Musings from the ever-changing, ever-amazing and occasionally ever-baffling Fort McMurray, Alberta.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Daffodils, Cancer, and Hope in Fort McMurray

On my desk there is a small silver pin. It is a daffodil, a flower associated with spring and sunshine. It has huge meaning for me, as it was given to me by a new aquaintance who wore it on his lapel when we met, and who gave it to me when he learned that my father died of lung cancer six years ago. You see, the man who gave it to me works for the Canadian Cancer Society, and the daffodil is the flower that has also become associated with the fight against cancer.

Some of you may know that April is Daffodil Month, and that Daffodil Days are soon upon us. What you may not know, though, is what those little daffodils mean. Every year the Cancer Society sells daffodils to raise money for cancer research - but it's far more than that, too. Those little daffodils are reminders of every person who has fought cancer in this world. It is a reminder of those we have lost, and of their struggles. It is a reminder of what cancer costs us, not just in terms of money but in lives and pain and anguish. And those little flowers are a symbol of hope.

You see, my father died in spring. He died just after a massive snowstorm, and was buried during another snowstorm. It was a time when spring seemed far away, and when hope seemed impossible to find. He died before seeing the daffodils greet the sun that year, and he died of a disease that robbed him of his dignity, and his right to a peaceful death. He died from a disease that I despise, and he died in a way I will never forget. But there is hope, because I believe we can prevent others from dying the same way. Just as those tiny daffodils poke through the ground, and sometimes the snow, every year hoping to find sun, I think there is hope that we will cure cancer.

There are things that touch me more than others, and cancer is one of them. Losing my father in the way I did has forever impressed upon me the importance of making sure we try to prevent others from facing the pain and struggles he did. His long cancer journey was not only difficult for him but for my entire family as we faced what seemed to be an unstoppable foe, and when he eventually died we felt we had not only lost him but lost the battle, too. But all is not lost. The fight is not over. And hope did not die with my father, or with any of the others lost to cancer.

You see, I see those little daffodils as a way to remember every person lost to cancer, and a way to symbolize hope. Just as red poppies have become the way we remember those lost to war we can wear yellow daffodils to remember those lost to a different sort of battle, a battle that far too many lose. We can pin them to our lapel to remember them, and to show that we have not, and will never, give up hope, any more than tiny daffodils will stop emerging from the earth every spring to seek the warmth of the sun.

What touches me the most perhaps is that my father's favourite colour for flowers was yellow. Every year when my mother was alive I would send her a bouquet on the anniversary of my dad's death, just to let her know that I loved her and that I had not forgotten. And every year the bouquet was yellow, and so, of course, included daffodils. My mother is gone now too, but this year I will wear my little daffodil pin and remember my father. I will wear my daffodil pin and remember all those we have lost in the cancer wars, and I will remember that hope has not died. I will find my hope in the Canadian Cancer Society, an organization that wishes to see cancer disappear, and in a tiny little yellow flower that every year pokes out of the ground in the hope of seeing the sun.

The pins, which mark Daffodil Month, can be purchased at many retail locations including:

Booster Juice
Boston Pizza
Canadian Tire
Fort McMurray Public Library
Graystone Dental
Home Hardware
Mark’s Work Warehouse
Morrison Dental
Nomad Inn
Save on Foods
The Sawridge
Scotia Bank
MacDonald Island
Syncrude Sport and Wellness
The Fish Place

My Chat with Premier Redford - And Thoughts on Passion, Vision, and Drive

Well, people, there are things you see coming and things you just don't. What I had the chance to do yesterday was one of those things I never saw coming, never anticipated happening, and never even dreamed of as it seemed so ridiculously impossible to even imagine. You see, what happened is that I had a chance to sit down privately with Alison Redford, Premier of Alberta, and speak to her for this blog.

