During National Volunteer Week, the Volunteer Action Centre of Kitchener Waterloo and Area presents the Volunteer Impact Awards Gala to honour individuals, teams, and organizations for the generous gifts of time in Waterloo Region. For the 2017 awards, their committee received 50 inspirational nominations in a variety of award categories including the Outstanding Youth Award, Small/Large Group Engagement Award, Caring or Program Award, and the Lifetime Achievement Award.

At Strong Start, we couldn’t do what we do without the generous support of caring individuals going above and beyond to help children learn to read. On Thursday, April 27th, 2017, two such community champions involved with our organization were honoured and publicly recognized for their kind contributions. Chris Howlett received the Administrative Award for all of his work on our SiTE SOURCETM database and Steve Cameron received the Outstanding Leadership Award for his long-term service on our board, as well as his other board work in the community.

Below are small excerpts from the nomination letters which helped lead to their awards:

Chris Howlett – Administrative Award

Technology Expert Helps Transform Grassroots Organization

We first met Chris Howlett in the spring of 2010 when he was Chief Technology Officer in residence for the newly minted Capacity Waterloo Region and the Accelerator Centre. At this point in time, Strong Start had just moved from a 2 bedroom residential apartment in into a proper office and warehouse space at 20 Crestview Place in Kitchener. While there was already good use of technology within the organization, it was apparent that if Strong Start was to scale its flagship Letters Sounds and WordsTM program, better tools, and new innovations were needed. Adding people and overhead was not the answer.

Strong Start needed networked computers, remote access for regional team members, expanded telephone capabilities, e-marketing tools, online registration for volunteer training sessions, standardized email addresses, a new website and most of all a web-based solution to support the program delivery across our growing number of participating schools; a solution that would provide for enrolling children in the program, submitting assessment results, assigning volunteers, tracking volunteer hours and providing downloadable program resources for our school partners. The list of Strong Start’s technology needs seemed endless, but without them, growth would be hindered and expensive. Chris reviewed Strong Start’s wish list and said with great confidence, “well that seems very doable and straightforward”. This would be the breakthrough that Strong Start needed to drive towards its goal of provincial expansion.

The story of Chris’ involvement with Strong Start does not end there.  Chris made a re-entry as a volunteer technology expert in spring 2016. Strong Start enjoyed the benefits that SiTE SOURCE™ 1.0 brought to our organization for several years after its launch, but with the growing user demands on the system, greater capacity was needed. The new SiTE SOURCE™ 2.0 launched in October 2016, only 2.5 months after Chris took the reins on the project. Chris’ commitment and loyalty to Strong Start is truly heartening. The economic impact of his volunteer time amounts to no less than tens of thousands of dollars of value.  The level of trust and confidence that Chris inspires and the level of skill and expertise he demonstrates in everything he does is priceless.


Photo: Chris Howlett accepts the Administrative Award from Rob Howe, Board of Directors, KW Volunteer Action Centre, and Raj Saini, MP Kitchener Centre.

Steve Cameron – Outstanding Leadership Award

Founding Chair Guides Organization from Inception through to Transformation

As his trusted friend, legal advisor and confident, Steve Cameron saw Lyle Hallman’s vision of a volunteer-delivered children’s “learn to read’ program come to life. The two shared the belief that strong reading skills acquired early in life were the key to a child’s success not only in school but in all aspects of life. Steve was there at the birth of Strong Start and later the Lyle S. Hallman Foundation; two organizations that he still supports with his volunteer time to this day.

Steve’s loyalty to Strong Start is heartening. He took the reigns as the founding Chair of the Board of Trustees when the organization first formed in 2001 and launched as a community project in one school with handmade games and activities. He guided Strong Start’s application for charitable status and a decade later for its federal incorporation. To transform a fledgling community project to the status of a federally incorporated, registered charity takes a skilled leader and legal expertise. Steve has generously provided both to Strong Start for over a decade and a half. His loyalty and unwavering commitment to see Strong Start and the children it serves reach their potential is unprecedented. 

Right from the beginning and to this day, Strong Start continues to operate in a dynamic state, developing, growing and evolving. He brings his seasoned governance skills and experience as a board member, having served over 10 local organizations, giving the equivalent of 140 years of service. He applauds innovation and encourages trailblazing and stretch goals. Added to these attributes is his belief in the vision of “All Children Read” and his commitment to seeing Lyle Hallman’s dream realized.

His dedication to his role and consistency of his leadership inspires all the volunteer Directors and senior staff who assemble to set direction, guide, govern, advise, make decisions, manage risks and execute. Steve’s presence is not only felt at the Board table but in many other ways. Steve is the quintessential Board leader who deserves to be recognized for his incredible contribution to Strong Start but more importantly to the children of Waterloo Region through his selfless, generous gift of time and talent.

On behalf of all of us at Strong Start, we extend our most sincere congratulations to these amazing individuals, who have helped shape our organization into what it is today. To all of our volunteers, we say thank you for joining us in our mission of helping all young children learn to read. Your gifts of time are more than appreciated!


Photo: Steve Cameron accepts the Leadership Award from Kelly Galloway-Sealock, City of Kitchener Councillor and Heather Rennie, Director, KW Volunteer Action Centre

Above Photo: Strong Start staff, board members and guests celebrate with award winners Steve Cameron and Chris Howlett (centre)