Catherine Rockandel’s Stories: Ordinary People Making a Positive Difference

I facilitate community dialogues on homelessness and supportive housing. These are often emotionally charged meetings as a good percentage of neighbours assume that most homeless are drug addicted people they see pushing shopping carts. This is such a small percentage of the actual homeless. The individuals with lived experience I meet are emerging from difficult journeys that have led them to places of shame and pain. These individuals are insightful, direct, and have retained a great sense of humour. Over the past year one particular session stands out. The neighbours were opposed to a supportive housing development in their neighbourhood and within a couple of miles BC Housing was also looking at land to locate a shelter that had been in a church basement. The first few meetings were emotionally charged with most opposing and denying that these people could be from their community. Until at one meeting a petite woman with grey hair stood up. People in the audience called out and said hello. She said, “most of you know me. I am miss —— and have been the kindergarten teacher for 25 years in the community. What most of you don’t know is that in January (it was June) my landlord evicted me as he wanted his son to use the apartment. I have been homeless and living in my van down by the beach while I look after your children.” Well you could have heard a pin drop in this cultural centre with 300 people in it. A few people sobbed and said “oh no”. Anyway to make a long story short …some people said we can’t let this happen. Several more meetings and the community had identified a place for the shelter (a closed backpackers hotel that BC Housing could lease) and unanimously approved the other supportive housing development and started fundraising for clothing, food etc to support homeless in their community. 

The second story I will share was told to me at the IAP2 Canada conference in Victoria. The IAP2 conference committee sponsored two lovely ladies from Kenya to attend the conference through an IAP2 Canada program . They presented about their work in Kenya which they do off the side of their desks at the University with a couple of thousand dollars in funding. If you look at this project, it is amazing. They have engaged the community to repair a de-forested hill and create economic return for families by planting trees. The community has been able to address issues related to climate change and man made impacts. They have made a difference in peoples lives with so little money. 

This is one of many stories from a wide variety of sources and a multitude of forms contributed by people upon request for my 70th birthday.   They are posted without editing, with the attribution that was with them.  I will be posting these regularly until they run out next year sometime: if you have others to add, please send them to me.

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Dave Strong’s Story: Ordinary People Making a Positive Difference

Picture This…..

When I started to think about ordinary people who are making a difference in people’s lives my first thought went to a group that I volunteer with as a facilitator.  But my story is not about me or my involvement but rather about somebody I observed with this group who on the surface seems to have a minor role but when you dig a little deeper you see that their impact is much greater.  First a little about the organization.   It is a Newfoundland based organization that provides services to adults who face barriers to fully participating in their community.  These barriers could be due to addiction, mental health challenges, poverty, homelessness, low literacy, long periods of unemployment or involvement in criminal justice.  They help by providing counselling, jobs, housing and a sense of place in the community.  While they get some government funding much of their revenue comes from operating several social enterprises and private donations, both financial and in-kind, from the public.  My story is about a photographer and the profound impact that he’s had on the organization and most importantly the people they serve.  

For many years now they’ve had a choir that meets regularly to sing solely for the love of singing.  The choir members are program participants, staff and some volunteer instrumental accompanists from time to time.  Anyone who sings in a choir can speak to the impact that being part of it can have.  Sure there is a chemical reaction in the brain that releases hormones that are pleasurable but it goes well beyond that.  The sense of being part of a group that is willing to put themselves out there to sing, even if you aren’t particularly good at it, is powerful.  This choir did some public performances in the past but on a limited basis as they exist for their enjoyment, not for show.

A few years ago a group of locals were organizing a Christmas fundraiser for the local food bank as part of a national tour that singer and actor Tom Jackson does known as the Huron Carole.  The show was booked in the best performance space in the province and was a top tier billed gig.  They started looking for an opening act and after throwing out several high profile local artists who wanted to take part somebody said “how about a choir and they can do a big closing with Tom…how cool would that look?”.  There were many local choirs to choose from but it didn’t take long for somebody to suggest getting the choir of the this organization.  At first the choir was hesitant to take part.  They never did anything this big.  Would people feel intimidated by the space and opening up for such a big act?  Would there be enough time to practice?  Organizers assured them they wanted the choir because they were a great choir, a great fit, and they would be given the same treatment as every other artist on the bill.  After much consideration they agreed.  Show day came and the choir was brought to their private dressing room that, as with all other artists, included the VIP experience with food, comfortable seating, and rehearsal space.  They were delighted with their star treatment and their performance brought the house down.  It was a highlight of the tour for Tom and the other performers.  

