Tillsonburg District Chamber of Commerce announced Tillsonburg's 2017 Citizen of the Year is Matthew MacNeil.
You can join MacNeil and his family and friends in his Citizen of the Year Celebration on Thursday, June 1st, 5:30 p.m. at The Carriage Hall, 25 Brock Street West. Light refreshments will be served. RVSP to email@example.com.
"I was so, so suprised," said MacNeil, who didn't know he had been nominated. "I didn't know about it yet, but when I did, I was so thankful that they chose for me for that award."
MacNeil, 27, made headlines when he travelled to New York City to speak at the United Nations on World Down Syndrome Day, March 21. His message was that everyone should be proud of who they are and they should all be treated the same as everyone else.
"I'm a little bit nervous, but excited to speak at the United Nations. It's a big opportunity for me," said MacNeil in the days leading up to his NY trip.
As a member of Canadian Down Syndrome Society’s self-advocate committee Voices At The Table for Advocacy for several years, and chair of the committee for three, MacNeil has become an expert at speaking up for the rights of people with Down syndrome.
“It’s important for self-advocates to speak out,” MacNeil had said. “Everyone should be proud of who they are. I’d like to show more people that they should treat us just the same as everyone else.”
World Down Syndrome Day was designed to allow people around the globe to create a single voice for advocating for the rights, inclusion, and well-being of people with Down syndrome.
"I did it to help people in the community," said MacNeil, who has been an advocate since 2010. "I was kind of nervous, but I know I was ready to help spread awareness for it.
"It went really well. We talked about how we advocate in Canada, how my group started, and how we can help other groups start."
His first trip to the Big Apple, MacNeil spent two days in New York City.
"I liked it, it was really nice. A nice city, really beautiful. A lot of people..."
MacNeil said he is looking forward to his June 1st Citizen of the Year Celebration.
"I'm really excited to see all the past Citizen of the Year people. And seeing all the people who really helped me to be who I am today."
Among those people, he said, are family and friends, his teammates (MacNeil is a multi-sport athlete) and his Sobeys co-workers.
"I'd like to give a shout out to the man who nominated me, George Van Damme."
Not much changes for MacNeil now that he's Citizen of the Year - one of the town's most distinguished citizens.
"Exactly the same Matt MacNeil," he smiled, stressing once again the importance of everyone being treated the same as everyone else. "I'm going to keep advocating and raising awareness.
- with files from Heather Rivers