What it Means to be a Hero

What it Means to be a Hero

Life sometimes provides those unique moments that give us a window into the harsh realities of life for so many in our community. But within these unique moments, life can also provide joy and an opportunity to live through the eyes of a child, providing a sense of wonder and excitement.

Last December, I had the incredible opportunity for such a moment when I attended the annual Holiday with a Hero event in Chatham-Kent. The event left an impression on me that will last a lifetime. Over 100 children between the ages of 5 – 12 were dropped off by parents and guardians at the local Walmart on a cold Saturday morning in December for an unforgettable experience. These children either did not have the opportunity to give or receive holiday gifts due to their socio-economic situation or have had a negative experience with uniformed personnel, such as a parent/guardian being arrested or the child being removed from the family home. Paired with a Hero—a uniformed member from Chatham-Kent OPP, Chatham-Kent Police, Fire Department or Paramedic Services—each child received a $100 Walmart gift card to shop for holiday gifts for their friends and family. The only caveat was that each child had to also select a gift for themselves.

Consider the wonder of this experience through  the eyes of these children. Shopping for gifts at Walmart with uniformed personnel certainly provided a positive environment in which these children could experience the magic of the holiday season and where they could see uniforms in a new light.

My husband, who was the Chatham-Kent OPP Detachment Commander at the time, and I were paired with a young boy around 10 years of age. He was excited and nervous and keen to select the right gifts for his siblings. What stole my heart however, and drove home the importance of this event, was the young boy’s desire to purchase deodorant for his uncle. Something as simple as a stick of deodorant speaks volumes to the types of situations these children find themselves in through no fault of their own. The opportunity to be in the presence of such a humble 10 year old was one of those unique moments in life – a window into life’s harsh realities for so many and a reflection on the honour it is to be able to give back to those in need.

The excitement continued for these children as they were driven across town in a school bus with an escort of emergency vehicles with full lights and sirens. The procession ended at the local convention centre where they were treated to a pancake breakfast with Santa, bouncy castles, fun and games, and an opportunity to wrap their gifts. And of course, Santa arrived on the back of a firetruck!

This event left so much of an impression on me that I was determined to bring this event to our communities. As the Canadian Forces Base (CFB) Borden representative on the United Way Simcoe Muskoka Board of Directors, partnering with United Way was the perfect opportunity.

On November 30, 2019, United Way Simcoe Muskoka will bring the first annual Holiday with a Hero event to Simcoe Muskoka and I couldn’t be more excited! Our event has partnered with the YMCA Simcoe Muskoka and Barrie North Walmart and will bring 75 children identified through Family Connexions to Holiday with a Hero. Uniformed Heroes are volunteering from Barrie Police, Ontario Provincial Police, Barrie Fire Department, the County of Simcoe Paramedic Services and CFB Borden.

If you want to give the gift of an unforgettable holiday season and want to help us make Holiday with a Hero possible, click here to donate. 100% of donated funds will go towards the event to make this day truly incredible.

About the author

Lieutenant-Colonel Charleen Coulbeck is the Base Administration Officer for Canadian Forces Base Borden. She has been in the Canadian Armed Forces since 1997 and currently is a member of UWSM’s Board of Directors and a volunteer on the External Relations Committee. LCol Coulbeck participated with her husband, Acting Inspector Brad Coulbeck of the OPP, in Holiday with a Hero in Chatham-Kent last year. LCol Coulbeck has been instrumental in bringing Holiday with a Hero to Simcoe Muskoka.

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