Shirley McGinn, Volunteer of the Year

I had the honour, after lunch at today’s PEI Home and School Federation Annual General Meeting, of posthumously awarding the late Shirley McGinn the Steve McQuaid Volunteer of the Year Award.

I was so happy to learn that the Prince Street Home and School had nominated Shirley for this award, and that the Federation’s board selected Shirley from those nominated to be recognized.

Here is the text of my remarks:

There are many reasons we give people awards.

When President Obama was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2009, he had been on the job for less than a year, and the award was widely seen as an aspirational one: this is the kind of President we hope you will be.

Sometimes we give awards to people to thank them for their many years of service, to highlight a job especially well-done, or to encourage them to stick around and keep doing what they’re doing.

And sometimes, when we award someone posthumously, we’re saying look how this person lived: we all need to be more like that.

This is the case with the late Shirley McGinn, who we are recognizing today.

I met Shirley for the first time when we both volunteered as judges for the Heritage Fair at Prince Street School, when my son Oliver was a student there. To my surprise, Shirley not only knew who Oliver was, but appeared to have a pretty good understanding of him.

It was only later that I learned that Shirley was a regular volunteer at the school, and had been, for several years already, part of Oliver’s school life.

And later still I learned that when Shirley retired from a long career as a public school teacher, finishing at Parkdale, she started volunteering at Prince Street the very next day.

Shirley had the gift of being able to remember people, and, after our first meeting at the Heritage Fair, every time I ran into her she called me by name, and asked after Oliver.

It didn’t surprise me when, last spring on a visit to the Queen Elizabeth Hospital information desk, it was Shirley I found there, at one of her other volunteer jobs, one she held for 23 years.

There are people who volunteer in Island schools whose acts of service and dedication improve the lives of students, teachers, and all who come into contact with them: Shirley McGinn was one such person.

Even after retiring as a school teacher, she knew that there was more that she could be doing to support students: she volunteered at Prince Street School for more than 15 years, right up until her death last December.

Students always looked forward to spending time with Shirley, and she worked with them in many ways:

  • She provided students with needing one-on-one time with a caring adult; she greeted everyone with a warm, welcoming smile; she believed in the value of conversation, social time, and the importance of having fun.
  • She enjoyed playing engaging games with students to make learning fun, as well as keeping students interested in learning.
  • She gave students a chance to have a voice, engaged them in conversation, as well as lending them a caring ear.
  • She helped students to improve their reading, writing, and math skills through her patience and strong commitment. She would come every morning to help tutor students who needed extra help.
  • She was dedicated to supporting the breakfast program: before tutoring students, she would come in early to prepare breakfast for 60 to 90 students.  She believed that a smile and some nutritious food would help their learning for the day. 

Home and School is an organization driven by dedicated volunteers, interested in strengthening the bond between home and school, to better the education of our children.  

Shirley accomplished this with her personality, and willingness to serve, and she will always be part of the family that she helped create at Prince Street, and in the Island community at large.

Shirley was a school teacher with a distinguished career, and after retirement chose Prince Street Elementary School as the place where she could continue to touch the lives of students, staff and families. She made a difference in students’ lives: because of her, they learned more, and developed a greater sense of belonging.

The Prince Street School community is convinced that no one could be more deserving of this award.

Shirley’s brother Brendon McGinn accepted the award on Shirley’s behalf; there were not many dry eyes in the house when he did.

Look how this person lived: we all need to be more like that.


Ton Zijlstra's picture
Ton Zijlstra on April 14, 2019 - 08:18 Permalink

More stories like this, less stories like that also is a good reflection tool for groups and organisations to instill and actually live their values.

Joanne McGinn's picture
Joanne McGinn on April 14, 2019 - 13:51 Permalink

Thank you Peter. I’ve shared this with family across the country. We are so proud of her.