The 2017 Soul of Airdrie Award belongs to second-time nominee, Mike Loughman.
Loughman has been a big advocate for mental health in Airdrie and knows the importance of reducing the stigma. He spends time at local schools speaking about depression and bullying, in the hopes of inspiring others through his stories. He has also given his time to many other community organizations and events such as Airdrie Public Library and the food bank.
In 2015, Loughman organized the Unmask Mental Health Fundraiser which has since become an annual Halloween walk. He says this event was key in helping him realize his passion for volunteering: “A five- or six-year-old boy named Zander went up to his mother and was like, ‘Mother, I had the best day of my life. Can we come back next year?’
Having struggled with substance abuse and mental health issues for the majority of his life, Loughman recently completed a 41-day trek across Alberta to represent his journey to recovery and raise awareness.
Starting July 26, 2017, at the Action North Recovery Centre in High Level, Alta. where his sobriety began, Loughman walked more than 1,000 kilometres, ending in Airdrie where he was greeted by family and friends.
“I hope my walk inspires others and gets people talking about [mental health],” he says. “I want people to be able to speak freely without fear of judgement or ridicule or to be embarrassed about what’s going on with them. It’s just a part of life.”
Not only did he walk 30 to 40 kilometres each day, Loughman dragged a five-pound steel ball along with him to represent the addictions and mental health issues that he will carry with him for the rest of his life. The steel ball was emblazoned with a happy face, just as people struggling with mental health issues may try to hide them behind a smile.
“I’ve heard, fake it till you make it, don’t worry about it, people have it worse than you,” says Loughman. “Some people think you can just slap a happy face on and everything will go away, which isn’t the case.”
While the walk took a toll on him physically, having been diagnosed with depression and borderline personality disorder, it was hard on him mentally as well.
“You get inside your own head,” he says. “And you got a lot of time on your hands because you’re walking six to eight hours a day all by yourself with just your thoughts.”
However, the overwhelming amount of positive support kept him going. He says he had people stop on the side of the road to bring him food, ice cream, water or monetary donations.
“This happened in almost every town I went through,” he says. “I even had people come up on the side of the road crying and asking for a hug which was pretty overwhelming.… I would cry too.”
Loughman says he hopes his walk inspires others and gives people the courage to seek support and talk about their mental health.
Through his walk, Loughman has raised $11,151 for the Defeat Depression Campaign and Airdrie P.O.W.E.R, and he is still accepting donations.
“It was a really great experience, changed my life forever, and I’ll never do it again,” he laughs.
2017 Volunteers of the Year
Ryland Kruk, Leader of Tomorrow Award
Ryland Kruk has been volunteering in the community of Airdrie from a young age. At 13, he starting shovelling his neighbours’ driveways, but now, his contributions have moved far beyond his neighbourhood.
As a member of the Airdrie Air Cadets, Kruk spends countless hours mentoring younger cadets, selling poppies with the Legion, or helping with their various fundraising or volunteering initiatives. As an aviation enthusiast, he also enjoys discussing different aircraft with the public at the Hangar Flight Museum in Calgary.
“To help volunteer in the community makes me feel like an awesome youth and I like to strive for the best and get the other individuals involved in volunteering,” he says. “I would like to share the message with other youth who are in Airdrie to get into the volunteer mind.”
Airdrie Festival of Lights, Volunteer Advocate Award
Though the festival is only open one month of the year, volunteers work year round to turn the lights on in December. The annual event is a success thanks to countless volunteer hours put toward raising money, hauling equipment and much more. In 2016, the organization gathered volunteers to upgrade more than 800 light displays so the event would go on.
Rob and Michelle Pirzek have been involved with the festival for 22 years and accepted the award on the organization’s behalf.
“Seeing the kids looking at the lights for the first time, then dancing down the pathways; that’s why we do it,” says Rob.
Propak Systems Ltd., Airdrie Ambassador Award
Propak Systems Ltd. has been heavily involved in the community as a company but also continually encourages employee volunteerism.
Vice-president of engineering Randy Reynolds says he is very happy to have made this achievement as a company.
“I believe we are the largest employer in the city and I think that we need to give back to the city as well,” he says. “We do encourage our employees to help out and volunteer wherever they can and Propak does what it can to give back to the community through monetary contributions.”
The company’s biggest contribution happens every December in support of Airdrie Food Bank. Each Propak location competes to gather the most food and monetary donations.
Throughout the year, the company and its employees are also heavily involved with Community Links, youth sports teams and different local events.