A professional photographer, David Hiscock, was part of the event.  He was there capturing the show before, during and after for all of the performers.  He shared some photos he took of the choir with the organization who in turned shared them with the choir.  They were over the moon with the results!  They always took pictures of their events, mostly on phones as people do these days, but having a high quality photo taken through the creative eye of a professional made all the difference.  The participants saw things they didn’t see before.  How they looked on stage, how they interacted with each other and the absolute joy of singing and being part of this group was captured for all to see.  Suddenly how they viewed themselves in the context of the choir, and likely how they viewed themselves as individuals, changed.   When this was told to the photographer he was modest and just said “I’m only taking pictures” but what he didn’t realize is that most of the people in the choir never had a professional picture taken before and certainly not in a performance setting.   As a result of that first event with Tom Jackson David has become a volunteer with the organization photographing all of their happenings. There has been a marked change in the level of participation at their events and the pride that participants have in what they do and in themselves has grown, in part, from the simple act of having a photographer present who was able to show people what the rest of the world sees.  As the CEO of the group said “I have seen how someone smiles brighter because their photo is being taken and how thrilled they are to receive a good photo of themselves.  That is something most of our folks never get”. 

This is one of many stories from a wide variety of sources and a multitude of forms contributed by people upon request for my 70th birthday.   They are posted without editing, with the attribution that was with them.  I will be posting these regularly until they run out next year sometime: if you have others to add, please send them to me.

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Carole Brown’s Story: Ordinary People Making a Positive Difference

I have had the good fortune to have a career in nutrition service so I have had opportunity to see people from many “walks of life” give of themselves frequently whether it’s reading to an ill person, taking them to therapy, checking on their family and pets, making sure a child goes home from day care to a safe place, etc..

One of the largest “kitchen table efforts” that I can think of locally is the Honor Flights which take veterans to Washington, D.C. to view war memorials, socialize, etc.  These flights began about 10- 12 years ago when somebody was visiting with World War II veterans and from that conversation realized that many of these people had not been recognized or had seen the memorials, so word got out, money was raised, professionals and laypersons volunteered to accompany them, hotels reservations meeting special needs were made, wheel chairs, nutrition and oxygen needs and many other needs were accommodated.  All this came together by word of mouth spreading to somebody who knew somebody who could had knowledge about whatever the challenge was that they needed to address.  That original flight grew per requests from others for WWII vets in the whole state of Nebraska, and then Western Iowa was included.  Then someone said “What about the Korean vets?” & then it was the Vietnam vets & then Desert Storm & so on. Recently there was a flight for women in service, and another is being planned for some other category.  I think there’s been 12 flights in all.

The other contribution that I recall is a lady taking meals on occasion to people she knew who had a short term need.  Word spread and requests were made to help others so these people volunteered to deliver them, donate for the food cost and help in other ways, and now it’s quite a large production.

This is one of many stories from a wide variety of sources and a multitude of forms contributed by people upon request for my 70th birthday.   They will be posted without editing, with the attribution that was with them.  I will be posting these regularly until they run out next year sometime: if you have others to add, please send them to me.

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Carol Good’s Story: Ordinary People Making a Positive Difference

Patience and persistence pay off

On Saturday, October 20, 2018, my husband and I attended the official renaming of small suburban park in Bolton. The name was changed to the Ruth and Richard Hunt Park in honour to two long-time residents who had been local volunteers for almost 50 years. This recognition was well-deserved and a long-time coming.

Ruth and Richard moved to Bolton in 1970. They raised four children and became active in the community. They used the local park for sledding in winter and as a playground in summer.

Many years later, they learned that there was a problem with the title for the park. It had not been transferred to the Town properly when the subdivision houses were built. The developer now wanted to build more houses on this parcel of parkland with unclear ownership. Ruth and Richard worked with their neighbours and other community members to develop a plan to save the park. Richard delegated to Town Council many times over the years and regularly contacted his local councilor for status reports. The ownership issue was finally resolved through the legal system early in 2018. The Town gained full title. The decision to rename the park was proposed by community members and approved by Town Council.

With the ownership issue was settled, Ruth and Richard added planting in their park to their list of projects. The Bolton & District Horticultural Society worked with Ruth and Richard to raise funds to get 19 mature native trees planted this Fall. This planting was possible with support from the Town of Caledon, the Toronto Region Conservation Authority, local service clubs and private donors. At the official renaming ceremony, the politicians who spoke all included a heart-felt request that Ruth and Richard continue their active involvement.

Ruth and Richard have been involved in many park projects throughout the Town. These projects have all required local residents and organizations to pitch in time, energy, money and ideas. Richard earned his nickname as “Tree Hugger Hunt” because of his relentless push to get trees planted on public land. He understands the environmental imperative to maintain and expand the tree canopy after damage from wind and ice storms, death due to natural causes (beavers, deer and the emerald ash borer infestation) and degradation due to development. He works tirelessly to promote local action to make Bolton a greener place to live.

