An old soul can be described as someone who is mature beyond his or her years, has a philosophical outlook on life and a high level of empathy for others.
Morgan Wienberg fits the bill perfectly.
The 23-year-old from Whitehorse speaks about the work she’s accomplished in Haiti over the past four years with the eloquence and verve of someone much older.
Her success with Little Footprints, Big Steps recently caught the attention of high-ranking officials in Ottawa.
The organization helps reunite Haitian street kids with their families, get an education and build a life for themselves.
Wienberg became the first Yukoner to receive the Meritorious Service Cross award, which recognizes “outstanding achievement that set an example for others to follow and bring benefit to our country.”
She stopped by the News this week to talk about how far both she and the organization she runs have come.
It was Wienberg’s first time back in Whitehorse since 2013, she said.
“It’s so rejuvenating to come back here, sometimes I get a bit isolated and I forget how supportive people are,” she said.
“So much has happened in the past year, so much progress. I’m much more confident and comfortable with myself, and more professional.”
Wienberg remembers a time when she’d stretch herself too thin, trying to accomplish too much at once.
She couldn’t even take a day off to go to the hospital if she needed to.
“Now I recognize myself as a person and it’s allowed me to become a lot healthier,” she added.
“It has made my productivity with the organization a lot more positive. I’m able to see the big picture.”
Now, she has 12 employees who are collaborating with local authorities and helping her develop new programs to help more people in the disaster-ridden country.
One of those programs focuses on preventing sexual abuse against young children.
As part of a larger working group for child protection, Little Footprints, Big Steps has helped organize nine training sessions in different communities.
The aim is to change people’s mentality and educate them about how to react to cases of domestic violence and sexual abuse, Wienberg said.
Staff members have also grown as people, as they’ve been embracing their new responsibilities, she added.
It took a few years for Wienberg to gain enough credibility in Haiti.
At first, locals were skeptical and critical of her intentions.
“There was no proof of my vision and everyone in the community said the street kids wouldn’t change,” she said.
“Even the kids didn’t believe it. But they just really needed to be shown affection and trust.”
These days, Haitians approach her in the street to congratulate her on her work, she said.
One of Wienberg’s favourite success stories is about a 16-year-old named Ysaac.
They met in 2012, when she started a safe house for street kids in Les Cayes.
Ysaac’s mother died when he was nine and he spent the following three years on his own.
He got to a point where he wouldn’t have a conversation with anyone, Wienberg said.
People called him crazy, so he embraced it. He’d make animal noises and run around barefoot.
It took months but ultimately Wienberg created a bond with the young boy.
Ysaac had a large tumour on his cheek, which required surgery.
The pair traveled to Miami, twice, to have it removed.
It’s a story she told Whitehorse students this week as she made the rounds of elementary and secondary schools.
“Now that Ysaac is in school he’s the top of his class,” Wienberg said proudly.
“We took him to see a psychologist in Miami last year, who told me that between those two visits, Ysaac had gained about five years of emotional maturity.
“I tell students now that anyone can make an impact on another person. You don’t have to be rich or have a university degree.”
In between visits to schools this week, Wienberg has also been showing off her hometown to documentary filmmakers.
The crew has been shooting footage for “Morgan’s Kids” for the past few years, making several visits to Haiti and Miami.
In the United States they captured Ysaac’s first time in a restaurant, at a zoo and in an elevator, Wienberg said.
In Whitehorse, she took them to her former school, F.H. Collins, and places where she used to work, including the Alpine Bakery.
While she doesn’t feel completely “in her element” in front of the camera, she believes it’s an important film and she’s happy to have special memories captured on film.
The filmmakers hope to finish Morgan’s Kids in 2016.
Wienberg will be back in Whitehorse on Feb. 13 to give a presentation at a gala fundraising event, “Sharing the love,” at the Whitehorse Convention Centre.
People can learn more about the organization and how they can support it at www.littlefootprintsbigsteps.com.
Contact Myles Dolphin at