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Edmonton woman honoured after 45 years of volunteer work

An Edmonton woman has been recognized for her dedication to helping others over the past 45 years.

Jean Henderson was presented with the Governor General of Canada Sovereign’s Medal for Volunteers during a special ceremony on Wednesday.

“If you’re in it for the accolades then you’re doing it for the wrong reasons,” Jean said. “You do it because you want to do it and you have to love it,” she added.

“She rarely says no when she’s asked to help out,” said her daughter Barb Henderson. “She’s so humble that she doesn’t think she’s doing anything out of the ordinary.”

Jean has volunteered with countless organizations, groups, and charities over the past four decades. From KDays, various sporting events, rodeos, Habitat for Humanity, the Alberta SPCA and dozens more.

A few years after losing their son in 1978, Jean and her husband Doug began rallying for a children’s hospital to be built in Edmonton.

“That helped the hospital foundation telethons to get them up and running,” said Barb. “Penny Craig and my mom, Jean Henderson, were the two people that actually named the Stollery mascot, Dr. Patchup.”

Jean has also logged more than 6,000 hours with the Edmonton Police Service’s Crime and Trauma Support Services team.

“So when we have members that call us for the worst of the worst tragedies, Jean always puts her hand up and is ready to go out with us to support, not only to the families but also our team as well,” said Jennalea Dermott, the EPS CTSS volunteer coordinator.

Barb Henderson wearing a mask made by her mom (Photo provided)

In 2016, Jean was also there to support her daughter Barb through a battle with breast cancer and started making ‘decorative’ masks for her daughter to wear instead of the surgical ones.

Then the pandemic hit.

“She made them for family and friends. Then friends of friends. Then neighbours of friends. People we didn’t even know were calling and asking for mom to make masks,” said Barb.

Jean Henderson had raised more than $5,000 for the Alberta SPCA as of June 3 by selling homemade masks for $5 apiece. (Photo provided.)

She made and donated hundreds of masks until she saw a news story about the “Help for Animals” program started by the Alberta SPCA. It provided food to people who were struggling during the pandemic to feed their pets.

“In the end Jean made 6,300 masks, spent more than 2,600 hours behind her sewing machine and she burned through three of her sewing machines along the way,” said Leanne Niblock, executive director with the Alberta SPCA.

Jean Henderson presenting cheque to SCPA. Tuesday March 16, 2021 (CTV News Edmonton)

Between April 2019 and March 2021, Jean raised more than $20,000 for the cause.

“What Jean did through her efforts was to give us all hope when we really needed it,” Niblock said.

“I was overwhelmed with the amount of people who, people just donated material, they donated thread, they donated anything I needed,” said Jean, who had help from her family making all those masks.

It was the Alberta SPCA who nominated Jean for the medal, the highest honour a Canadian can receive for their volunteer service.

Governor General of Canada Sovereign’s Medal for Volunteers (Matt Marshall/CTV News Edmonton)

“The years and years that you put into volunteering is because you love it, and I really love it,” said Jean, adding “It’s people you meet along the way.”

“If more people chose to invest their time to so many amazing causes like Jean chooses to do, our community would be a truly great place,” said Dermott.

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