Ruth and Richard have compiled an impressive collection of photos, newspaper clippings, official certificates and letters that document their long list of local environmental projects. The turnout at the re-naming ceremony was also recognition of their extensive contributions – their children and grandchildren, representatives of participating organizations, municipal and provincial politicians, Town staff, neighbours and friends enthusiastically attended. They were teased that the weather also cooperated – it was a sunny, brisk Fall day.

On Saturday, October 27, 2018, Ruth and Richard will be on-site for a community planting event for the third phase of the Bolton North Hill Park improvement project. They will be working with long-time partners, BDHS, the Town of Caledon and the Toronto Region Conservation Authority, along with community members and a Girl Guide troop to plant 250 small trees and shrubs. Their work is not done – yet.

Stories of Ordinary People Making a Positive Difference

This is one of many stories from a wide variety of sources and a multitude of forms contributed by people upon request for my 70th birthday.   They will be posted without editing, with the attribution that was with them.  I will be posting these regularly until they run out next year sometime: if you have others to add, please send them to me.

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Bob Jeffrey’s Story: Ordinary People Making a Positive Difference

This is one of many stories from a wide variety of sources and a multitude of forms contributed by people upon request for my 70th birthday.   They will be posted without editing, with the attribution that was with them.  I will be posting these regularly until they run out next year sometime: if you have others to add, please send them to me.

I am not sure if she is ordinary but I am sure she makes a positive difference in the life’s and communities she touches.  While the story of how she got to be a positive force is relevant, that story is for a different time.  Tammy makes a difference by creating space for others to have fun and enjoy their belief in themselves.  Sometimes she is mostly fun while at other times she is mostly acknowledging others belief in themselves, usually in a fun way.

She has brought fun and belief in others to her varied work and volunteer career.  For today I am going to share a couple of vignettes from her current work in the Sudbury library as an events and community programmer and will leave out stories from working as a sales person selling shoes, cars, plants, creative memories, lip stick, her crafts (hand decorated Santa clauses, stain glass, pottery) and managing a home decorating products store, or as teachers aid with a severely autistic child for four years, running a home daycare, staffing a tourist information center on the Canadian Border during and after 9/11. 

I will also leave out stories from her time as a volunteer board member and then president of a figure skating club responsible for hosting a major skating competition that included a young Eric Radford, Jeffery Buttle and likely Meagan Duhamel. As an aside, I would argue presiding over a figure skating club and a large regional skating competition is more difficult than running a country.

So some stories about the difference Miss Tammy makes….she has been doing children’s story times at various libraries in Sudbury for upwards of 15 years and fairly consistently develops a faithful following of kids and families who attend her story time over a few years. Miss Tammy story times are animated participatory events where kids, parents, caregivers and grandparent get to sing, read, cheer, whisper and are essential to her story telling process. When the kids go to school she loses track of them, sometime for years, however fairly regularly now some of those same story time kids will seek her out at the library or stop her in a mall, on the street or at an event, to proudly tell her what they are doing and thank her for the positive impact she had on them as a child.  Many of these people are particularly thankful for turning them on to reading and learning. This year, one of the new comers invited her to her second birthday party, and she will likely go.

Anyone who has been around libraries for any amount to time knows that libraries are relatively safe places for people who often are struggling with poverty, mental wellness, criminal justice issues, addictions and loneliness.  Over the years Miss Tammy has made many people feel welcome and supported at her various libraries.  Some of these people follow her when she moves to a new library location.   For example, over 10 years ago two indigenous teenage boys, living in a nearby group home came into the library and clearly were in need of a safe haven, despite conveying a tough outward appearance.  Tammy engaged them, gave them a library card and to their complete disbelief allowed them to take out and return the movies, games, books and magazines they had been stealing from the library.  This opened the door for the development of ongoing relationship where each of the boys will independently or together periodically stop into the library to either confess a set-back like having been in jail or falling back into drugs, discussing their resolve to do better, share a significant decision or occurrence in their life or announcing a success like finishing a training program, getting a job, having a girlfriend and being a father.   Usually during these visits they thank her for believing in them.

