Local women join select ranks of gold Discovery Award recipients

WELLINGTON COUNTY – Two northern Wellington women are now among a handful of Canadians who have attained a gold level Discovery Award.

Rose van Sickle of Harriston and Penny Renken of Mount Forest recently became the third and fourth Canadian recipients of gold badges through the program, an achievement award for people over 50 years of age.

The award, presented by The Discovery Award Federation based in the UK, challenges participants to discover new strengths and interests, hidden talents, new and interesting people, the satisfaction of helping others and the joy of unexpected achievement.

The program encourages people to keep active in their personal lives with hobbies, community service and recreational pursuits. They are also required to plan a journey.

While the program requires participants to put in at least 720 hours to attain gold, van Sickle notes that both her and Renken are active members of their community who were able to count many of their regular activities toward the program.

“Even though we’ve done like 1,000 hours between the bronze, silver and gold, we’d have done 800 of it anyway because we’re the type of people that are always busy,” van Sickle pointed out.

The Discovery Award is patterned after the Duke of Edinburgh Award.

In September of 1987, a pilot group of six women and four men met with a community education worker in England and the local advisor for the Duke of Edinburgh Award to develop the idea of the Discovery Award.

The Duke of Edinburgh Award is for youth aged 15 to 25. Once the gold is completed it is normally presented by the Duke himself or someone from the Royal Family.

Organizers wanted the Discovery Award to be something to keep an older age cohort active.

Worldwide there are over 110 gold status Discovery Award holders, mostly from Great Britain.

The first Canadian to earn gold was Candace Gaudet of Hamilton, who guided van Sickle into the program. Laura Jessop-Brock of Collingwood is the only other Canadian gold level award holder.

Renken and van Sickle are both longtime leaders in the Guiding movement and members of the Trefoil Guild, a branch of Guiding designed for women over 30.

While they learned about the program through their guild involvement, their progression through the Discovery Award process, which they started in 2019, is not connected to the guild.

And although they went through the program at the same time, they did the work on the components of the award individually. However, they did provide each other with encouragement and support.

“I needed Penny to test me and she needed me to test her, so that’s why we did it together,” said van Sickle.

Both women say the personal challenge the program provides was a drawing card.

“I do like challenges. It motivates me to get projects done. And then there’s a sense of an accomplishment … I feel proud that I did it,” said van Sickle.

“I like to rise to a challenge if I can,” stated Renken. “I like doing things, I like being busy and I like being busy in the community.”

Community service, hobbies and interests, recreational pursuits and physical journeys are the required components of the program.

For Renken, the recreation hours were the toughest to accumulate.

“I had started walking and I got up to five kilometres a day and then all of a sudden it became cold. I didn’t like walking with boots and coat and the exercise just plummeted,” she recalls.

The community service element, says Renken, was her favourite part of the process.

“I love crafts. I love doing that. But I guess my heart is in community service,” stated Renken, who did much of her Discovery Award work through her Guiding involvement and her church.

Van Sickle points out the COVID-19 pandemic made completing the service element more challenging than it otherwise would have been.

“With COVID, my service was very hard to do, because all the churches were shut down, there were no rummage sales, there were no bake sales,” she explained.

However, van Sickle also listed community service activities, including visiting with elderly community members and “writing thinking-of-you cards,” among her favourite parts of the challenge.

“It was more of a connection, especially during COVID,” she noted.

Both women used a trip to a national Trefoil Guild gathering to fulfil the journey component of their award.

Renken’s hobby activities included knitting, sewing and various crafts, while van Sickle utilized her interest in scrapbooking and organizing her collections of guiding paraphernalia and stamps.

Renken recently became the contact person for the Discovery Award group in Canada and she will be participating in her first meeting with committee members from the United Kingdom later this month.

“The Discovery Award is for everyone, not just Guiding members,” she stressed, noting the organization is always looking for new participants.

For more information call Renken at 519-323-0065 or email Ian Littlehales at @irlittlehales@hotmail.com.