Laidlaw builds avalanche of support

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Blenheim’s Matt Laidlaw accepts a YMCA peace medallion from Jennifer Wilson, chair of the YMCA in Chatham-Kent.
Blenheim’s Matt Laidlaw accepts a YMCA peace medallion from Jennifer Wilson, chair of the YMCA in Chatham-Kent.

Matt Laidlaw wanted to do something to honour his best friend. He wound up inspiring an entire community, and winning a YMCA peace medallion along the way.

Laidlaw, a fifth-year student at Blenheim District High School (BDHS), received the medallion Thursday at the YMCA in Chatham. He’s a leader at his school, excelling on the field and as a co-president of the student union.

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In September, he wanted to show support for his buddy Mitch Moore who is battling cancer, so he and five other members of the football team took to the stage in the school cafeteria to shave their heads and show support for Moore.

Those guys were effectively Laidlaw’s snowball, rolled from the top of a mountain. By the time that snowball reached ground level, it was an avalanche of support.

“What started as a show involving a few football players turned into a whole-school event,” he said. “There were no cliques, no separation of groups.”

What developed was unified school spirit, with a common focus. It led to a packed stage and a line up to show support by getting one’s head shaved and/or giving to the cause.

Teacher Karen Sullivan, who nominated Laidlaw for the peace medallion and wound up having her head shaved that day, said it was truly inspiring.

“They call came together,” she said. “In two hours, they brought in more than $700.”

By the time the trimmers went silent, 124 students and staff had come forward to have their heads shaved. The entire student body at BDHS is about 350 students.

“I was just trying to help a friend,” Laidlaw said.

What he did instead was quietly lead a student body.

“He’s always been a leader in the school,” Sullivan said. “He’s so caring about his community.”

Jennifer Wilson, chair of the YMCA in Chatham-Kent, said Laidlaw’s efforts transcended age, as word of the fundraising effort spread. It went from the high school level and rolled through Blenheim. In October, the student union’s fundraising efforts brought in $4,150, which it donated to the Chatham-Kent Hospice.

That stage of fundraising began again due to Laidlaw. He said he was working in Subway in Blenheim when a woman approached him to learn about what happened at the school and why. His tale moved her to donate $50 on the spot.

He then realized how the fundraising could and should continue, and took the information back to his friends at school.

“Blenheim High School has so many leaders. It was the combined total effort of everybody in that school,” Laidlaw said.

The YMCA’s Mike Walters said the purpose of the peace medallions is to inspire peace in our communities. The YMCA began handing out the medallions in 2002, and since that time, more than 1,500 people in Canada have received one.

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