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Mena Ruffolo Westhaver, Active Winner of the 2021 VCLA for Thriving Children and Youth

After being unable to breathe and developing weird spots, hospital blood work confirmed the unthinkable. Mena Westhaver's five year old son had Leukemia. Mena received this information shortly after the beginning of the trial for her brother’s murder. She realized that dealing with these situations meant accepting the generous help that was offered. It meant staying positive and moving forward. After three years of treatment, the joyous words ‘cancer free’ were heard. Realizing that not all children survive such an ordeal, Mena’s desire to help others was fortified. She eventually raised hundreds of thousands of dollars to help people dealing with similar situations.

Mena’s interest in fundraising began before her son’s illness. Two years before the diagnosis, Mena created a fundraiser called the Grizzlies Cub Fund. The event raised five thousand dollars. This money helped the daughter of her husband’s sister’s friend who had been diagnosed with a brain tumor. Seeing how this contagious generosity had emerged, Mena developed another idea. If all the women in her running group, Sole Sisters, put a quarter into a jar every time they walked or ran, these women would raise a lot of money. Eventually, by walking or running three times a week, seventy five thousand dollars was raised. This money was then given to families with sick children.

‘Do something every day in your life for yourself, for your family, and for someone else you might never even meet’

Mena Westhaver is part of a large Italian family. She grew up in Victoria geographically surrounded by nineteen cousins. Growing up, Mena was involved in sports. Activities such as skating and swimming provided a sense of freedom, accomplishment, strength and socialization.

Mena’s leadership skills emerged from involvement in sports. She had several role models. Mena fondly recalls the teacher with the key to the gym. Mr. Edwards was a not only a father figure at the school, but also encouraged physical activity by walking to school himself. One of Mena's other role models was Lara Lauzon, leader on the body moves show. Ms. Lauzon became Mena's lifetime mentor. Mena also had skating coaches who instilled an attitude of living well, working hard, allowing discomfort and not quitting when things got difficult.

It was one of these coaches who provided Mena on opportunity to begin helping. At the age of eight, she began coaching littler kids. Mena loved sharing her passion and still enjoys helping people thrive.

“you never work a day in your life if you love what you do”

Mrs. Westhaver had other early leadership learning opportunities. At age fifteen, Mena began working with retired NHL player Bob Barlow. Under this leadership, Mena’s ability to teach flourished. Eventually, she became part of a hockey school surrounded by NHL players. Then, when Mena was in grade eleven, she began working at Pearkes Recreation Center. She started sweeping the floor and monitoring activity on the ice.

Today, Mena is a senior recreational programmer at Saanich Recreation. She works in financial assistance and enjoys seeing the administrative side of the business. Mena likes

how this job enables her to be embraced in the community.

Mena continues to focus on healthy active living. She still runs, coaches, and lives according to Dr. Bill Hettler’s wellness wheel. This philosophy combines all elements of existence – physical, emotional, spiritual, occupational, intellectual and educational. Mena lives with the values of honesty, integrity, and trust. She uses these philosophies and values to look at things from a different perspective and to make decisions.

Mena is excited about the future. She is looking forward to grandchildren. Mena is hopeful about seeing the community support each other as during the pandemic; people asking for help and accepting it. Mena is hoping to change the impact of Sole Sisters. She hopes to get more people physically active.

You can learn more about the organizations and people in Mena Westhaver’s story:

Sole Sisters:

Tour de Rock:

Camp Goodtimes:

Dr. Bill Hettler

Lara Lauzon>people>lauzon

Bob Barlow – Wikipedia

By Madeline Johnston - Blogger

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