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Helpers: This principal shares her love of volunteering with her students

Lasalle Secondary principal Maureen McNamara is a lifelong volunteer who says better communities are grown by those who give back
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Maureen McNamara is the principal of Lasalle Secondary School. She’s made volunteering an integral part of life at her school. (Image: Marlene Holkko Moore)

For Maureen McNamara, mentoring youth and making a positive difference in the lives of seniors are passions that are reflected in her family life, career, charity work and community involvement. 

McNamara is married to veterinarian Tim Blatt, whose two grown sons have successful careers in Toronto. Jonah, the eldest, is a physiotherapist, while Noah is a professional dancer.

McNamara grew up in Sudbury, moved to southern Ontario for university, and in 1995 began her teaching career in Timmins.  She returned home in 1998 and began working for the Rainbow District School Board (RDSB). After teaching high school for 12 years, she transitioned into senior administrative roles, first as vice principal at Lasalle Secondary, then as founding principal of the RDSB’s Barrydowne College. She is now the principal of Lasalle.

Asked what inspired her to start volunteering, McNamara recounted that as a high school senior she tutored a fellow student from Vietnam. 

“A guidance department posting invited volunteers to help foreign classmates improve their English-language skills,” McNamara said. “I gave it some thought and decided ‘I can do that’. It was very rewarding to help students new to Canada learn to adapt to our community and build their confidence.”

Since childhood, McNamara has also been passionate about sports. A former York University basketball guard and avid tennis player, she also enjoyed being a volunteer coach in past years. 

“It naturally aligned with my own love for physical fitness and sports, and my underlying desire to help. It’s a good feeling to give back,” she said.

That good feeling evolved into a personal commitment to help others, both in her daily life and through her teaching career. 

During the Christmas season, as a Sudbury Rotary Sunriser, “I have no problem motivating family and friends to volunteer with me at the Elgin Street Mission,” she said, adding, “To some, community service can be outside their comfort zone, but once they participate, the harsh reality of poverty in our community is a real eye-opener and it motivates them to keep helping.

“In fact, my husband and co-workers who assist with the Elgin Street Mission volunteer for Sudbury’s Red Nose program. In the spring, I encourage students to work alongside of me during our Nutrition for the Mission campaign.”

When McNamara was asked to join the Finlandia SISU Charitable Foundation board in 2015, she immediately set out to involve her school in their fundraising efforts to build a fitness and wellness centre and walking trails. This led to the first-ever annual SISU Walk in 2016. Since then the Sling-Choker SISU Family Walk, in partnership with Lasalle Secondary School, has raised more than $100,000 to support active living for seniors.

The Finnish word ‘sisu’ embodies the characteristics of bravery, perseverance, tenacity and resilience; taking action against all odds and steadfastly displaying courage and determination even in the face of adversity. 

For more than a decade, Lasalle students have also supported Finlandia residents through their Seniors Memoires scrapbooking project and other group activities. 

“Youth engagement with the seniors is so heartwarming,” said McNamara. “Our students may not realize it now, but as they get older, this experience will have planted the seed to understanding just how important it is to take care of our elderly.” 

McNamara’s involvement as a leadership volunteer, SISU Foundation member and current board chair is a testament to her commitment to strengthening the ties between youth and seniors. 

“Life’s simple pleasures mean so much to our elderly citizens. The gift of time and conversation can make a world of difference to their mental and emotional wellbeing.”

In all that she does, McNamara is an exemplary role model for the concept of ‘sisu’, encouraging young people to become caring, responsible citizens, and empowering seniors to live their best active lives. 

“If we all give back just a little bit, together we will lay the foundation for a healthier, stronger community.” 

McNamara’s Words of Wisdom: Devoting yourself to community service provides constant reflection on being grateful for what you have and how you can make a positive difference in the lives of others.

Marlene Holkko Moore is a local communications professional and occasional contributor to Sudbury.com.
 



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