You might not think that's a big deal, but I do. I'm a wild card when it comes to media, people. I don't work for anyone, and no one can fire me. I have no journalism degree, and I answer to no one but myself (and you, of course). If I was a politician I'm not sure I'd agree to sit down with me for 10 minutes and let myself be interviewed, but Alison Redford did just that - and I was thrilled to have the opportunity, because in that brief time I learned a few things about a woman I already respected and admired. I learned what motivates her, and what makes her want to do her job. I learned that she is passionate about what she does, and why. And I learned she isn't all that much different from any of us.

When I received word that I had been granted an interview I was excited and terribly nervous, and most of it focused around what to ask her. I'm no political wonk, aware of the intricacies of every policy and platform. I was talking about it with someone who is a dear friend, and someone who became a friend when I interviewed them for this blog. I told her about how I didn't know what to ask, what to say in an interview of this magnitude, and she told me to just do what I always do - and to ask those questions I always ask. Those questions? They are about passion, and vision, and drive. And so yesterday afternoon when I sat down with Premier Redford I did exactly that, and asked her what makes her get up in the morning and do what she does every single day.

When we met for the interview I looked Alison in the eye and told her that I knew many media people would be asking policy questions - and that I wasn't one of them. I told her I was going to ask different questions, and she looked a bit wary at first, no doubt wondering if I planned to ask what sort of tree she would be if she were to be a tree. But once I said I wanted to talk about her passion, her vision, her drive, and what makes her get up in the morning, all hesitation disappeared. She began to talk about why she wants to lead this province, a province with great wealth and great challenges, great potential and great issues.

One of the things I've noted over the past year is that when people talk about their passion - whether it is cooking or their non-profit organization or whatever - they change. Their eyes light up. Their faces become animated, and their hands begin to fly in the air as they express why they are so passionate about what they do. And yesterday I witnessed this in our premier as she began to talk about why she is so passionate about leading this province - and it centres around her daughter.

You see, Alison moved back to Alberta when she learned she was pregnant. She had grown up in Alberta, and she knew she wanted her daughter to grow up here, too, that there was nowhere better in this country - this world - to raise a child. She knew Alberta was where she wanted to be - but she also knew that Alberta could be better. She knew that we were facing some decisions, and that we were on the edge of amazing potential (and when she said this I was amazed, as I have been saying that exact thing about this community for years, how we are on the cusp of something happening here, and about how we need the right leadership even more at this point).

We chatted about how the future of this province is so important, and not just for Alison's daughter but for my daughter, too, and for all the young people growing up in this province. I had the privilege to attend her Student Town Hall at Holy Trinity yesterday and it was marvelous to see her with students, expressing to them her hopes for their future and the future of this province. When I talked with her she spoke again of her commitment to education, and to ensuring the future of all those who call this province home. And it wasn't just what she said, people, it was how she said it that mattered to me.

When we spoke about Alberta and the future and our children she leaned forward, her eyes ablaze, her features animated. Her hands flew in the air as she spoke, as she talked about the importance of needing to be able to deal with the speed of the changes we are facing in this world, and about how we need action, not talk. She spoke about diversity and managing our resources for the future and investing in education in order to ensure a bright future for all residents - and for the province. And it wasn't just her words that impressed me, people. It was the passion with which she said them, it was the vision shining in her eyes and the clarity of her motivation. It didn't take me long to figure out why Premier Redford gets up in the morning and does what she does - it's because she loves her daughter, because she wants the best possible future for her daughter, and because she wants the same thing for all of our daughters and sons, too. There is no doubt in my mind that her motivation is genuine and sincere and authentic. Over the last year I've spoken to dozens of people with passion, vision, and drive, and it's something you just can't fake. Alison Redford is the real deal - she loves this province with a passion.

And that would be why when I heard that Danielle Smith, leader of the Wild Rose Party, questioned Alison's love for this province I actually laughed. I can only imagine Danielle has never asked Alison the question I did. To Danielle Smith I say a polite "bullshit", as there is no way anyone who speaks to Alison directly can doubt her passion for this province, and her vision for it. It is as real as her love for her daughter, and as real as the love I have for my daughter.

