To read this story in French, see Programme Personnes qui font une différence.
Each year, the Rick Hansen Difference Maker of the Year award recognizes a Canadian student who has followed in Rick’s footsteps by overcoming adversity to make an outstanding contribution to his or her community.
In 2016, we named Hayden Kalelest of Williams Lake, B.C. as our Difference Maker of the Year for his perseverance, courage and leadership.
Hayden leads by example. The grade six student at Marie Sharpe Elementary School, in Williams Lake, B.C., contracted a respiratory virus when he was nine months old, causing diminished lung capacity. He has also struggled with learning and behavioral challenges.
During his time at Marie Sharpe, Hayden has transformed to become a positive role model for his peers, both at school and in his First Nations community. He’s an enthusiastic leader on his sports teams, and has taken a teammate with autism under his wing, encouraging the student to compete.
Inspired by a Grade 7 student who mentored him in the school’s Big Buddy Reading Program, Hayden now mentors several vulnerable younger students to help them appreciate the value of reading at any skill level. He’s also a popular lunch monitor for the Grade 1 and 2 students, comforting them when they hurt themselves on the playground.
He has embraced other activities at his school, from setting up chairs and tables for special events, to participating on the Student Leadership team, to representing the school in showcases such as Hoop Dancing.
Since Hayden has taken on (and been given) more leadership responsibilities in the past two years, he has changed noticeably as a student. His family also believes his life changed during this time when he participated in a sweat lodge with his uncle and connected with his spirituality and culture. This year, Hayden won the school’s Most Improved student award.
“I’m just trying to be my best,” he says.
Hayden is transitioning to middle school in Fall 2016, where he hopes to play as many sports as possible, despite relying on puffers to ease the pressure in his lungs. By continuing to embrace his challenges head on and overcome obstacles, Hayden is truly a Difference Maker.