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

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Thirty Five Years Ago Change Started Here, Fort McMurray

I have the pleasure of attending many events in this community. Often they are related to the arts, or to entertainment. My very favourite events are those that are related to community, however, and specifically those that involve our local social profit sector. I am always delighted to receive invitations to these events because they involve the organizations that form the heart of this community.

Last night I attended one of these events, and while this one was similar to others in the past this one was a bit different too. This one had in attendance an individual I had never heard of prior to last night, but someone who I think fundamentally changed this community thirty-five years ago. This individual is a lovely lady named Maryanne Warren, and almost four decades ago she founded the Fort McMurray United Way – an organization that has had a profound impact on this community and all those who reside in it.

When I speak or write about Fort McMurray I often speak about our philanthropy. We are, per capita, the “most giving community in Canada”, a designation of which I am deeply proud. I have often thought about what this means for us – and about us – but until last night I gave little real thought to those who founded the organizations that have brought us to this point in time. Thirty five years ago the United Way did not exist, but a woman named Maryanne  saw a need, and saw a way to fill out – and so she did, including taking the incredibly bold leap of personally borrowing $5000 (an enormous amount of money in 1978) to found the organization.

Last night I had the honour and the distinct privilege to hear her speak about borrowing that enormous sum, and how she had to explain to her husband what she had done. I heard in her voice conviction, courage, passion, and compassion. I heard in her voice a type of leadership so common here in Fort McMurray, and while I may have been under the illusion that this type of leadership is a new phenomenon last night I learned this has been happening here for decades. Maryanne Warren is, in very simple words, a hero. She didn’t just leave a legacy here – thirty-five years ago she changed this community forever. And she didn’t do it for fame or acknowledgement or recognition – but because it needed to be done, and she decided to do it.

This year the United Way celebrates thirty five years in this community. This is a tremendous milestone, and an amazing achievement. Their support of our local social profit organizations is fundamental to their existence, and they do what they do with courage, conviction, and compassion. I am impressed by them on a daily basis, and I am honoured to have the opportunity to write about them. None of this would be true, though, without the courage, conviction, and compassion of a woman named Maryanne Warren. She is a lady not so different from any of us, but the mark she has left on this community is profound. She explained last night that the Fort McMurray United Way was the most successful branch in Canada during the first three years of its existence, and here we are again thirty-five years later, top of the philanthropic charts and able to share with others our amazing success in this regard.

The slogan for the United Way is “Change Starts Here”. Last night as I listened to Maryanne Warren speak I could not help but think that she is the epitome of this motto. She is the living embodiment of the adage that change starts here, because thirty-five years ago the change started with her. She didn’t just found an organization – she changed us forever, and for the better. She touched the lives of not hundreds but thousands and thousands of people over the last thirty-five years, and quite likely thousands more as we move into the future. So the question I have now is: Who is the next Maryanne Warren in Fort McMurray? Who will be the next person to change us – not for now, but forever?

It could be you. It could be my child, or yours. We have among us leaders who are trying to effect change, and just like Maryanne all they need is encouragement and support. They already have the courage and conviction and passion and drive – they just need the community behind them. And in the same way the community has supported the United Way over the past thirty-five years we will continue to support those who lead that organization – and we will support those who have the courage to found new organizations when they see the need.

I want to take this opportunity to thank the Fort McMurray United Way for inviting me to attend last night, as it was an honour to attend the Community Building Awards. I want to thank the current leadership of the United Way, and all those who support it in whatever way, from donating to organizing campaigns. I want to thank all the social profits who work so hard in this community every single day to meet the needs of others. But in the end I truly want to thank a lady named Maryanne Warren, a woman who last night brought tears to my eyes with the story of her commitment, compassion, conviction, and love of community. I think there are many people of note in this community, and many deserving of recognition – but I would humbly suggest that in the future perhaps we could name some aspect of this community – perhaps a public park where families and community gather - after this lady who changed this community forever. Change starts here – and thirty five years ago it started with a borrowed $5000, determination, conviction, and a lady named Maryanne Warren of the Fort McMurray United Way.

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