Now I know Danielle's claim is that Alison can't love Alberta because she wants to change it. I asked the Intrepid Junior Bloggers this question this morning: "Does wanting to change something mean you don't love it?" - and my clever girls replied "Nothing is perfect, everything can be made better!". And that goes for people and houses and cars and provinces. Wanting positive change doesn't mean you don't love something - sometimes it means you love it so much you want it to be the best it can possibly be. And that, people, is what I see in Premier Redford. She wants to see this province improve and be the best place it can be, not just for you and me and her but for her daughter and my daughter and your children, too. Any doubts I had washed away in that ten minute interview. Any thoughts I had that her motivation may be anything else disappeared. In those ten minutes I saw a woman express her passion and vision and drive, and it all centres around us being the best possible province we can be.

I walked away from the interview feeling as I always do after speaking to anyone who shows such passion. I walk away inspired and hopeful and a little overwhelmed, because passion is such a powerful quality. It can change you, and it can infect you. It can make you see the vision, too, and make you want to share that passion. And Alison Redford, Premier of Alberta, is one of those people. I walked away infected by her passionate love for this province of ours, by her vision of a province even better than it is now, and by her drive to ensure we get there. In the end I sat in my car quietly for a few moments as I collected my thoughts. I thought about why we do the things we do, and about how I write this little unpaid blog simply because I want this community to be the best place it can possibly be for my daughter, and how I want everyone in the world to see how proud I am to be part of it. And I thought about how similar Alison and I are, her in her passion and vision and drive for our province, and me in mine for Fort McMurray. I drove away thinking about how we are so very different, and yet how we are, in the end, so very much the same in the way that matters. I drove away thinking about how love for our children makes us get up every day and do the things we do, even on days that seem never ending and wearying and when we question our sanity for continuing. And I thought about how on some days, like yesterday, we get a chance to sit and speak with someone for ten minutes and have them remind us of why we do what we do, some of us working as premiers and some of us writing little blogs.

My profound and sincere thank you to
Premier Alison Redford
for agreeing to speak with me, and 
for sharing her passion, vision, and drive with me.
I believe she is a true role model for all young women
in Alberta, which is why I was delighted that
last night the Intrepid Junior Bloggers
had the chance to speak with her, too!

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Centre Of Hope - Re-Branded, Re-Launched, and Renewed

There are places in this community that have captured my heart over the past year. Some I can explain, as their importance to me is so obvious. Some are a bit tougher to understand, because they touch me deeply for reasons I don't even quite comprehend. One of these places is the Centre of Hope, that humble little blue building on Franklin Avenue. I've had the opportunity to get to know some of the staff and the patrons at the COH - our local homeless population - and they have taken on an importance that  astonishes even me some times. It's not that I've ever been homeless, as I haven't. I haven't even had any family members that were homeless. And maybe that's exactly why this has become so important to me - because I know I have always lived, and continue to live, a privileged existence. I know that with privilege comes responsibility - and I know that in the company of the COH patrons I have found some of that sincerity and honesty and authenticity that I crave. That is why last week I was pleased to attend the breakfast session at which the COH launched their new website, showed off their new logo, talked about some new fundraising and awareness events - and shared their vision and passion, with the help of a team from Leadership Wood Buffalo.

The breakfast was held at MacDonald Island Park (very convenient for me, as I could eat breakfast, which was fabulous as usual, and then head straight to the gym to atone for the pastries I should not have eaten at said breakfast), and it was hosted by Leadership Wood Buffalo. The LWB team had helped the COH to plan their rebranding and relaunch, and so it was truly a collaborative effort between them, the COH's needs meeting with the LWB team's skills - and the result is spectacular.

Centre of Hope is now sporting a brand new logo, one that speaks to their willingness to reach a hand out to those in need, those often turned away at every turn and every corner of our world - the homeless:

The new image doesn't stop at the new logo, though. The Centre of Hope is also now the beneficiary of a brand new website design, one much more sleek and streamlined. Maybe a new website doesn't seem like a big deal, but people expect everyone, including charitable organizations, to have a certain "look" to their online image. One that is clunky, outdated, or otherwise difficult to navigate will deter people from checking it out, and so a new website is a huge bonus to any organization, especially one so carefully crafted.

