vision – all children read – is what makes her invaluable and unique.

When Dawna’s son was recommended for the Letters, Sounds and Words program many years ago, she saw the incredible gains he made in his literacy development and self-confidence. She recognized that if her son needed help, so did other children, and that’s what motivated her to join Strong Start as a Volunteer Coach.

Most recently, Dawna suffered from a medical ailment that made it difficult for her to manage some of the physical aspects of the Site Co-ordinator role. Her volunteers rallied around her, supporting her at the school, so that she could continue to run the program from home. It’s clear that the spirit of her volunteers in this instance is a reflection of her own dedication to Strong Start.

Dawna has invested over 13 years in Strong Start as both a Volunteer Coach and Site Coordinator. She has volunteered over 400 hours, across more than 250 weeks, and coached more than 75 children. Dawna is a perfect Strong Start ambassador, because she embodies the attributes of a dedicated and passionate volunteer. Dawna is helping make a difference in the lives of so many children and volunteers.


Photo: Dawna Whitehead accepts the Youth Mentorship award from Karen Redman, former MPP, and Jill Brush, Past Board Chair, Kitchener Waterloo Volunteer Action Centre.

Marian Snyder

Marian Snyder is an inspiration to all of the Strong Start staff, and a KW Volunteer Action Centre success story. She volunteers her time at Strong Start’s provincial office as a way to help children in the Letters, Sounds and Words and Get Ready for School programs. She also volunteers as an outlet to help her feel healthy and happy, making her contributions and role invaluable and unique. She found Strong Start’s opportunity on the KW Volunteer Action Centre’s website.

Since joining Strong Start in June 2013, Marian invests more than 15 hours a week, joining the full-time staff every Tuesday and Wednesday. As of late, she’s been donating even more of her time helping the Get Ready for School program team during their busiest time of the year.

Marian can often be found packaging games and materials for both programs, entering program information into our database, and advising the staff on the most creative and efficient ways to get jobs done. She is very task and detail oriented, which makes her a self-sufficient volunteer. Her keen eye picks up on typos or missing items in a game, which saves the organization time and money. She brings fun and humour to the office with her quick wit and great story-telling ability. She sometimes brings her Service Dog, Peace, to the office as well.

Marian’s commitment to Strong Start is impressive. She is an active member in her Church, and comes from a large family with 11 siblings, 25 nieces and nephews and 20 great nieces and nephews. Her favourite past time is spending time with her three cats and dog. It’s an honour and privilege that she shares her time with Strong Start.


Photo: Marian Snyder accepts the Administrative Action award from Yvonne Fernandes, City of Kitchener Councillor, and Heather Rennie, Director, Kitchener Waterloo Volunteer Action Centre.

We extend our heartfelt congratulations to both Dawna and Marian on their awards and thank them so much for their commitment to our community. We also extend our sincere appreciation to all volunteers, making a difference in the life of a child. We truly are better together!

Photo (left to right): Strong Start staff Leslie Tinning, Christina Proctor, Inge Ford, Kirsten Carr, Machelle Denison, Iwona Dmitrienko, and Caitlin Smith, celebrate with award recipients Marian Snyder and Dawna Whitehead (centre) at the Volunteer Impact Awards.

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