On March 4, the social work department at the Peel District School Board, presented Mark Marshall, manager of information technology operations, with the Helen Des Roches Starfish Award for his extraordinary contributions to students who face obstacles to their education.
"We want to acknowledge the exceptional efforts made by others in our system, so the Starfish award is a way for us to identify those individuals and thank them for their good work," says Jim Van Buskirk, chief social worker. "Social workers work with disadvantaged and vulnerable students every day, so they're very aware of the needs. It's wonderful for us to reflect back to other staff who are also making similar efforts. This important work really takes a village."
Although Marshall isn't in schools every day like social workers, the impact he has had and continues to make on students and their families is no different. His idea sparked 10 years ago and it was simple: to take discarded laptops, chrome books, tablets and any other devices, and recycle them for students who need them. Fast forward to the present, now with the support of other organizations, including Microsoft, he has provided approximately 900 devices to students in Peel in the past three years through his program.
Marshall embodies what it means to go above and beyond their role. On top of his day job as manager of IT operations, managing a team and ensuring schools have the support and resources necessary, he also designates much of his time after hours, and even while he is supposed to be on vacation, to support staff and students. A social worker once sent in a request to Mark while he was away on vacation requesting a device for a student. To her surprise, he responded immediately and had the device ready the very next day. He indicates that he would have been upset if he found out the student had spent the holidays without the device they needed.
"Mark truly represents the impact that one person's action can have on so many. While he's not officially a social worker, he embodies many of the values that guide one in the social work profession – compassion, empathy, flexibility, addressing inequity and coordination," says Brooke Derousseau, senior social worker.
The Starfish Award is inspired by the following story, Making a Difference:
The morning after a violent ocean storm, a man was walking down a deserted beach just before dawn. In the distance, he saw a young boy leaning down picking up something and throwing it out into the ocean. As the man approached closer he saw that the boy was picking up stranded starfish. The gentleman gazed in wonder as the boy, again and again, threw the small starfish from the sand to the water. He asked, "Little boy, why are you spending so much energy doing what seems to be a waste of time?"
The boy explained that the stranded starfish would die if left in the morning sun.
"But there must be thousands of beaches and millions of starfish", exclaimed the man. "How can you possibly make a difference?"
The boy looked down at the small starfish in his hand, and as he threw it to the safety of the sea, he said, "I sure made a difference to that one!"
The Helen Des Roches Starfish Award was first introduced more than 20 years ago. The award is presented annually during Social Workers Week by social workers to an individual who has made a significant difference in the lives of students facing obstacles to their education.
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