But it doesn't stop there, people. One of the biggest issues surrounding homelessness is the lack of awareness of the problem. Many people don't realize how many people are at risk of becoming homeless, or of the true magnitude of the problem. And many have never experienced it themselves, and so are unaware of what it means to be homeless. That's when the LWB team stepped in, and created some new fundraising and awareness events for the Centre of Hope - and I think they sound amazing.

They have created a week-long event called "Awareness Week", a week designed to specifically highlight the issue of homelessness in our community and raise funds for a place that knows first hand what the homeless endure. And during this week there are some incredible events planned, and one in particular I am quite excited about.

There is the "Northern Warrior Race", a race of a different sort and meant to prove both endurance and ability. There is a "Moonlight Classic Golf Tournament", to be played from 8:30 pm to 3:00 am on the Miskanaw golf course. I'm not a golfer but the idea of playing in the moonlight on a softly lit golf course, surrounded by our boreal forest, sounds quite lovely to me. The event I am most excited about, though, is the "Hope In The Dark" Awareness Overnight. 

You see, during "Hope In The Dark" local residents will gather and "sleep rough" for a night. There will be bands and guest speakers and awareness events - and then there will be sleeping outdoors, on the pavement. This isn't like camping out under a starry sky, though. This is meant to help foster an understanding of what it is like to sleep outdoors every night, in good weather and bad. It is meant to build awareness of what our homeless residents face. What troubles me, though, is after one night I will go home. Because I have one of those, a home to go to, while some of our local homeless population spend every night this same way. The title of the event says it all, though - there is hope in the darkness. There are those reaching out a hand to those who need it, who do not judge or condemn, and who are simply willing to help. And that hope is currently found in that little blue building on Franklin, and the people who work in it.

People, I've spent time at the Centre of Hope, and with their patrons. They have been incredibly kind to me, both staff and patrons, and I have found there a sense of authenticity and sincerity often lacking in this world. They have been honest with me when others would likely have lied, shared things they could have held back, and welcomed me into their world when they have no reason to do so. They have little reason to trust me, an outsider, a writer, and someone who has never shared their experience - and yet they have placed their faith in me when I told them I wanted to tell their stories to all of you. And at the Centre of Hope relaunch I had an opportunity to give a little of that back to them.

The COH and team from LWB had set up a small tree and called it a "message tree". The idea was that you could write messages on paper, clip them to the tree, and then those messages would be shared with all those from the COH, patrons and staff alike. I wrote this :

You are not alone!
Don't give up.
Keep the faith.
Keep the hope.
Keep on fighting.
I believe in you.

And you see I mean every single word. I believe in the staff at the Centre of Hope, and I believe in their patrons. I believe they can conquer whatever has led them to living on the streets of our community, and I believe in their ability to succeed in this world. I will have faith in them when their own faith falters, I will fight for them when they are weary, and I will share my hope with them whenever I can. They are not alone. Giving Light to the Homeless Awareness Week is an opportunity to learn about homelessness in our community, but we don't have to wait until then to learn. You can visit the COH's brand new website. You could drop by that blue building and volunteer some time. Or, you can join me on May 26th at the Clearwater Public Education Centre as I sleep rough and think about what it is truly like to be homeless. When I am there that night I will be thinking about the friends I have made in our homeless community. I will think about how they have created a family on the streets, and about how the COH has brought light into their often too-dark lives. I will think about how the team from Leadership Wood Buffalo has shared their belief and hope with the Centre of Hope, and I will think about how hope trickles down from one person to another, how it is infectious in nature and unstoppable once begun. I will lie there and think about how, even during the long night and outdoors, there is hope - hope in the darkness.

My thanks to the 
Leadership Wood Buffalo team
for inviting me to the breakfast launch
and for all they have done for the
 Centre of Hope.
And as always I thank the
Centre of Hope staff and patrons
for the kindness they have shown me -
and for never giving up hope.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Creating Tuscany - In a Field House in Fort McMurray

One of the things I've begun to really enjoy when writing this blog is getting a chance to see "behind the scenes" at local events. I've volunteered for various events, and for others I've been invited to take a "sneak peek" into the inner workings. This happened again this past week when I was invited by the Northern Lights Health Foundation to drop by MacDonald Island as they were setting up for the Spring Fling 2012 Gala - An Evening in Tuscany.

