Two Airdronians and long-time volunteers received the prestigious Queen’s Platinum Jubilee Award for their contributions to the community during a small ceremony on Jan. 15 at the Volunteer Airdrie office.
Both Lise Blanchette and Kene Ilochonwu received the commemorative medal marking 7,000 Albertans' significant contributions to the province.
In addition, Volunteer Airdrie representatives presented the Silver Standard Duke of Ediburgh’s International Award (a youth awards program) to Airdrie resident Mandi Jin on Jan. 15.
The Queen’s Platinum Jubilee Award was created in 2022 to mark the 70th anniversary of Queen Elizabeth II’s accession to the Throne as Queen of Canada, and as a way for Albertans to pay homage to Her Majesty’s lifetime of service.
Long-time Airdronian Lise Blanchette said she discovered she had won the medal at the tail-end of last year. She noted it was a “wonderful surprise” to be recognized for all her volunteerism and for giving back to the community.
“It means a lot. It’s really nice to be recognized. I’ve never volunteered for recognition, but it is nice to receive [it],” Blanchette told the Airdrie City View. “You give and you don’t expect, but it’s just nice to receive recognition.”
Previously, Blanchette served her community by working in a government position for 27 years, alongside her volunteerism at various organizations including women’s shelters, Child Find Alberta, Airdrie’s Community Services Advisory Board, Bethany Care Society, the Airdrie Food Bank, and more.
Thereafter, in 2010, she became involved with the Airdrie and District Hospice Society, initially on a volunteer basis. Eventually, Blanchette joined the society's board and became the vice-president, president, and eventually the executive director.
Blanchette said her own experience with hospice care and personal loss inspired her to become involved with the organization. She lost her sister and father within five weeks of each other and witnessed the tremendous end-of-life support provided by hospice care.
“I was a volunteer at the Hospice Society for nine years before I became executive director,” she recalled, adding she has held both long-time volunteer and paid positions in the community.
After 10 years working for the Hospice Society, Lise decided to shift her priorities from work to family, announcing her retirement at the end of December 2021.
However, she told the Airdrie City View on Jan. 24 that she was returning to her position as president of the Airdrie and District Hospice Society's board, picking back up her passion for community service.
Blanchette confessed she is an admirer of the late Queen Elizabeth II’s passion for serivce, citing Her Majesty’s long-standing service to her country as inspiration.
“When I worked for the federal government for 25 years, I swore allegiance to the Queen,” she recalled. “I don’t know if they still do that today, but when I first started... you [did].”
She added her father, a military man, was a member of the Air Force and always encouraged her to give back to her community.
“When I accepted the award, I was kind of emotional because my father always told me that whatever community you live in, you should give back to that community, should become a part of that community,” she said.
Fellow Jubilee Award recipient Kene Ilochonwu was born and raised in Nigeria and obtained both his law degree and license to practice law there before moving to Calgary, where he lived for approximately 12 years.
Though Ilochonwu has received other accolades in his life, (he was named one of the Top 25 Most Influential Lawyers by Canadian Lawyer Magazine in 2021 and received the Calgary Black Achievement Awards’ Excellence in Law category) he said it was an honour to be selected to win the Queen’s Jubilee Award alongside the other recipients.
He said in her 70 years on the throne, Queen Elizabeth II was passionate about contributing to society in a positive way and worked selflessly to do so, just as many volunteers do.
“We’re not doing it for fame or for money, we’re just doing it because we love what we do. We want to see a better society, a better tomorrow for our children,” he said.
Ilochonwu added a lot of volunteers have also benefited from the work of other volunteers in their life.
“A lot of times you do it because you benefited from it, and so being an immigrant in this country, I had lots of people volunteer their time to mentor me, without knowing who I was,” he shared. “And so, it’s my goal until I drop dead to keep giving my time, my efforts, my money... anything I can to help this society to grow.”
Ilochonwu has resided in Airdrie since September 2021. He said before he moved to the city, he scouted out local volunteer opportunities online.
“I lived in Calgary most of my time here in Canada and volunteered with a few organizations there. Moving to Airdrie, I said, ‘I have to do something in Airdrie now that this is home for me,’” he shared.
Thereafter, he was selected for a position on the Subdivision and Development Appeal Board with the City of Airdrie, and he has served on the board since last year.
He also volunteers with the Civil Claims Duty Counsel Project with Pro Bono Law Alberta and is active with the Black Law Student’s Association of the University of Calgary. Ilochonwu also mentors students and internationally trained lawyers through the Canadian Bar Association mentor program and Global Lawyers of Canada.
The lawyer is also a board member with Calgary Black Chambers, Global Lawyers of Canada, and Our Saviour Anglican Church in Calgary.
“I also mentor a lot of internationally trained lawyers or lawyers that come here from abroad wanting to qualify here,” he said, adding he also mentors youth through the Calgary Catholic School District. “Getting professionals to mentor these students so they know their profession is not what you see on television.”
And to top it all off, Ilochonwu is also a reservist with The King's Own Calgary Regiment (RCAC), an armoured reconnaissance regiment of the Canadian Armed Forces Primary Reserve.
In 2020, Kene Ilochonwu became the first Black Bencher of the Law Society of Alberta in its 113-year history. Benchers serve as volunteers for terms of three years, up to a maximum of nine years total if re-elected.