The Direct Energy Volunteer Citizen of the Year 

The Volunteer Citizen of the Year Award is designed to honour an individual or individuals in the Alberta Weekly Newspapers Association (“AWNA”) coverage area, who have made a significant contribution as a volunteer to their community. The awarding of the Volunteer Citizen of the Year Award will showcase the significant contribution that the spirit of volunteerism makes to our communities.  The award consists of a $5,000 donation (the “Prize”), made by Direct Energy Marketing Limited (“Direct  Energy”), to the winner’s organization or cause of choice in their community


Direct Energy's 2023 Volunteer Citizen of the Year. 

Janet Townsend recognized for establishing Hearts and Hands Foundation, selfless dedication to Canmore community

CALGARY, AB (October 16, 2023) - Direct Energy and the Alberta Weekly Newspapers Association (AWNA) are pleased to announce Janet Townsend, founder of the Hearts & Hands Foundation, has been named the 2023 Alberta Volunteer Citizen of the Year.

Townsend, a resident of Canmore, Alberta, was honoured at a special ceremony where Direct Energy also announced it is making a $5,000 donation to the organization.

“Janet Townsend’s passion for helping others has benefited thousands of people over many decades – not only here in Canada but also in the United States and Guatemala,” said Tanis Kozak, vice president and general manager, Direct Energy. “In leading by example and inspiring other volunteers to join her causes, Janet deeply understands and puts into action the importance of caring for others and doing your part to make the world a better place.”

Since 2004, the Alberta Volunteer Citizen of the Year Award has recognized individuals who have made a remarkable contribution to their community through volunteer work. This year, Direct Energy received over 40 nominations after reaching out to more than 100 Albertan communities.

Townsend has been an active volunteer for most of her life, most recently supporting the Ralph Connor United Church, Rotary Club of Canmore, and the Lions Club of Canmore when she moved to the community in 2002. She’s had a hand in many Rotary Clubs in District 5360 and Rotary Clubs in Guatemala. Under her leadership, the Lions Club is undertaking a project to provide new playground equipment at seven playgrounds in Canmore that badly need replacement.

She’s also working with the Lions Club to provide solar lights in homes in Guatemala that do not have electricity. As part of this program, they will install 70 solar lights this month.

Townsend founded the Hearts and Hands Foundation after she travelled to Guatemala in 2003 and witnessed poverty, corruption, and hardship, especially for the Indigenous Mayan people. She served in Guatemala for two years as a social worker on coffee plantations and at an adoption agency. She came home to Canada, only to return four months later with groups of volunteers she had recruited to help build stoves in Mayan homes that only had open fires. Since then, the Hearts & Hands Foundation has continued to recruit and take groups of volunteers to Guatemala. Townsend works with local governments in Guatemala to design projects that provide sustainable solutions and make a lasting impact on the communities.

Over the past 20 years, Hearts and Hands has built 60 elementary classrooms, a junior high and a senior high school. The nonprofit organization has helped 926 high school and university

students through its scholarship program, “Teach the Teacher.” Hearts and Hands provides two literacy programs and free medical, dental, and eye clinics for families in need.

Townsend’s vision for Hearts and Hands is to produce new leaders in Guatemala, promote self- reliance in communities, and develop leadership skills in women and girls. She continues to lead volunteers to work towards this vision, with another group departing earlier this month.



In addition to Townsend’s exceptional volunteer spirit, this year’s Volunteer Citizen of the Year award also recognizes seven finalists who have made a positive impact on their communities across the province:

  • Grace Alarcon-Isla for supporting the Saranay Filipino community in Edmonton.
  • Jill Burrows for her work with the Elks and Royal Purple community groups in Fort Macleod.
  • Sheila Clark for volunteering with Strathmore Meals on Wheels for almost four decades.
  • Debbie McCoy for her work with the Westlock Hospital Auxiliary, the Community Garden, and the task force that established the Community Foundation.
  • Simisola Obasan for serving on the City of Airdrie’s Assessment Review Board and volunteering with the Airdrie Basketball Association and Airdrie Black Community.
  • Marg Pollon for her efforts related to disaster preparedness, including establishing Bridges of Love.
  • Linda Walton for fostering rescue dogs and supporting SCARS Animal Rescue Society.

    “We are truly moved by the inspiring stories of so many compassionate and generous people,” Kozak said. “Volunteers strengthen our province and at Direct Energy, we’re honoured to recognize outstanding Albertans who are making a real difference in the heart of our communities.”

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