This stunning backdrop, and the one of the Tuscan street scene, is from a company called "Backdrops Beautiful" - and they are indeed beautiful.

It's little things like the items above that intrigue me. You can never quite tell what they are, and I hate to ask as I rather like being surprised when I arrive at the gala and see what they have become.

What many don't realize is the amount of work that goes into staging these events. Considering that often they rely heavily on volunteers I am always a bit amazed that they take shape as quickly and well as they do.

In the other field house I found yet another backdrop being erected, and got to see how it was attached to the trusses, which is pretty interesting.

And then of course there are all the little details, like silent auction items. From enormous things like backdrops to much smaller items every detail must be attended to, and I am sure at times it must seem like an overwhelming task.

The incredible moment, of course, is when you see the finished product, the backdrops in place...

And the fountains set up...

And the silent auction items lovingly arranged, ready for bids.

And suddenly it's not a field house, but an evening in a Tuscan piazza, or in a Tuscan field.

I am always a bit amazed by these galas, at the intensity of the effort that goes into planning and executing them. I am even more amazed by the commitment and dedication of those who plan them, organize them, stage them, and then reveal them to the community. I find myself giggling a bit at those outsiders who denigrate this city as some "wild west" type of place with no culture. Every year various organizations host these incredible galas and open them to the city. Every year we have a chance to enjoy these events, but often we have no idea what goes into them or the work it takes to create them for us. This past year I've had the privilege of having a glimpse of that work and effort and it hasn't taken a single iota of the "magic" of such events away. I think, instead, it has added to it. I've had the honour of taking a glimpse into the making of the magic, Fort Mac, and now I share it with you!

My thanks to the 
Northern Lights Health Foundation
MacDonald Island Park
for allowing me to watch as
Tuscany was recreated in a field house.

Monday, March 26, 2012

A Little Bit of Tuscany in Fort McMurray - NLHF Spring Fling 2012

Fort McMurray is far removed from the Italian region of Tuscany, especially in March. In fact I can’t quite imagine two places much further apart in terms of climate and atmosphere – and yet on Saturday night the Northern Lights Health Foundation, with the assistance of the staff of MacDonald Island Park, and several volunteers, brought a little Tuscany to Fort Mac – and it was glorious.

The event was the 25th annual Spring Fling, a fundraiser for the Northern Lights Health Foundation in support of all the work they do in ensuring quality health and wellness services for our region. I had the honour of attending the NLHF Festival of Trees late last year, and I was anxious to check out this event that both welcomes spring and is the first gala of the year. I arrived at MacDonald Island to see that the local glitterati were out in force, in fancy gowns and suits and jewels. These galas are a grand excuse to dress up, of course, but the real reason behind them is the fundraising – and as the evening wore on I learned first hand the importance of that.

First things first, though, as I had just arrived in Italy and the evening had just begun. I entered the first field house expecting some Italian grandeur, and was stopped dead by the jaw-dropping background of a Tuscan street scene. The backdrop stretched the full width of the field house, lending a distinct Italian ambience to the setting. Right in front when I entered I found a fountain, just as you would find in an Italian piazza, and a classical music quartet. The scene was elegant and once again somehow transformed a field house used for soccer and other sports into a gorgeous piece of Tuscany.

There was time to mingle and chat with guests, take photos and peruse the silent auction items. Then there was the selection of hor d’oeuvres, which I avoided knowing that a grand Italian meal lay ahead. All reports from those who indulged were positive, though, and wine glasses in hand the guests enjoyed the string quartet while waiting to be called in for the meal.

Then we were invited in to dine – invited in small groups, avoiding the “cattle call effect” of some events and therefore lending a further aura of elegance to the affair. And I walked into the second field house and was again stopped, this time by another amazing backdrop.

