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Be Inspired YMM Five people to get you inspired for 2013

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Courage. Tenacity. Strength. Passion. Vision. Drive. What do all those words and qualities have in common? You find them in people who have the ability to inspire others, and in those who have conquered their own challenges to achieve success. Those fundamental assets, and far more, are what you find in five inspiring people living, working, playing – and making a difference – in the Wood Buffalo region


Nathaniel Crossley

At the tender age of 10, young Nathaniel Crossley has likely done more for others than most adults three times his age. From a Facebook fan page to support and encourage U2 lead singer Bono after he injured his back to intensive fundraising efforts to raise money to build water wells in Malawi, Crossley is the philanthropic Energizer Bunny of the YMM younger set, and his plans and dreams continue to take shape.  Crossley states, "I am passionate about helping others and making a difference, because I think it’s the right thing to do. I want to make the world even. I’m helping because they are people like us
and they should have clean drinking water, school, and other things that we have."

Next on his agenda? A trading scheme designed to end in plane tickets to Africa to see his wells ­— and to climb Mount Kilimanjaro. And his words of wisdom to others who may have trouble following their dreams? "Ignore what others say about your idea and just stick with your dream. Never give up on your dreams and have fun doing it".


Christina Traverse

Only a decade or so older than Crossley, but just as determined, Christina Traverse at the age of 22 is challenging conventional wisdom about dog sledding. In a sport that is often dominated by older men, Traverse brings a new perspective. She just tackled a grueling 1,000-mile race through frozen wilderness when she took on the Yukon Quest, a dog sled competition designed for only the toughest to complete.

It hasn’t always been easy, though, and she has faced challenges.

“When I first starting dog sledding, my mother was so against it. Her issue was that she didn’t fully understand modern day mushing. So I took her out to see the dogs to show her that these dogs aren’t pieces of equipment, they are my family. I took her out for a run with the dogs and when I saw the expression on her face, watching the dogs do something they love, I knew she finally understood why I do what I do. Now she’s my biggest fan.”
Traverse shares Crossley’s belief in the power of dreams, too.

“I have heard this Japanese proverb before: Fear is only as deep as the mind allows. If you put your mind to something, you can do it. Always have a dream, and never give up on it".


Suhail Panjwani

Panjwani wasn’t supposed to be a social studies teacher, and certainly not a teacher working at local schools and teaching young adults the art – and history – of hip hop. His parents were pretty certain he would be a doctor, or at least that was their hope. But when Panjwani was in his second-year of university studying biology, he realized his passion was for teaching and dance.

“My parents wanted me to go into science so I could become a doctor,” Panjwani explains, “and that’s a pretty standard narrative for a lot of South Asian youth growing up as first-generation immigrants. It was hard for my parents at first, but they support me now. It was important for me to help them understand that just because I’m not making as much money as a doctor doesn’t mean I’m not doing something of value ―and something I am good at.”

Panjwani has spent two summers dancing in New York with the internationally renowned Hip Hop Conservatory, and now shares his passion for dance with students at Westwood High School, École McTavish, and in Fort McKay.

“Trust yourself,” he says. “I think the stars align when we do what we are meant to do. Don’t chase success, chase excellence. If you chase excellence in your passion, then success will follow.”


Arianna Johnson

The Executive Director of the Wood Buffalo Food Bank didn’t achieve this role in her life easily or without challenges. Diagnosed with a learning disability at a young age, and going through a turbulent young adult life that included time living on the streets, Arianna Johnson has seen some difficult days.

“Fortunately, thanks to a loving family, some strong mentors, and what I deem to be resilience in my personality (undoubtedly inherited from my parents and grandparents) I overcame this adversity.”

And overcome it Johnson did, going from high school dropout to respected nonprofit organizational leader.

“What excites me are new challenges. The charitable sector has a host of challenges that have real impact and real consequences and that is what excites me, to see what I can make happen with a little help from my friends,” says Johnson of her work in the nonprofit sector of the community.

What inspires her? “A message from Gandhi,” she says. “Be the change you want to see in this world.”


Dave Kirschner

Businessman, philanthropist, and RMWB councilor, Kirschner has been deeply involved in the community for decades.

“During challenging times, the one who has inspired me most is the person of Jesus Christ. He has always directed me, provided for me, and given me hope,” says Kirschner. “Pressing forward through whatever the pursuit, God has shown me that there are good people and resources. Through faith, perseverance and time, the job gets done, sometimes slow but sure.”

“A dream or idea doesn’t have to be realized overnight. Give yourself time for the detail, getting to the end result doesn’t always come easy. You know, as scary as it is to try something new, we miss 100% of the shots we don’t take. So give it a reasonable try and you’ll have no regrets,” Kirschner says of following dreams.

“Life isn’t always easy or fair but it’s worth every effort to press on to try and make things better. I have been blessed with a great partner and great resources through the people I’ve met. Sometimes you lead, sometimes you follow, and encouragement always makes things better. It is not always whom we know but what we know about whom we know. Take some time for relationships, learn from children and our natural surroundings, and have some fun along the way,” he adds.

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A freelance writer, blogger and professional communicator who is passionate about her child, her work, her pets, her community and the power of words, Theresa Wells believes perfection in life is achieved when she is surrounded by amazing people, fantastic stories, cold gin and really hot shoes.