Kristi Blakeway, centre, with high school students who were involved with Project HELLO. (THE NEWS/files)

Kristi Blakeway, centre, with high school students who were involved with Project HELLO. (THE NEWS/files)

Maple Ridge principal receives provincial award for helping others

Kristi Blakeway is the recipient of the B.C. Medal of Good Citizenship

A Maple Ridge principal has received one of the province’s highest honours.

Kristi Blakeway, principal at École Laity View Elementary, said she was caught completely off guard when she received a surprise phone call from Victoria a few weeks ago, announcing she was the recipient of the BC Medal of Good Citizenship.

Blakeway received the medal for her work on the Downtown Eastside of Vancouver with Project HELLO and Beyond HELLO.

Blakeway started Project Helping Everyone Locate Loved Ones in 2009 when she was a school counsellor in Coquitlam. She brought the project with her to the Maple Ridge-Pitt Meadows school district.

It started as an outreach program involving students and teachers who would head to the Downtown Eastside (DTES) at Christmas, and give out care packages. Blakeway suggested they include Christmas cards the homeless recipients could give to one another.

Care package recipients wrote cards to their loved ones, and requested Blakeway and her team locate family for the DTES residents, and get them the card.

They took on the challenge, looking up addresses and finding people’s families to send the cards to – usually with only a name and city to work from.

READ MORE: THSS VP Blakeway wins woman of distinction

To date Project HELLO has reconnected more than 700 families through these Christmas and Mother’s Day greeting cards. There have been long overdue phone calls, and face-to-face reunions.

In 2013, Blakeway started Beyond HELLO, while she was working at Thomas Haney Secondary. Beyond HELLO is a year-round initiative where Blakeway and some of her students will head to the DTES once a month and take a homeless person to lunch to hear their story.

Blakeway wrote a book in 2019, Beyond Hello: Rekindling the Human Spirit One Conversation at a Time, to mark the 10-year anniversary of the program.

It’s another reason she has been recognized.

“It is an absolute honour to receive this award,” said Blakeway. “I am grateful to friends, family, students and staff who have supported my work with Beyond HELLO and I am most grateful to the men and women on the streets who have trusted me with their stories.”

She is proud to be part of an initiative that is student driven and encourages everyone to connect with compassion.

“I believe everyone has a story worth hearing, and it is more important than ever to simply say, ‘I see you,’” added Blakeway.

Gerald Colgan, Chief Warrant Officer with the Canadian Armed Forces, nominated Blakeway for the award. Colgan, a guest speaker at Laity View Elementary for their Remembrance Day Ceremonies, also contacted staff and students who provided him with supporting letters for the nomination.

READ MORE: Beyond Hello: 10 years and counting for Maple Ridge principal

Blakeway is one of 14 inspiring individuals from across the province to receive the Medal of Good Citizenship, launched in 2015, that is awarded to citizens for their service and commitment to helping others in their community.

“This important honour recognizes people who have gone above and beyond to offer help and kindness to others during these exceptionally challenging times,” said Premier John Horgan.

“The latest recipients of the Medal of Good Citizenship make our province a better place through their contributions and provide an example we can all aspire to meet in our communities,” added the Premier.

Melanie Mark, Minister of Tourism, Arts, Culture and Sport, and chair of the medal’s selection committee, explained what a difficult decision it was for the committee to select just 14 individuals from the long list of nominees.

“We are so fortunate in British Columbia to live amongst so many unsung heroes. These outstanding, remarkable and selfless leaders make our communities shine brightly,” said the minister.

To date, 90 citizens and two communities have received the medal.

The presentation of the medals will be taking place virtually in June.

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