This time the setting was a Tuscan countryside, and it appeared we were going to be dining al fresco, in the open air and enjoying an evening in Italy in fine style.  Beautiful table settings and d├ęcor completed the atmosphere, and when I found my table I was delighted to find the sort of companions one hopes for when you attend such events solo (meaning those who are willing to include you in their conversations, and make you feel like part of an extended Italian family).

The formal part of the evening began with welcome messages from our MCs for the evening, Tyran Ault and Kyla Getty (Tyran looking uber-handsome in his suit, Kyla stunning in her purple gown). Tyran and Kyla were really quite ideal for this adventure in Italy, both bringing their own unique flair and talents to the master of ceremonies role.

There were the usual speeches, one from the RMWB delivered by Don Scott, and a greeting from the NLHF – and then it was on to the family style dinner, which I was anticipating with relish. I’d snuck a peek at the menu and it looked amazing, so I couldn’t wait. The salad was served individually, and was delightful, but it was the Penne Arrabiatta and Veal Osso Bucco I was really looking forward to – and once again the Mac Island kitchen worked their magic and created a wonderful Italian feast. The food was served family style, meaning in communal bowls that we passed around just as a family would (and as my large German family did every Sunday at dinner, and so I was taken back to those meals years ago, too). The food was terrific, the company was good, and the setting was perfection.

Just prior to dessert being served the NLHF showed a short video. Now, these are the ones that usually get me all teary-eyed, and this one was no different. It was the story of two local residents with very different medical issues, but who both had accessed local health services in their time of medical crisis. Their stories were painful to watch, as I always find it hurtful to see others speak of their suffering, but the stories were also hopeful. The man spoke of his long struggle with an oesophageal disease, and the young girl and her mother spoke of the knee injury that caused her to endure horrible agony. They all spoke glowingly, however, of the level of care they received at our local hospital, and about how that level of care was only possible because of fundraisers like the one we were attending that night. When I looked around my table I realized that the couple seated across from me were the parents of the young woman in the video, and I was touched, because my youngest Intrepid Junior Blogger is about the same age as their daughter. And like their daughter mine was injured once, too, breaking her arm in a freak accident (falling while walking in the hallway, of all things), and she was treated with kindness and professionalism by the hospital staff. I had the chance to speak to the couple a little later that night, and they shared their story while I shared mine. We spoke about how this little community of ours has a huge need for improved health care services, and we spoke about our children, as parents do. I think we connected on that level alone, but also in our desire to see things in this city continue to improve, including our health care services. It’s not that there is a problem with the services or the providers, as they are stellar, but rather an issue with shortage of those services and providers, a situation only money will fix.

After the video it was time for dessert and the live auction, with my favourite auctioneer Ross Jacobs burning up the stage yet again to auction off 4 items, ranging from a “socialite events package” to a trip to a private villa in Costa Rica (raising over $34,000 according to my calculations). While Ross did his usual cajoling, teasing, and occasional downright harassing (and losing his place and forgetting what the last bid was, always an amusing moment), I ate dessert. And as much as I enjoyed the main course I think it’s the desserts where Mac Island really shines. The Frangelico pannacotta was heaven, and the tiramisu just as it should be, sweet and light. The panettone pudding was a delight, although I must admit I missed the sticky toffee pudding they often serve at events (I’ve become totally addicted to that pudding, and while I realize it’s not Italian it’s just so good that I plan extra gym time around that pudding alone, which means Mac Island has me coming and going as it’s where I both eat that pudding AND go to the gym).

After the desserts and the auction it was time for the winners of the door prizes and other raffles to be announced, and then time for a little outdoorsy-feeling dance party. The mood was festive and light, and it felt like spring was in the air. Not only spring was in the air, though. I think hope was in the air, too. These fundraisers are elegant, festive events, but somehow they manage to maintain their focus on the purpose and reason for their being – in this case, the Northern Lights Health Foundation, which at some point will touch every resident.

