By RON FANFAIR
Tamara Gordon was very busy a few Mondays ago receiving accolades for her outstanding volunteer work and academic achievements and delivering an inspirational address at York University.
Confined to a wheelchair for the past seven years, Gordon was one of eight recipients of the Ontario Medal for Young Volunteers presented earlier in the day at Queen’s Park.
“You are part of a select group of young people chosen to receive this medal,” Ontario’s Lieutenant Governor, David Onley, told Gordon and the other recipients. “In Ontario, 53 per cent of people between the ages of 15 and 24 are active as volunteers compared with the provincial average of 50 per cent. Simply put, this province would not have the quality of life that it does were it not for people like yourselves doing what you do to enrich the quality of life for all sorts of folks.”
Dean-elect of the Raymond Chang School of Continuing Education at Ryerson University, Dr. Gervan Fearon, was one of the people who nominated Gordon for the award. He attended the event.
“I nominated Tamara because of her contributions to student and academic success, particularly at York University, and her community engagement and volunteerism,” said Fearon, currently the associate dean (academics) at York University’s Atkinson Faculty of Liberal and Professional Studies. “She has done a tremendous amount of work in motivating people and she has also demonstrated that their lives matter and that their contributions to society are valued. Tammy is an “A” student who has received many honours at our university.”
Gordon suffered a debilitating spinal cord injury in February 2002 while on a high school downhill skiing trip. She sustained spinal cord and brachial injuries that have left her paralyzed from the waist down and without the use of her dominant left hand.
Despite the obstacles, the Don Mills resident is engaged in numerous community activities. She’s a peer support volunteer with the Canadian Paraplegic Association, spending many hours with young people who have suffered spinal cord injuries. In addition, she spearheads a teen volunteer program and tutoring service and organizes free back-to-school barbecues, Christmas banquets and Canada Day celebrations and presents motivational speeches, always reminding youths to strive to overcome barriers they may face in life.
“What Tamara has demonstrated is that hurdles make us whole people,” Fearon, who overcame dyslexia in high school, said. “It’s something that allows us to see things from a different perspective and it gives us strength and an opportunity to be able to say that this is our experience and we understand that we all, as human beings, have different experiences, but that those experiences can actually become strengths.”
Ontario’s Minister of Citizenship and Immigration, Michael Chan, helped Onley present the awards to the winners.
Later in the day, Gordon was presented with the Mildred Theobalds prize awarded to the undergraduate student with the highest mark in the Introductory Marketing course. The award was established in honour of the late long-time York University program co-ordinator.
Gordon presented the keynote address at the event which also recognized volunteers in the Student and Alumni Relations team’s ambassador program of which she has been a member for the past four years.
“You volunteers are a great example of the difference it can make in people’s lives when we give of ourselves to others,” she said. “Let me say that no matter how much paid staff and paid professionals do, it will never be enough. No matter how dedicated and well intentioned they may be, they can never do it alone. It takes volunteers like you with a loving and caring heart and a compassionate outlook and selfless zeal to help make it happen.
“You might not always get the recognition you deserve, but the satisfaction of knowing that you have reached out and made somebody’s life better, giving someone else a greater chance to succeed is a priceless feeling and it makes you feel great deep inside.”
Gordon, a once aspiring professional basketball player, graduated from high school on time as an Ontario scholar and will graduate in June with a Bachelor of Administration honours degree. She has been very active on campus, heading the Student Caucus for undergraduates with disabilities and serving as the student undergraduate representative for Access York.
She has received nearly 50 scholarships, certificates and awards, including Harry Jerome and TD Canada Trust scholarships. In August 2006, she completed an internship at a TD bank close to her home and was offered a full-time position which she still holds.
Gordon plans to work with the bank for at least a year before pursuing law studies.