Marg Graff’s volunteer legacy is evolving.
Where once she shaped young change-makers in the classroom as a champion of service learning, these days, she’s more a connecting piece to community service. No matter where she is, be it her husband’s bakery (Almonte’s beloved Baker Bob’s) or on a train headed out of town, Marg regularly finds herself in conversation with would-be-change-makers.
And so, unintentional though it may be, Marg has become something of an unofficial volunteer recruiter.
With over nine years of experience in service learning through WE Schools, her guidance in this area is priceless. Similarly, as a veteran volunteer, she is privy to a treasure trove of open opportunities.
Having vowed to slow down this year, these impromptu exchanges help Marg fill in the gaps as doors to volunteerism continue to “creak open.”
Helping others is a habit Marg picked up from her days at the front of the classroom—one she actively passes on. When an elementary school teacher, she nurtured groups of youth eager to make a difference through curriculum from the WE Schools program. She steered students along as they connected units of study to their own social impact in the world. Through WE Schools campaigns, Marg’s classroom filled up with change-makers, taking on causes to better the local and global community.
Over the years, Marg watched as her students grew into passionate teenagers, and then, mindful young adults—just as she had hoped.
What Marg didn’t foresee when she brought the WE Schools program to Huntley Centennial Public School was how it would energize her own vigor for social action. Like a boomerang, inspiring young change-makers circled back to Marg, sending her diving heart-first into community volunteering.
“As I worked alongside these amazing young people—so determined to make a difference in the world—I became more and more interested in following in their footsteps,” she recalls.
From here, her list of extracurricular activities began to lengthen. Marg helped her husband and son with their fundraising efforts. She became a companion for the elderly. She started volunteering at a breakfast program in her neighbourhood. And, after being nominated by former students and fellow teachers as an inspirational force in the school, she even travelled to Ecuador on a Staples-sponsored ME to WE trip to lend a hand on a building project.
While retired from teaching, Marg’s passion for service learning remains a central motivator in her life. She continues to spread the benefits of the WE Schools by helping teachers within her community set up the program in their classrooms. “I want to encourage educators to help their students follow their passions,” she explains. “These kids are the people who are going to make the world a better place.”
Marg’s students are the foundation of her legacy as a change-maker. As she helped them find ways to change the lives of others at home and around the world, she changed theirs.
Take Addy Strickland for example, a self-proclaimed “shy kid” who didn’t think her quiet voice was worth sharing. “Marg convinced me that you didn’t have to be loud to be a leader,” Addy says. “ was the first person in my life to tell me that I could change the world.”
Addy points to the way Marg utilized campaigns like WE Create Change and WE Walk for Water not only as an opportunity for service learning, but a chance for artistic creation. For Addy, this seeded the inspiration that would lead her to found The Dream Catcher project. A creative collaboration with H’Art of Ottawa Studio, The Dream Catcher is an artistic platform for youth to share their dreams with others.
Like Addy, another former student of Marg’s, Kaitlyn Hemstreet, found her calling through WE School’s campaigns. While contributing to campaigns like WE are Silent—a campaign to understand and support people who have been stripped of their voice and their rights—Kaitlyn realized she could dance to make a difference. She choreographed a dance called Unapologetic Beauty, which sparked the launch of the Unapologetic Beauty Project. Through Dandelion Dance Studio, the initiative provides free resources, including toolkits and online services for schools, communities and individuals to help young women embrace their beauty and think critically about conventional beauty standards.
For Kaitlyn—who studies International Development with Teacher Education Stream at Trent University—it’s projects like these that excite her, projects that allow her to combine her affinity for the arts and social justice, projects that Marg inspired. “Her wisdom, passion, and overall being made me want to go to school and be involved…” Kaitlyn shares, “a feeling that only special educators can create for their students.”
Kaitlyn and Addy are merely two of the many students that Marg mentored. Her involvement in school plays, student council and of course, the ME to WE club enabled a wide reach across the student popular. Every interaction with students was another opportunity to shape these individuals into passionate leaders, who would one day lead their own action, while passing on the lessons taught to them by Mrs. Graff.
Through her work, as a teacher and volunteer, Marg set out to help others—hoping, as she says, to “make as much of a difference to them as they make in my life.”
If the success of this goal were to be graded by the weight of compassion and social contributions amassed by her former students, it’s safe to say Marg Graff would earn an A+. A guiding influence in the life of countless youth, this change-maker has helped shape a future led by caring and compassionate young Canadians. Thanks to educators like her, Canada’s kids are more than alright, they’re leaders.
Sarah Fox has a natural curiosity for people’s lives. She loves to hear about them, write about them and live different ones herself.