You see, if you live in this city for any length of time you will no doubt access health services. It’s something you take for granted until you need them, and then when you need them nothing is taken for granted any more. In that moment of crisis and need our health care providers are there, and thanks to the NLHF they have the ability to do more than ever before. This is the reason we gather and raise wine glasses and auction paddles. This is the reason we write down bids for silent auction items, and the reason we buy small Italian flags on the remote chance that we will be the one to win the diamond. These galas aren’t about fancy dresses or chic suits or Union Jack shoes (ok, those were my shoes, I admit it!). These galas are about people like a man who is fighting a disease that has caused suffering, and a young woman and her parents who faced the kind of nightmare that every parent fears. These galas are about organizations like the Northern Lights Health Foundation, and the doctors, nurses, and support staff they assist in doing their jobs better by providing them with more equipment and better technology. These galas are about bettering our community, and that’s why I am always so pleased to attend them. It might feel like an evening in Tuscany but it’s really another evening in this special little community of ours – and I wouldn’t wish to be anywhere else, even Tuscany.

My sincere and profound thank you to
The Northern Lights Health Foundation
for the kind invitation to attend
An Evening in Tuscany,
Spring Fling 2012 – and special thanks to
the parents who shared their story with me J

 Check back tomorrow for a post about
transforming a field house
into a little bit of Tuscany!

Thursday, March 22, 2012

McMurray Musings Is On The Move - To a (Temporary) New Office

Today I set up shop in a new office in Fort McMurray. As anyone who follows me on Twitter knows my regular office is a lovely little coffee shop in downtown Fort Mac called “Coco Jo’s”. I wrote about that coffee shop months ago, and it has become my favourite place to write, meet interviewees, and occasionally eavesdrop on fascinating conversations ranging from the very political to the very personal (and those are the ones in retrospect I often wish I had not listened to – but dammit, I can’t help myself!).

Today, however, I set up shop in a new office, far from Coco Jo’s, and in another area of Fort Mac entirely. It’s a lovely office, and a quiet spot in which to write and work. It’s not really my office, though. It belongs to all of Fort McMurray in a sense, because it is the Voter Information Office for Don Scott, PC candidate for Fort McMurray-Conklin. And why is this my new office, exactly? Why will I be found here for the next little while, at least until the election is over and all votes tallied? It’s because a few weeks ago I agreed to serve as the volunteer Communications Manager for Don’s campaign.

When I was asked to consider this position I was both delighted and daunted. I was delighted with the opportunity to stretch my skills a bit, to take on a new role and see how it fits. I was daunted, though, because I knew it would involve a significant amount of work. It wouldn’t always be easy. It could very well be stressful, and it would be time consuming. It would be a big commitment, and I have, well, a few other commitments (this blog, some paid work, and the Intrepid Junior Bloggers who like to be fed and kept in clean clothing, the spoiled things). Despite the daunting aspects I quickly agreed – and not because I am a political junkie (I’m not – I’m a political dilettante), or for any personal gain. It’s because I believe that when you believe in something – a cause, or a person – then you need to invest in it. And I believe in Don Scott, and what he can do for Fort McMurray.

I’ve been watching Don for some time, and even before we became friends. It has been in the last year, though, as we spent time together, that I have seen his passion and commitment to this community. I have seen him work tirelessly to effect change, and I have seen his bold vision for what we can become. I was there when his nomination as the PC candidate in the riding of Fort McMurray-Conklin was acclaimed. In fact the little “tweetup” meet and greet I had arranged that evening turned into an acclamation party of the best kind.

 You see, over the past several months I have became more and more heavily invested in this community. I have become fiercely protective of it and the people in it. I am not protective in the sense that I don’t see any issues, but in the sense that I know that we need people who can do something about them. We need bold visionaries. We need people of passion, and vision, and drive. We need people who believe in this community, and who can see the bright future ahead – but who are also unafraid to roll up their sleeves and do the hard work required to get to that future. We need leaders like Don Scott. And when his campaign needed me, I said yes, because I believe in him, and in what he brings to the table, and in what he can accomplish. I said yes not because I really want to spend late nights editing press releases or working on drafts that may never see the light of day. I said yes because if I want a representative who is willing to do that hard work then I need to be willing to do that hard work, too – and I am.

