When Warrant Officer Andrew McLean retired recently, he took something very valuable with him: his compassion for others. That compassion is the momentum behind many of McLean’s philanthropic efforts and his current undertaking to assist disabled Canadians.
As co-founder of Soldier On, an organization dedicated to helping injured CF members “get back in the game” – running, biking, skiing, whatever it is they want to do, WO McLean says he believes he has a responsibility towards helping others.
“Responsibility is something that should be carried forward, each generation needs to do its part,” says McLean. “Opportunities and resources are key to supporting an inclusive environment for all.”
He co-founded Soldier On in 2006 with Greg Lagacé, Paralympic Development Manager with the Canadian Paralympic Committee. In 2007, responsibility for Soldier On was transferred to Canadian Forces Personnel and Family Support Services and in November of that year the Soldier On program was complemented by the creation of the Soldier On Fund.
McLean’s retirement plans include going back to school. After 21 years of serving his country, he will pursue a second career supporting and advocating for people with developmental disabilities. This fall he will enroll in the two-year Disability and Community Support Program at Red River College in Winnipeg, Man., and plans to complete a university degree in disabilities management shortly thereafter.
“My success in championing and developing Soldier On gave me a lot of experience,” says McLean. “And going back to school is another step that will contribute to my growing knowledge, efforts and passion to support others.”
Education is only one part of WO McLean’s “exit strategy” from the CF. Through the Canada Gives organization, he has also started an endowment fund called the Canadian Torch Foundation to raise $1 million for post-secondary scholarships for persons with disabilities or for those who are entering disabilities studies. He kicked off the campaign by contributing $25,000 of his own money to get things started.
“I started the Canadian Torch Foundations because I wanted to continue the work that I started with the Soldier On Program, says McLean. “I am very passionate about supporting developmental disabilities and this gives me the opportunity to support all Canadians. As the fund grows hopefully we’ll have one (endowment fund) in each province and territory. The foundation will also provide grants to rehabilitation programs for children, youth and young adults across Canada.”
Always one to put his heart and soul into everything he does, WO McLean also paid special attention to designing a suitable logo for the foundation.
“The torch is symbolic of the responsibility we all have in making sure progress is carried forward. The hearts you see in the logo symbolize the passion and fire in all of us to support one another,” he says. “I know it takes a lot of work to be successful. I have not always been successful in my endeavours but I have always shown heart in at least trying.”
For the past 21 years, he’s done that and then some, serving first as a Canadian Army soldier with the 1st Battalion, The Royal Canadian Regiment and then as a search and rescue technician (SAR tech) at 17 Wing Winnipeg, Man., 14 Wing Greenwood, N.S., and 8 Wing Trenton, Ont.
McLean was invested into the Order of Military Merit for exceptional leadership and humanity toward supporting the seriously ill and injured and those in need. From early on in his military career and with success in competing in athletic competitions he says he’s learned to use that success to promote social causes and charities.
“My first big fund raising event was in 1995 where I covered a distance of 500 kms in 62 hours while biking, running and canoeing.”
This event raised funds for the Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario. His efforts also supported MacDonald Youth Services in Winnipeg where over a seven year period from 2000-2007 he provided winter jackets and school backpacks to their youth resource centre.
“I believe that when you provide a positive adult example to those in need they learn to respond and know that there are people out here that believe in them and want them to succeed,” explains McLean.
In the midst of setting up his most recent foundation, McLean discovered another opportunity to support his philanthropic endeavours. While watching a CFL game one night he saw a Scotiabank ad about Canadian Game Changers and checked out the website. When he read how nominees could get funds for their charities he submitted his name.
Nominees for the Scotiabank Game Changers www.scotiabankgamechangers.com compete for votes to win cash donations for their charities. WO McLean has already managed to rank among the top nominees and as of this interview has received almost 5000 votes and sits in 4th place.
“On August 1st I was selected as one of 72 Scotiabank Game Changers Finalists for the (Winnipeg) Blue Bombers team,” says McLean. “This selection included a Scotiabank Game Changers Football and $1000 to go to a charity of choice. I have already passed on the grant to Camp Maple Leaf to help support their efforts to include military children with developmental disabilities.”
According to the Scotiabank website, nominees will have the chance to receive fantastic CFL Prize Packs and tickets to the 100th Grey Cup game – and the charities and causes they support could receive donations of up to $100,000. Scotiabank Game Changers are individuals who have demonstrated leadership and creativity while overcoming challenges and building brighter futures for others in their communities.
McLean says voting for the Scotiabank Gamechangers finalists will continue until Nov. 20th. If you would like to support WO McLean’s nomination as a Canadian Game Changer, visit https://scotiabankgamechangers.com/nomination/?nominationid=174 and vote daily.
By Jill Kruse. Jill Kruse is a multi-media journalist and a mom to three growing girls. She lives in Fredericton, New Brunswick where she pursues a passion for tennis and writing. Her beloved husband Sgt. Greg Kruse was KIA while serving as a Combat Engineer with 2CER in Afghanistan in December 2008.