My response to YMCA President & CEO Jill Tettmann
Dear Madam President & CEO:
It took a little while, but I’ve recovered enough from shock to provide a proper response to your video message of Saturday.
After Kate Meeks shared her screen and pressed “play,” my first thought was, “President and CEO—what a great honour, what did we do to deserve that?” Of course, I got it: existed for 20 years, raising funds for adult literacy in Huntsville first with the Muskoka Literacy Council and now in all three towns in Muskoka with YMCA of Simcoe-Muskoka. So I would like to thank you for that acknowledgment, on behalf of all the writers, volunteers, donors, sponsors, supporters and beneficiary contacts who been involved over those 20 years. As you can imagine, that is quite a sizable group of amazing people. For two decades, it has been our pleasure to do so, and I absolutely mean pleasure, because MNM writers love participating, and even love fundraising for a cause that so touches our hearts, and that joyful energy spreads to everyone else.
Next in the video, you introduced the new Star Volunteer Award, to annually acknowledge the work of an MNM volunteer, and I thought, “What a terrific idea!” and wished I’d thought of it myself. Or enacted, actually, because I did have vague thoughts that outstanding volunteers should be recognized with an award some years ago… but I never acted on it as I thought it might seem self-serving, and had a feeling other key volunteers would have the same concern. And of course we were all busy with running the MNM as well, so it never happened. Thank you so much to you and the Y for making it a reality! Without MNM volunteers there would be no MNM, so we absolutely deserve recognition for our hard work.
As Kate knows, after the video finished I asked whether the decision of who should get the award would always be made by the Y, wondering if in future the convenor or other organizers might have a say. I was also wondering if it could be awarded retroactively. Because a fair number of people who deserved such an award had come to mind.
[This is going to be another little trip down memory lane for long-time MNMers.] Martin Avery was the central founding writer at our inception in 2002 and contributed in all sorts of ways for many years, including the creation of most of the awards. Susan Lowe, at the same time she headed up the Board of the Muskoka Literacy Council, single-handedly ran the Marathon for several years (it was less complex back then). Paula Boon partnered with me in taking the torch from Susan in 2009, and beginning to growing the marathon’s writer-supporting and fundraising capacities. Dawn Huddlestone was instrumental at that time too, running the website and managing the venues. Lori Twining was super-energetic as registrar, writer liaison and biggest cheerleader to all. Brenda Liddle was “Ms. Yes” as a Sponsor Co-ordinator to whom local businesses rarely said no. The late Wendy Dingman… what can you say about her? She volunteered to do everything and more in this town, and we were lucky she found time for the MNM. Then there’s Colum McKnight, who probably many people thought was officially volunteering before he actually was, from how much he would help and encourage everyone. More recently, Jennifer Turney has been an equally excellent “Ms. Yes,” and Krystyne Taylor-Smith automated registration and otherwise updated the website, then really stepped up when Covid hit, masterminding two entirely virtual Novel Marathons this year and last. Our judges hide in the shadows so as to stay at arms-length, of course, but some of them have been doing it for many years. In the kitchen, Mieke Byl was the kitchen crew, all by herself, for several years, working ceaselessly and winning the love of umpteen hungry writers (the way to our hearts, right?) Eileen Lee led her crew into performing kitchen miracles more than once. I could name more… David Patterson, who is “Mr. Yes” with publishers… our absolutely dependable treasurer for what must be 10 years by now, Marlene Vettorel… current writer liaison Shellie Westlake, who along with Dawn has been Official Photographer many times and otherwise helped out in many ways… Sharon Bacon, venue co-ordinator and resident harp-playing angel… etc., etc.
“Hey,” I thought, “I’m going to have a great time seeing this award given to deserving people!”
The thought never occurred to me that the first recipient might be me (though on retrospect it makes sense since I’ve held one key position or another for twelve years now, more than anyone else so far… call me crazy.) If someone had told me I’d be informed of it in a video made by the very top exec of the Y, I would never have believed them.
All I can say is: thank you, Ms. Tettman. It’s a huge honour, and I feel very humbled. I just do this because I love doing it… I love writing, writers, helping writers, helping people learn how to read, the energy, the positivity, the thrill, the challenge. I love helping people change their lives for the better, whether it’s a writer springboarded in their creativity by the experience, or a program client liberated by the blessing of literacy. Also MNM has a corporate culture of excellence, proactiveness, expansiveness and integrity that you don’t see in every organization. I think it’s been a key to our success, and it makes working with the rest of the team another pleasure. (Note, I don’t claim credit for this: it was already there when I came on.)
So thank you, to you personally, and everyone else who was consulted, and to the YMCA of Simcoe-Muskoka generally for making the award a reality and ensuring that our star volunteers will be honoured going forward. Thanks (with some squirming) for making me the first recipient. Thanks for your encouragement to the writers to do greater things (such encouragement is pure gold). And thanks for congratulating us on our 20th anniversary. The next 20 years and beyond will be that much richer.
In literacy and creativity,