Shell Lake business owner eager to return as Make a Wish ambassador

Submitted photo. Rose Freeman (centre) and her two daughters pose for a photo with Make-a-Wish CEO Meaghan Stovel McKnight (right) after receiving a certificate of appreciation for raising more than $11,000 during the Women for Wishes campaign.

After a successful first year as a Make-a-Wish ambassador, Shell Lake insurance broker Rose Freeman is back for a second.

In 2023, Freeman was one of 22 Saskatchewan women asked to become ambassadors for the Women for Wishes Make-a-Wish campaign. She said becoming an ambassador for a worthy cause was a great experience, and she’s happy to help out again in 2024.

“I was very flattered. I thought it was very humbling to be asked to be a part of it,” Freeman said.

“When they approached me, it was an automatic yes.”

Initially, Freeman said she didn’t know much about the Make-a-Wish program, but the more she learned, the more excited she was to support it.

Freeman has two children of her own, and remembers spending long days in a natal intensive care unit after both were born premature. She said that experience brought her in contact with many families whose children faced severe health complications. Years later, it’s what inspired her to become a Make-a-Wish ambassador.

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Shell Lake insurance broker Rose Freeman was a finalist for Insurance Business Canada’s Insurance Broker of the Year Award in 2023. This was the second year in a row she was a finalist.

“I do remember sitting in NICU with sick little babies and staring at an incubator,” she said. “That is an awful feeling and I wouldn’t wish that on anybody, so I think the work that Make-a-Wish does is incredible, just … to give them (families) something positive to look at.”

More than 100 women across Canada were named Make-a-Wish ambassadors in 2023. Each ambassador had a goal of raising $10,000, or roughly the average cost of fulfilling one child’s wish.

Freeman held several fundraisers over the summer to hit that total. The biggest took place at Live Music at the Gazebo, a new live music event held in Shell Lake on June 30. Her two children also chipped in, setting up lemonade stands at Live Music at the Gazebo and other events. Freeman also donated all proceeds from hunting and angling licence sales at her business, Willow Insurance Corp., between April and September.

Freeman also credited several local business owners and residents for making online donations to her campaign.

By October, Freeman and her campaign had raised more than $11,000 for Make-a-Wish, with all of those funds staying in Saskatchewan. She said most community members and business leaders know a family with a child whose wish was granted, and that connection made it easier to get them on board.

“Saskatchewan is so small that everybody did have a personal connection to it where they said, ‘I have a grandchild, a niece, a nephew, a friend, a neighbour, somebody,’ or they knew kids who were currently on the list waiting for their wish to be granted,” Freeman said. “It was just nice to come together as a community for that…. I feel like everybody has been so isolated for the last three years that it was a positive thing to come together for.”

Since its founding in 1932, Make-a-Wish Canada has granted more than 37,000 thousand wishes to children. That includes more than 1,000 wishes granted in 2022.

SUBHEADLINE: Freeman shocked, but grateful, to be named IBC award finalist

Working as a Make-a-Wish ambassador wasn’t the only thing that kept Freeman in busy in 2023. She celebrated her business’ 10th anniversary, and in October was named a finalist for Insurance Broker of the Year at Insurance Business Canada’s (IBC) 2023 awards.

Freeman was the only broker from Saskatchewan named as a finalist for Broker of the Year, as well as the only rural broker.

“It was a pretty big shock,” Freeman said. “It’s a national award, so it’s open to all insurance brokers across Canada. I live in Shell Lake, Saskatchewan. Our population is 160 people … and I mean, that is a huge thing considering how big some of the firms are.

“All the other finalists on there came from large centres … so to be from a small rural community like Saskatchewan is a huge deal.”

Freeman said there’s some pressure in the insurance world to automate everything, but smaller communities like Shell Lake appreciate face-to-face customer service. She’s tried to make face-to-face meetings a priority, and credits those efforts for helping Willow Insurance succeed.

“With insurance, I think it’s more complicated than people expect it to be,” she said. “Sometimes it helps if you can sit down in person and actually look at it, and you’re not being rushed out the door. We have time to sit and talk to you.

“Automation’s great until it’s not. Sometimes you just want to talk to a person,” she added.

Freeman added that many of her clients are people she’s known her whole life. That makes it easier to go the extra mile for them.

Freeman was one of 11 brokers nominated as Broker of the Year. The winner was Jo-Anne Raymond from Paisley Partners Inc. in North York, Ont.

This was the second year in a row Freeman has been nominated for the Broker of the Year Award. Freeman celebrated 10 years as the sole owner of Willow Insurance in 2023. She purchased and renamed the Shell Lake businesses in 2013, then expanded to a second location in Debden in 2017.