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DIEPPE, Nov. 23, 2017 – An avid community volunteer and members of a group that developed an outdoor program for at-risk youth were honoured by the YMCA of Greater Moncton this morning for their efforts to build peace.

“We hope that by sharing these peace-building stories we start conversations in this room, at home and in our communities about what individuals can achieve when they come together around an ideal and shared values,” said YMCA CEO Zane Korytko prior to the awarding of the charitable organization’s 2017 Peace Medals during its annual Peace Breakfast, held this year at Dieppe’s Wingate Hotel.

Among those receiving a Peace Medal was Melissa Benoit, a pharmacy technician instructor at NBCC Moncton who was praised for generously giving her time to help others. This summer, she began volunteering with the YMCA’s Plusone mentoring program as a trained mentor working with at-risk youth. She also volunteered with the Y’s Adult Day Program, which is offered to adults with differing physical or intellectual abilities.

In past years, Benoit helped coordinate a Christmas basket program at Moncton’s Glad Tidings Church. In partnership with Glad Tidings as well as friends and community partners, she also organized a Christmas party in Moncton’s Beechwood neighbourhood. Benoit has also volunteered with the Salvation Army’s Christmas Kettle Campaign, and its children and youth outreach programs; as a cook for the Saturday morning community breakfast at St. George’s Church in Moncton; and by helping a family in Moncton’s Ackman Court neighbourhood.

Also honoured with Peace Medals today were the founders/leaders of the Outdoor Grit wilderness adventure program—Kai Gosling, the Anglophone East School District’s YOU Turns Strategic Coordinator for At-Risk Youth, RCMP Community Program Officer Richard Babineau, and Aaron Shantz, who works in the area of food security in the region. The men developed the program after recognizing that many local teen boys—often those who had been or were involved with the criminal justice system—had never experienced life beyond the confines of their inner-city boundaries. In 2015, Gosling, Babineau and Shantz developed Outdoor Grit in hopes of providing that opportunity and developing the boys’ life and leadership skills, while instilling values and morals relating to citizenship with the goal of avoiding further criminal behaviour.

Over the past two summers, Gosling, Babineau and Shantz have led small groups of teen boys in a week-long camping, canoeing and leadership skill expedition in New Brunswick’s national parks. Partnering with the United Way and several other community groups, the trio was able to purchase camping supplies, food and cover the logistical fees for the educational adventure.

As a result of the impact and success of Outdoor Grit, a similar program was piloted this summer for girls. A group of female mentors, supported by the United Way and community partnerships, led a group of at-risk girls on a nature excursion.

Guest speaker at today’s Peace Breakfast was Moncton photographer Maurice Henri, a 2010 YMCA Peace Medal recipient. Henri founded Cameras for Healing, a not-for-profit organization initially developed as an art workshop to help cancer patients and survivors deal with pain and stress. Henri and many volunteers have since travelled the world to reach out to those in difficult situations.

2017 marks the 30th anniversary of the awarding of the YMCA Peace Medal. Since 1987, more than 1,900 individuals and groups across Canada have been recognized with YMCA Peace Medals.