The Winkler Community Foundation has named Ruth Reimer as their Citizen of the Year.
“It’s hard for me to accept that because I’d rather be giving,” Reimer said. “It’s humbling, but I will graciously accept and try my best to keep going the way I’ve been going.”
Katie Cares was started by Reimer’s daughter Kaitlyn, who was diagnosed with cancer at 13 years old. The non-profit raises money to support families in hospital through toys, blankets and other supplies.
Reimer said she never imagined how big Katie Cares would grow, but Kaitlyn had a good idea when the non-profit kicked off.
“Kaitlyn told me three weeks before she passed away when we were sitting here in our backyard, she said, ‘It’ll go bigger than you ever dreamed of, it’ll go big mom,’” Reimer said. “I thought what does she know? She’s sick, how does she know this? But she did. She was very wise and I should have listened to her wise words.”
Three years ago, Katie’s Cottage was built. The space beside Boundary Trails Health Centre offers a safe, welcoming place for people visiting the hospital to stop for a moment, catch their breath and recharge. Since its inception, the Cottage has seen hundreds come through its doors.
Reimer said her drive to keep Katie Cares and Katie’s Cottage running is from a promise she made to Kaitlyn to keep going.
“The drive came from me promising her that I would not stay in bed and pull the covers over my head and just want to stay there,” she said. “That’s really what you want to do, but you get up every morning. She gave me a purpose, she gave me a reason to move on. I made the promise and I wasn’t going to let her down on that promise.”
“I honestly wish that she was with me today and she would accept this award rather than me,” she added.
In the three years since Katie’s Cottage opened, Reimer said she has seen many people come through the doors. One of the most memorable visitors to her was a man from Rankin Inlet, Nunavut who had never left his community before.
“He was alone,” Reimer said. “He kept saying he had no money and I said it didn’t matter because we have a compassionate fund we can use… At the end of his four days he said, ‘I am so grateful for this place.’”
Reimer said after staying at Ronald McDonald House with Kaitlyn, she knew what it meant to have a place to go that was free from the hospital influence.
“The sights, the sounds and the smells of the hospital are not here,” she said. “We really sat down long and hard and looked at the whole plan and how it would feel for people. The goal is always to make people feel at home, feel welcome, feel safe and just have a soft place to land.”
Reimer said it feels good to know that so many people have benefitted from the cause that Kaitlyn started. “It feels good to give back when so many gave to us,” she said. “Kaitlyn was very community minded and my family is community minded, so I accept this award on behalf of myself, my husband, my son and my daughter.”
Over the years, Reimer said she has learned to be a good listener. “I’ve learnt to take criticism because it’s constructive,” she said. “I’ve learnt to embrace everyone that comes through that cottage and just listen to their stories, because they all have a story and they’re all special.”
Reimer said she has also learned a lot about what she is capable of. “I can do far more than I ever thought I was capable of,” she said. “I’ve stretched myself and I’ve learned to accept that and accept who I am. I’ve also accepted the fact of who Kate was, and what all that has meant.”
For Reimer, some of her most memorable moments have been seeing youth connect with Kaitlyn’s message. “All fundraisers are special, but when you see little kids who are bringing their birthday money and thinking not of themselves but of someone else, that is really special,” she said. “When you think of the Youth in Philanthropy who have donated throughout the years to the Cottage… all of these kids are working very, very hard and they donate to us. That’s very special.”
Ultimately, Reimer said she hopes to see the next generation take up Katie’s cause to better the community.
“The old saying is, ‘It’s better to give than to receive,’ it’s so true,” she said. “It is so much better to give and see those smiles on those kids’ faces, wipe the tears away and give them something to hold on to.”
“That is enough, to hear the thanks,” she added. “I don’t need any money, I don’t need an award, I just need to see those little faces and the smiles on their face, that’s all that needs to be said.”
Reimer said the award is important to help showcase the work of volunteers and community builders in the area. “When you look at the amount of people that have done so many good things, this is a great award to be in that group,” she said. “Those people have all made this community better, and I think it inspires others to say, ‘I want to do good too.’”
“I love living here,” she added. “I didn’t grow up here but it has been my community. I do love living here, I think it’s a wonderful to be a part of. Generosity reigns high.”
Reimer will be honored at the 2019 Citizen of the Year Banquet at the Days Inn Conference Centre on October 3.
This year’s guest speaker will be Chris Koch. Koch was born without arms or legs. A farm boy turned world traveler, he has set out on his latest adventure to bring his message global.