When Mike McDonald came to the University of Saskatchewan (USask) to pursue his Bachelor of Kinesiology, he had no idea his work would one day influence more than 200,000 children across Canada.
Founder and CEO of the charitable organization Saskatchewan Blue Cross Recess Guardians, McDonald has travelled thousands of miles across the country to grow the program, which helps elementary school students take back recess and be more active.
McDonald and his staff of seven have visited more than 500 schools across Canada to empower youth to lead through play. He said his goal is to “create a bold and imaginative world where everyone has someone who believes in them.”
The concept for the organization was born out of McDonald’s experience working in an inner-city school in his gap year between high school and university. He saw a troubling trend in Saskatchewan, where recess periods were being cancelled or cut down, in an effort to increase time spent on academics. McDonald said he felt this was wrong.
“I thought that we have to change this for recess to be fun again,” he said.
When McDonald began his studies at USask, he originally wanted to be a phys-ed teacher. But by his second year, he decided to work on a solution to the pressing issue he took to heart, and pursued the project as his career.
With the help of his classmates, he approached community co-ordinators to develop relationships with local schools, and went to work devising a program to help kids develop leadership skills and confidence through play.
The program has grown steadily since it was launched 11 years ago, and now thousands of schools across Canada have requested support.
McDonald, who graduated in 2010, will be on campus as the keynote speaker for One Day for Students activities on March 6—the university’s annual day of giving to promote philanthropy. Faculty, staff, alumni and donors are invited to donate towards student scholarships and bursaries, and students are encouraged to share stories of volunteerism and their support of causes they care about.
“I feel it’s important to give back to the University of Saskatchewan for all that they have done for me and my family,” said McDonald, who added that he is getting involved to show his appreciation for the place where Saskatchewan Blue Cross Recess Guardians started.
An advocate for volunteerism, he noted that he hopes to convey to students the importance of giving time and energy in support of important causes.
“It also shows students that it is important not to forget where you came from, who influenced you, and how certain institutions and people have really made a difference in who you are,” he said.
Once again, the university asks its community to support the Nasser Family Emergency Student Trust with a gift of any amount. The fund helps students facing crises continue to meet their educational goals and supports students with flights for funerals, funds for alternative living arrangements after a fire or family breakup, personal medical emergencies, and loss of employment.
The fund was created by Professor Emeritus Dr. Kay Nasser (PhD) and his wife Dora, who will again match donations, dollar for dollar. Last year’s event raised $100,000 for students in these emergency situations.
To donate to the cause, or find out more, please visit give.usask.ca/oneday. Students struggling with a crisis can contact Student Central at firstname.lastname@example.org to apply for the Nasser Family Emergency Student Trust.