The final story is about creating an opportunity for people to tell their stories.  Because of how she does her job, everyone is a person first and a library patron second.  She engages people in a way they feel safe and willing to risk sharing who they are and often people/patrons share very intimate and important things about themselves and their lives.  For the third time the Sudbury library and CBC partnered in a Living Library Day, where patrons can “check out” one of ten people to talk with for 20 minutes.  Some of the people in this year’s line-up are people who shared personal information allowing her to approach them about being one of the ten.  This year the theme was surviving life changing experiences and the lineup included the following people and stories:  

  • Candice Kirkbride was 15 when a collision with a drunk driver left her with a traumatic brain injury.
  • Retired Corporal William Kerr lost both his legs and part of an arm to an explosive device while on foot patrol during his second tour of duty in Afghanistan.
  • Pina Cotesta lost her daughter Laura after a decade-long battle with cancer, and has recently put together a memoir based on her daughter’s writings.
  • Jose Vivar spent more than 8 years in prison for his role in the drug wars in Toronto and survived an attempt on his life after his release.
  • Don Perreault had a double lung transplant, 20 years after a bone marrow transplant that ruined his lungs.
  • Greg Cotnam experienced a traumatic mining accident when the rock face he was preparing for drilling burst.
  • Sarah Mann grew up in extreme poverty, and is now dealing with PTSD with her service dog at her side.
  • Winnie and Bill Pitawanakwat are elders who both experienced abuse and loss of culture as children.
  • Kimberly Naponse and her family were in Las Vegas for a country music festival when the deadliest mass shooting by one person in U.S. history occurred.

When Sarah came to the library to host a writing workshop for survivors of the 60s scoop, Miss Tammy engaged her and supported her to take the risk of participating in the living library this year.  Earlier in the day she was interviewed for CBC, Tammy and Sarah had an internet exchange where Tammy encouraged her to not miss the third interview appointment.

These are only three of the hundreds of stories where Miss Tammy has made a positive difference in people’s lives.

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Bill Staples’ Story: Ordinary People Making a Positive Difference

This is one of many stories from a wide variety of sources and a multitude of forms contributed by people upon request for my 70th birthday.   They will be posted without editing, with the attribution that was with them.  I will be posting these regularly until they run out next year sometime: if you have others to add, please send them to me.

Shakuntala Jadhav, an Maharashtran village girl, just turned 16 when she graduated from the Human Development Training School in Maliwada and told her parents “I want to join the Nava Gram Prayas (New Village Movement)”. Shakuntala spoke some English and was constantly requested by foreign staff to translate between them and other, older male staff of the movement. Shakuntala was fierce in her to determination against injustice in the world but even at such a young age was very aware that creating a new society was better than fighting against an old one. In one visit as translator to the District Collectors Office near the village of Chikhale (a District Collector being equivalent to judge, taxman, police and executive for 2 million people) Shakuntala was dismayed by the lack of response from the District Collector to a request by the elders. She stood up in front of him in her blue Nava Gram Prayas sari to her full 4 ft 9 inches (1.5 meters) and said “You are a District Collector and have a lot of responsibility. You should help these people.”

Shakuntala was always like this, constantly working hard for everyone else even when she had little.

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Robin Parson’s Story: Ordinary People Making a Positive Difference

This is one of many stories from a wide variety of sources and a multitude of forms contributed by people upon request for my 70th birthday.   They will be posted without editing, with the attribution that was with them.  I will be posting these regularly until they run out next year sometime: if you have others to add, please send them to me.

The story that I want to share is the experience of being at the hospice where Mom was being cared for.  

During Mom’s last week, she was more ‘away’ than present. She was in and out of consciousness but seemingly able to hear even if she couldn’t respond much.  Mom passed away on Oct 25, so this story is from Oct 22-24.  

The nurses at hospice are incredibly caring and compassionate. In spite of dealing with people at the end of their days and feeling sad about it, they approach their jobs as a calling, a gift they can bestow.  They were so kind to my Mom during her stay. On the 22nd or so, when Mom was not able to speak any longer, the nurse came in to administer Mom’s medications. They entered the room, calling her name.  Mom put up a very frail arm to reach out and hug the nurse. They leaned into the hug and returned it. 

On her last night (Oct 24) – it was about 8:30 pm, as I sat beside her, it was time for her evening care. The nurses came in to change her clothes, reposition her in bed, and wash her.  I stepped back to give them space.  The nurses called to her by name, they told her what they were doing and what would happen next. They talked to her about the night gown they were putting on her. They treated her, in her last hours as a person, still comprehending albeit less capable – they offered so much dignity – applying skin lotion to her feet so her skin wasn’t so dry. 

I asked the nurses, in their experience, how much did they think people could understand at this advanced stage – they said – she continues to respond to us in small ways, so we know she is aware. Mom passed away at 5:00 am on the 25th. 


When we arrived the next morning to pick up Mom’s things – we walked the ‘hall of hugs’.  The nurses, the cleaning staff, the meal staff all gave us hugs. It is an incredible experience to receive so much compassion from people – just doing their jobs. 😉

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