Alf Grigg
Ascent Magazine

Alf Grigg remembers that moment like it was yesterday. At age 13, he recalls sitting in a change room at the YMCA. On the bench, he had an epiphany, a moment of clarity where he realized his calling in life. He was nine years old when his parents enrolled him at the YMCA –a decision that shaped and changed the course of his life forever. He jokes that his parents signed him up at the Y after a year of violin lessons. “They would hear me practicing, and realized that I was better suited to physical activity, rather than music,” he laughs. “When I was 13, I was sitting in a change room at the Y, and it hit me that I would love to do this for the rest of my life,” Grigg remembers. “I recognized at an early age that one of my strengths was that I loved to teach.”

As a teen, Grigg was a swimming instructor for the Y. He says he loved working with people, and sharing his knowledge. “It was the energy, it was hands-on. Most of my time was there at the Y. There were some key mentors,” he says. “There was the challenge, and it just met the needs I had at the time.” Thus, began a journey of lifelong learning for Grigg. “My dream was to work for the Y, so after high school, I went into the Recreation program at Centennial.”

Like a bird learning to use its wings, Centennial provided the confidence and skills Grigg needed to achieve national and international success. And he credits Centennial with contributing strongly to his accomplishments. After he completed the Diploma in Recreation, he has returned to Centennial as a student on two more occasions. In 1985, he received a Certificate in Human Resources, and in 1999, he obtained certification in Adult Education. Over the years, he has also served as a professor at Centennial, and in spring 2004, won the Alumni Award of Distinction—the most prestigious prize given by the Centennial Alumni Association. Alf says he was shocked when he found out he was nominated by a former student for the award, and even more surprised that he won. “I was very fortunate to receive that award this past spring,” he says proudly. “I was overwhelmed. I never even thought of it. When I found out that I had won it, I couldn’t believe it. To me, it gave me the feeling that yes, I have accomplished something. Once you’re acknowledged by your peers or outside, it gives you that little extra something, and makes you feel even better,” he says.

Grigg’s relationship with Centennial has spawned an enduring passion for learning, teaching and education that has led to many achievements in his life. The list of Grigg’s accomplishments is numerous. He is an award winner, a sought-after public speaker, author of six booklets, and leadership expert who has shared his knowledge with diverse audiences that range from college students to executives and CEOs.

Grigg began at Centennial in the 1960s, at the start of the community college, and was one of the first full-time students at Centennial. “It was hands-on, it was practical. The experience was relevant to me,” Grigg says. “It helped build my self-confidence. It gave me good writing skills and it helped me to use my creativity and be recognized for that.”

One of his instructors at Centennial, Bruce Fleury, gave Grigg his career start. Upon graduation from the Recreation program, Grigg had applied for a posting at the YMCA. The job went to someone else. Fleury, who was a director at Scarborough Parks and Recreation, gave him a job at his camp. He then moved on to the City of Toronto Parks and Recreation Department, where he has worked ever since.

Though he has worked full-time with the City of Toronto for many years, he is not one to sit idle for too long. In between his three stints at Centennial, he went to teachers’ college, obtained a degree in Recreation from Brock University, became one of the first of only 10 international certified facilitators in Canada, and is a graduate of Dale Carnegie and Toastmasters. What motivates him about education? “It’s the challenge to become better. I always like to look at ways of challenging and improving myself,” Alf says. “It keeps me feeling young. I see education as just a spice of life for me. It’s a challenge, being creative and an inner motivation to be the best that I can.”

He says that teaching and learning are like a circle—that what he learns as a student, he is able to share, and that he also learns from teaching. “I see it as growth as a person. What I gain I’m able to give back and to share.” He is a creative and dynamic teacher, and in 1998, he won the Centennial College Innovative Teacher Award.

In addition to his teaching duties, he has his own part-time business called My Latest Scoop. My Latest Scoop began many years ago as a singing telegram business, but has since evolved into facilitating his workshops and speaking engagements, and his writing projects. To date, he has written six booklets, and lectures on many topics, such as teamwork, icebreakers to creative thinking. His booklet, “How to Use a Neck Tie in Teamwork,” was used by teamwork expert Jim Cain, on both his website, and in one of his books. Alf’s booklet, “50 Great Icebreakers,” generated interest from the Mayo Clinic. “Some of my workshops are based on my booklets, some are my own experience,” Alf explains. In 2002, he was invited to speak at the International Society of Executives Conference in Philadelphia, which was attended by representatives from Disney, and many CEO’s of large companies. He received glowing reviews for his presentation. “Nothing was greater than talking to 200 CEO’s and being recognized,” Alf beams. “You can’t always put a dollar value on things. You have to go with your heart, and who knows what opportunities doing so can open up for you.”

When asked about his favourite program at Centennial, he admits that each program has its own special memories, and each served a different purpose. “If I had to choose, I would say the adult education program, but each one has its own special memory for me,” he says. “With each one I had a reason for going back, and I thoroughly enjoyed each one. With each one, I ended up with a better journey than I had expected,” he enthuses. “Recreation helped me start my dream of working with people. That was very important for me,” he says. “Human Resources helped build my self-esteem after being out of school for awhile, and helped me build to my degree instead of jumping right into it. Adult education gave me the opportunity to do things at the international level.”

One of Alf’s proudest moments came in 2002, when he, along with 500 others from around the world, was invited to help facilitate a large public meeting in New York after the tragedy of September 11, 2001. Alf represented Canada. The meeting was to discuss the rebuilding of the World Trade Centre, creating a memorial site, and helping people struck by the tragedy to move on with their lives. “It was just amazing,” Alf remembers. At the meeting, there was one facilitator per 10 New Yorkers. “As the facilitator, you would work with the table,” he says. He recalls that immigration officers on both sides of the border stopped him, because they were fascinated by him, and wanted to discuss the work he was doing.

He becomes emotional when asked about what he is most proud of. A tear wells up in his eyes when he says he is most proud of his family, which consists of wife, Sandy, and daughter, Jennifer. “I am very fortunate to have a very supportive wife and daughter. To me, it’s my base, and if I didn’t have my base, these things would never have happened if I hadn’t had that support.” Daughter Jennifer is now in the recreation program at Centennial. “There’s been that magic, that connection that I experienced. She’s just taken like a duck to water. Hopefully, she will either go on to university or work in the field.”

What does the future hold for Alf Grigg? He has certainly come a long way since that day at age 13, when he sat on the change room bench at the YMCA and decided that recreation was his calling. Though he didn’t end up working for the Y, with all the success, awards, and accolades that he has achieved, one wonders what more could he accomplish? However, at age 57, there is no slowing down for him. He still has many dreams and goals, and in fact, his affinity for learning and education keeps growing. He is currently working towards his Masters degree in Adult Education, and says if all goes well, he plans to obtain his Doctorate in Adult Education. “My dream now is that I’ve started my Masters in Adult Education. If it works out well, I see myself getting a Doctorate.” He is also focused on his volunteer work, and strongly believes in giving back to the recreation field that has given him so much joy over the years. He has done many camps over the years, and now sits on the Ontario Camping Association Board of Directors “Being with camping has been good to me, and now it’s about giving back.” One thing is for sure. Whatever this high achiever sets out to do, he will no doubt succeed.

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