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Dec2FriLieutenant Kristen Gray represents the town of Essex, Ont., in the Canada-wide charity event December 2, 2011 by Julia Hosking
“I was shocked, surprised and humbled that somebody would think I'm having a significant impact on their life,” says Lieutenant Kristen Gray, corps officer, Essex Community Church, Ont., of when she received the nomination to represent her town in the Rick Hansen Relay. “At the same time, I was honoured to know that the work I do on a daily basis through The Salvation Army is making a difference in the community and impacting people on a daily basis in ways I don't even realize.”
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Lieutenant Gray is one of 7,000 people from across Canada chosen as a participant in the ongoing Rick Hansen Relay. The relay commenced in Cape Spear, N.L., on August 24, 2011. When it culminates in Vancouver on May 22, 2012, it will have travelled through more than 600 communities, visiting every capital city, all provinces and territories, and reaching more than 70 percent of the Canadian population.
As the chosen representative for Essex, Lieutenant Gray participated on Day 91, Tuesday, November 22. That day, the relay started in Leamington, Ont., and nine hours, six communities and 86 kilometres later, it ended in Windsor, Ont.
The Rick Hansen Relay commemorates the 25th anniversary of Hansen's Man in Motion World Tour, when he circled the globe in a wheelchair to raise funds for spinal cord injury research. Although Hansen is not attending every relay event, his passion and vision is being represented by not only the chosen participants, but also through the one-pound Rick Hansen Medal designed by the Royal Canadian Mint that is being passed along. Each medal bearer is receiving a commemorative replica to keep.
The 12,000 kilometre Rick Hansen Relay journey is designed to capture the same spirit as Hansen's original tour and to inspire Canadians to be “difference makers” in their communities.
Lieutenant Gray was nominated by a mother from the Essex Community Church's moms and tots program. In honour of the recognition from the woman who is also a family services client, Lieutenant Gray proudly walked her 250 metre leg of the journey. This was one-sixth of the Essex relay, with the other five town participants—who applied to the Rick Hansen Foundation personally—likewise considered “difference makers.”
“I was nominated by a mom who felt that through the work I do with the Army, I was being a difference maker in the community, helping and serving people,” explains Lieutenant Gray.
Apart from acknowledging the honour of participating in the relay, Lieutenant Gray's motivation for the walk was to help lift the profile of The Salvation Army in Essex.
“I believe it's important for the Army to be present in the community and for people to know that we're available,” she says. “That way, more people are going to know who we are, what we are all about and what our motivation is for what we do. It's very important to me that people realize the reason we run a food bank and do Christmas hampers is that we're motivated by the love of Jesus.”
To help share this message, nearly 20 members of the Essex Community Church donned Salvation Army shields and walked alongside their corps officer. “I wanted people to understand that I'm not the difference maker, but The Salvation Army in Essex is the difference maker,” states Lieutenant Gray.
“I also have another, personal motivation for my participation. I am a single mother and my son has autism,” she continues. “While I haven't been affected by physical disability, as many that are connected with the Rick Hansen Foundation are, such as Rick himself, I certainly have been impacted by the challenges of disability on a day-to-day basis.”
Motivated by the honour of a nomination, a desire to promote The Salvation Army and recognize her son's struggles, Lieutenant Gray appreciates the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity that she had.
“There were a number of people involved in the relay who commented that they participated or observed Rick Hansen's original run across Canada exactly 25 years ago,” she says. “Being part of the anniversary tour was a real privilege. I was so proud to be able to represent the work of The Salvation Army in this unique way.”
Learn more about the Rick Hansen Foundation and Relay at rickhansenrelay.com