A Red River College student with a distinguished military record has again turned his attention to a different form of service — by launching a foundation to raise scholarship money for students with developmental disabilities.
Andrew McLean, a former Warrant Officer who retired from the Canadian Forces last summer after 22 years of service, recently donated $25,000 of his own money to start the Canadian Torch Foundation — which will provide its first $1,000 CTF Award to an RRC student next year.
The award is available annually to a full-time student with a developmental disability (physical, mental or documented learning disability, or visual or hearing impairment), who’s studying one of the following RRC programs: Child and Youth Care, Disability and Community Support, Early Childhood Education or Early Childhood Education Workplace.
McLean’s goal is to eventually raise $2.5 million in funding for similar post-secondary scholarships at 10 colleges and universities, and to complement them with annual grants for rehabilitation efforts benefitting children and youth across Canada.
He’s hoping the scholarships will help to foster students’ potential, regardless of the obstacles they might face.
“There’s a difference between someone’s performance and their potential,” says McLean, a former search and rescue technician who’s currently in his first year of RRC’s Disability and Community Support program. “A lot of people try to achieve performance, but potential is what really makes a difference. That’s what affects change — fostering people’s ability to be the best person they can be, or to achieve a more fulfilling life.”
This isn’t the first time McLean has advocated on behalf of those with disabilities. In 2006, together with the Canadian Paralympic Committee’s Greg Lagacé he co-founded the Soldier On program, which employs sports and athletic therapy to help rehabilitate Canadian soldiers suffering from physical and psychological injuries.
Soldier On was inspired by the many friends and fellow soldiers who came back from overseas requiring rehab, says McLean — himself an avid athlete and ultra-marathon runner who has won a host of awards and commendations over the decades. Responsibility for the program (and subsequent Soldier On Fund) was transferred to the Canadian Forces Personnel and Family Support Services in 2007.
“I want to be challenged — I want to breathe the air and I want to challenge myself,” says McLean, who was deployed to Afghanistan during his last year in the military. “And I believe other people want to challenge themselves, too. But if you don’t have the resources or opportunities, it can limit a lot of people, especially in certain demographics.”