What started out as helping local groups when his kids were involved has grown into one man's passion into helping others on a national scale.
Ask Trenton resident Ron Wilson what makes a hero and the answer is simple.
"What you do when people aren't looking is the best thing you could do."
Wilson, 44, is a father, husband, and account manager at Kerr Norton print shop. He is also an active volunteer in the Quinte community.
Wilson started volunteering as a young parent when he stepped up to help out in his daughters local Scout's group. Today his passion for helping others is bigger than ever. His volunteer initiatives have expanded, and he now helps send children battling cancer to summer camp.
Twenty years ago, his daughter, Kailie, was one of the first girls join the local Scout troop as a Beaver, the level for children five to seven years old. Kids learn to discover the world through outdoor activities, games, music, and sports. Wilson was a young parent when his daughter joined. He recalled the group was looking for an assistant, so he pushed himself out of his comfort zone to help out.
A few years later him and his wife, Charlene, were presented with a second, unique, volunteer opportunity. Two girls in their son's class were struggling with personal issues at home. Ron said his wife suspected their mother might have been struggling with addiction issues. Charlene approached the girl's mother and asked if she wanted to get help through rehab. For the next few weeks, the couple provided a home for the girls. After their mother had been released from rehab, the two girls went back to live at home. But Ron and Charlene continued to be part of their lives, taking them on weekends when they needed.
For 10 years those two girls were part of the family. Five years ago, Wilson and his wife decided they wanted to be foster parents. They applied to the Highland Shores Children's Aid Society to become fully certified and trained. Since then, they have welcomed 16 different children into their home. He said as rewarding as it is, fostering does present itself with challenges you may not think of, for example, sitting at the table for a meal.
"When all of a sudden you add new people in the family dynamic you don't think about oh that was your child's seat. They've always sat there, or this is the favourite seat. You just put the chairs around the table, and that's where everyone sits now," he said. "Not thinking that your kids feel displaced. So there's a transition trying to incorporate them into your family and not disrupting the family core that was already there."
He explained each child stays for a different amount of time depending on their plan. Sometimes they take in kids for three days, or their longest fostering was for a teenage boy for two years.
One of the hardest things about fostering is trying not to get attached, he said.
"We always had the mindset that they weren't in it to adopt children. We were in it to give kids a good, safe, healthy environment to help them move forward with their lives," Ron said. "We had one child last year who was very special. He was with us for a few months; we really bonded then he went back home. It was very tough to build up his confidence, connect with him and then have no control when he left."
Wilson said another hard thing to deal with is hearing what the kids have been through and then having to segregate that. "You have to focus on knowing that you're providing good things for them and knowing your planting little seeds that will help them later on in their life."
"You have to focus on knowing that you're providing good things for them and knowing your planting little seeds that will help them later on in their life."
Besides raising his own children and fostering others, Ron has also been very involved in help coaching.
When his son, Dustin, was 13 he joined the Quinte West Minor Baseball Association, Wilson became a coach, despite not knowing much about baseball.
For two years he helped coach his son's team. As the league grew and got more popular, there were enough kids to form another team, which meant needing more coaches. He quickly volunteered to coach his own team. As his son got older he stopped playing. But he still stayed with the organization. Today him and his wife help out with registration, fundraisers, equipment and uniforms.
If that was not enough, he volunteered for the Select Referral Team for the Small Business Association, a group dedicated to mentoring new business owner and provide advice to existing businesses as part of the Small Business Centre at Loyalist.
He said as much as working with kids and business owners had their differences there were many elements that were the same.
"With kids your dealing with life issues and experiences and what they've been through. But when you deal with business owners it's a totally different pressure and outlook. In some ways, it's still similar because it's still their baby," he said.
Two years ago after his friend lost their child to cancer Wilson knew he needed to help. Another friend called him up and told him about the Tour for Kids ride. The ride is a three-day biking tour across Ontario. 100% of the fundraising proceeds go directly towards supporting three different cancer camps across the province.
Riders can choose their own fundraising campaign to raise the $450 needed to support them during their ride. The first year of fundraising Wilson held many charity events in the area to help him raise his goal. He found last year it was most successful to hold one big event. And so Krankin It for Kids with Cancer was created.
"I thought well the model is 100% so I gotta re-cooperate all costs, so all the money goes to the kids."
He put out the word that he was looking for a hall after a band volunteered to donate their time to play music for the event. Not only did a local hall offer up space for free but people and sponsors began flooding his email asking for ways they could help. A printing shop donated tickets, a local business sponsored to pay to be on the tickets, 80 gifts were donated for the silent auction, and another company wanted to do the event flyers.
Wilson said out of the many community initiatives he's been part of over the years the event last year was one of his favorite.
"Literally everyday last year I would come home to emails and messages of people saying that I hadn't asked them for help, but they wanted to be involved. Being a smaller community you hear more about the stories and those that are affected," he said.
Krankin It for Kids with Cancer will be held again this year on May 27 in Trenton. He said for months the response and approach he's gotten of people wanting to help again has been overwhelming. Last year he raised a total of $9,400 and this year he's hoping to break $10,000.
Besides preparing the fundraiser last year, he trained long and hard to be able to ride 100 km each day. Riders can choose to ride 100, 160 or 200 km each day. For many years before he was involved Ron explained the location of the ride would change, and new routes would be added. This year the three-day ride will take place in the Waterloo area. 450 riders of all shapes, sizes, and races come together to ride during the day and attend the dinner fundraisers in the evening.
"These guys are machines. They jump on and do 200 km a day, 30+ km an hour. But when you have the kids speaking I think if anyone said they had a dry eye all weekend they'd be lying no matter how tough or big they are."
Wilson recalled his very first day of riding in the event last year with his friend Mac. He said it was hot out and they were detoured with the route, so they were biking 118 km instead of 100 km for the day. He said the last leg of the ride his mind started to play tricks on him, making him question if he would be able to keep riding for the next few days.But when he and Mac got to dinner that night and heard a six-year-old boy talk about his treatments, he said his entire mindset changed.
"Each treatment - IV, needle, chemo treatment, etc. they get a bead to put on this necklace. This kid has this full beaded necklace wrapped around his neck numerous times," Wilson recalls. "So I said to Mac 'tomorrow if I complain give me a shot in the arm. Because there's nothing, we're going to do over these next few days that these kids don't go through by 9 o'clock in the morning.' From that point forward you don't even think about it anymore. You get on the bike and ride because it's so much bigger than yourself."
Wilson said knowing he gets to be apart of giving the kids a chance to go camping each summer and hangout with other kids going through the same thing is what drives him.
"I like to think of it as a bunch of old war buddies getting together to talk about the war," he said.
The Sears National Kids Cancer Ride is a three and a half week bike tour across Canada. The ride starts in Vancouver and ends in Halifax. Wilson said one of his goals for the future is to be able to train and fund raise enough to participate in that ride.