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Young Airdrie philanthropist earns Diamond Jubilee Medal

By: Dawn Smith

  |  Posted: Wednesday, Oct 10, 2012 05:13 pm

Lieutenant Governor Donald S. Ethell, Prime Minister Stephen Harper and MP Blake Richards present Airdrie's Stephen McPhee with a Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Award, Oct. 9 at the Red and White Room in Calgary.
Lieutenant Governor Donald S. Ethell, Prime Minister Stephen Harper and MP Blake Richards present Airdrie's Stephen McPhee with a Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Award, Oct. 9 at the Red and White Room in Calgary.
Dawn Smith/Rocky View Publishing

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Stephen McPhee, 11, was one of a group of Airdronians honoured for their contributions to the community, Oct. 9.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Lieutenant Governor Donald S. Ethell, along with Airdrie’s MP Blake Richards, presented McPhee with a Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Medal at the Red and White Club in Calgary.

“It felt good meeting them,” said McPhee of the ceremony. “I wanted to dedicate the medal to homeless children. They need more than us.”

McPhee, a Grade 6 student at Ecole Airdrie Middle School, is the inspiration behind Stephen’s Backpacks Society, an Airdrie-based charity that has been helping families in need for six years with its backpack and shoe-collecting projects.

The organization had its beginning in 2006 when the family collected 15 backpacks full of toys, hygiene products and school supplies in their living room.

Since then, Stephen’s Backpacks has given gifts to more than 16,000 children in need across the province and has developed four programs including Footprints, Christmas Backpacks and Project Hope.

Through the proceeds of McPhee’s book, Dream Out Loud, the organization has helped 13 families by setting up apartments with new furniture, food, bedding, clothes, kitchen setup, and more.

According to Nancy, McPhee’s mom, the organization has also worked with Hugs to Haiti, which assisted families following the earthquakes of 2010 and victims of the 2011 Slave Lake fire and other Airdrie families victimized by fire.

“I was really surprised when we first heard about it,” said Nancy, adding McPhee was the youngest recipient at the ceremony, which saw medals presented to 180 people. “We never look at the awards side of what we are doing… when the awards come in, it is so wonderful just to see Stephen gain so much confidence.”

Despite his young age, McPhee sat through the long ceremony and made his way across the stage to meet Harper, Ethell and Richards alone. He also handled the media attention he received after the formal ceremony alone. His mother said she was very proud of him.

“He is really coming into his own,” she said. “This is his moment… he is ready and he is very humble. He wanted to dedicate (the medal) to the homeless kids and didn’t want the accolades for himself.

“I cried when he went and met (Harper). It was just wonderful, it was almost surreal.”

Nancy said the organization plans to continue helping others with its programs. It’s most recent project, which it is doing in conjunction with George McDougall High School, is to help furnish a home for a local family.

“We already have half the furniture,” she said.

“It is exciting, but it’s not just about Stephen… it’s about helping others and bringing light to the homeless situation. On a daily basis, we are running full out for Stephen’s Backpacks and you don’t even think about it, you just do it.”

McPhee’s Diamond Jubilee is just one of many awards the boy has received.

McPhee’s other accolades include Generosity of Spirit, Leaders of Tomorrow, Stars of Alberta and an award from Autism Calgary for making a difference in the community. He also received a letter from the Queen last year.

“Through all of these awards, he never brings it back to himself,” said Nancy.

For more information on Stephen’s Backpacks, visit


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