'A crazy, wonderful day' for 30 volunteers

From the Windsor Star

Rather than “tooting their own horn,” Families First did something really nice Wednesday to celebrate 20 years in business, said Cookie Rigo, one of 30 local volunteers treated to a luncheon in their honour.

“Lovely, but a little overwhelming,” Rigo said near the end of the soiree at the funeral home’s Dougall Avenue location, where volunteers were recognized with plaques and $100 gift cards to nearby Toscana restaurant. A volunteer for more than 30 years at Tecumseh Goodfellows, Rigo said she’s not accustomed to being recognized, and would prefer to stay behind the scenes doing her part for people less fortunate.

When they learned they were being nominated, many of these volunteers expressed the same kind of humility, said Families First vice-president Jen Wells.

“So many of them said ‘It’s not enough, don’t recognize me, I’m only one person,” she said. The brief summaries of their contributions that were read aloud is evidence, she said, that each of these individuals have made a “tremendous impact.”

Ranging from 17-year-olds to retirees, these people have collectively raised millions and devoted countless hours over many years. They were nominated primarily by the organizations they work for. Rather than choose from 31 impressive biographies to select one volunteer of the year, Families First decided to honour them all. 

The Families First funeral home held a 20th anniversary celebration and honoured volunteers on Wednesday, May 4, 2016, in Windsor.The Families First funeral home held a 20th anniversary celebration and honoured volunteers on Wednesday, May 4, 2016, in Windsor.

Brian Parent, who founded Families First with his wife Mary-Lynn — growing it to four locations in Windsor, LaSalle and Amherstburg — told the volunteers: “You have touched the hearts and souls of people in ways you can never imagine.”

Each of them was given a corsage to wear during the event. To the audience, he said: “I’m going to ask everyone here today, when we’re done, if you see a flower, give them a hug.”

The volunteers include:

  • Windsor Police Const. Celia Gagnon, for her work on the Dragon Boat Races, Ride for Dad, Special Olympics and the police’s VIP program.
  • University of Windsor social work student Michelle Cvetkovski, 21, who helps Windsor Regional Hospital, University of Windsor Peer Support, Paws for Stress, the Humane Society, Erie Wildlife Rescue, the Red Cross and St. Anne’s church.
  • Sally MacDonnell, a volunteer for 25 years at the Hospice, devoting 12,000 hours.
  • Claude Clothier, 83, known as Mr. Chocolate Lover for his annual Chocolate Lover’s Brunch that has raised more than $80,000 for the Victorian Order of Nurses.
  • Julie Bondy, a main organizer for many intiatives supporting Autism Ontario.
  • Cherie Smith, an “incredible animal advocate” who is dedicated to rescuing animals from the street as well as “kill” shelters.
  • George Robillard, at 82 the longest-serving volunteer at Windsor Goodfellows, who has helped the needy for 55 years. 
  • Ettore Bonatto, a longtime volunteer devoted to Windsor Light Opera.
  • Mike Naismith, a valuable volunteer at Connections Early Years Family Centre.
  • Launa Fleming, a longstanding volunteer for Riverside Minor Hockey.
  • Beryl Rogers Perz, who helps out with programs at the Seasons Amherstburg retirement home.
  • Chelsea Girard, 17, a high school student who has worked for more than 20 charities.
  • Karen Usher, a volunteer responsible for the life-sized gingerbread house at the Amherstburg River Lights festival.
  • Anne Marie Beausoeil, an organizer of fundraising events for more than 20 years for the local branch of Cystic Fibrosis Canada.
  • Cierra Bray, a St. Clair College student who volunteers for various organizations including TLC Animal Aid, Cystic Fibrosis Canada and the mayor’s youth leadership team.
  • Barry Bartlelt, a volunteer and advocate for veterans at the Royal Canadian Legion Branch 143.
  • Ron Riley, a 13-year volunteer for Meals on Wheels.
  • Margaret Cowie, 83, who takes care of her wheelchair-bound daughter and two ill grandchildren, and has volunteered for 47 years for the Canadian Red Cross.
  • Bonnie Lelievre, who has helped raise more than $120,000 for the Hospice.
  • John MacDonald, a longtime Amherstburg volunteer on civic, church, and heritage committees.
  • Rob and Nancy Campagna, who raised $70,000 this year alone by organizing the Run for Rocky in memory of their late son, with proceeds supporting gay straight alliances in schools.
  • Eliza Lappan, who has volunteered hundreds of hours working on Cogeco broadcasts of municipal councils and sports events.
  • John Fairley, who helped create the Face to Face campaign for Hospice, raising more than $700,000.
  • Marian Angus, a volunteer at Hospice since 1978.
  • Marcel and Marc Tourangeau, brothers who do handyman jobs for anyone in need of help.
  • Theresa Reaume, who has helped raise more than $400,000 for Transition to Betterness and volunteers for Hospice and Hotel-Dieu Grace Hospital.
  • Lorri Keys, a volunteer since 2002 for the Canadian Diabetes Association.


Families First founders Mary-Lynn and Brian Parent held a 20th anniversary celebration of their funeral home business by honouring 30 local volunteers on Wednesday, May 4, 2016, in Windsor.Families First founders Mary-Lynn and Brian Parent held a 20th anniversary celebration of their funeral home business by honouring 30 local volunteers on Wednesday, May 4, 2016, in Windsor.

“This is a crazy, wonderful day,” said Lorrie Keys, who like many of these volunteers says she doesn’t do it for recognition. “I do it because I have fun and meet all these people.”

Volunteer Theresa Reaume said when she arrived at the funeral home she wasn’t expecting such an outpouring of appreciation. “Wow, it’s overwhelming,” said Reaume, who said she’s not surprised that the Families First staff are recognizing others to celebrate their 20 years.

“If you knew Families First and the quality individuals they are, you would now they wouldn’t make it about themselves.”

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