And that is why for the next little while you won’t see my with my laptop and iPad and iPhone and notebook and fashion magazine and coffee cup (my tools of the trade) spread out at a table at Coco Jo’s, and are more likely to see me grabbing my coffee there to go. Instead you will find me here, in this new temporary office, as I do what I can to effect change in Fort McMurray, and to improve this community. I’m not going to tell you how to vote in this election, people. I also won’t hide where my loyalties lie, and I am, as always, as honest as I can be with you. I will ask you to do one simple thing, though. Just vote. Just make this election the one with the best turnout ever, regardless of where you decide to place your “x”. Invest in this community with your vote, and let’s determine our future together, okay? And just for the record, should you wish to drop by and talk politics, Fort McMurray, community, blogging, shoes, or anything else – well, it’s not Coco Jo’s, but I’ll make sure the coffee pot is on!

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

World Water Day 2012 and A Community Leader

Take a look at this schedule, people. It was sent to me this morning, and it's the schedule for someone who is raising money to build wells in Africa. Tomorrow, on World Water Day 2012, he will travel around this community to raise money - and awareness - and this is his schedule of events:

9:00am – Sister Mary Phillips – Class room talk
9:30am – ST. PAUL – Class room talk
10:00am – YMCA – Talk – activities
12:00pm - 2:30pm – SSWC (LUNCH) - booth - activities
2:30pm – MAC ISLAND - Talk

That's a pretty packed schedule. So, who is it? Some executive, a professional fundraiser, a celebrity perhaps? Nope, it's the schedule for Nathanial Crossley. This is Nathaniel. And he is ten years old:

Photo credit to Bono I Got Your Back

I've written about Nathaniel previously, and about his mission to raise funds to build wells in Africa. Since then he's received a fair bit of media coverage, and I am absolutely thrilled for him as I think this has been an amazing experience. And I think it says a great deal about our community - and about Nathaniel, too.

You see, Nathaniel is charming. He is sweet and a little shy and he is a future leader. Mark my words - this kid will become a leader of epic proportions, because he has everything it takes. He has belief, and he has ideas, and he has a work ethic, as shown by his schedule for tomorrow. Nathaniel has everything it takes to be a leader in this community - and in this world. In fact I think he's already there, leading the way as he takes on this challenge. But it won't be the last challenge he tackles, people. This is just the beginning. In my mind, though, it's one helluva start.

Now, I think we have a responsibility here too, Fort Mac. Nathaniel is leading but it is up to us to make sure we support him in his mission. Tomorrow you have a chance to do exactly that. You have a chance to contribute to Nathaniel's cause, and you have a chance to see a young leader in action. I will be meeting with Nathaniel and his dad during the day, because I cannot wait to talk to him about his adventure so far. I have been absolutely honoured to be part of this, and I wouldn't miss the chance to see his smiling face tomorrow - and I hope some of you might show up and see that charming little face, too.

If you can't be there in person, though, you can still donate. You can go here to African Well Fund, learn about what they do, and then donate. In the comments on your donation just indicate that this is for Nathaniel's well so they can keep track of how he is doing (and they are keeping track of this, people, because they are watching this future leader with keen eyes, too).

Me, though? I'm meeting Nathaniel and his dad for lunch (and it's my treat, although ssshhh, they don't know that yet!). I want to be there in person and hear Nathaniel tell me about his day and his project and his thoughts and his future plans and his dream of visiting Africa some day to see his well. I couldn't be more proud if Nathaniel was my own child - and yet in a way I suppose he is. If we subscribe to the adage that it takes a village to raise a child then Nathaniel belongs to all of us in a sense, Fort Mac - and I think we should all be very, very proud of him. If this is the future, well, then, the future is so bright I gotta wear shades.

Nathaniel Crossley, fundraiser, creative genius -
and community leader. You can follow
Nathaniel on Twitter @thelegofly
or find him on Facebook at