Ray Baril’s Story: Ordinary People Making a Positive Difference

As you know, I live in a small prairie farming town. A small town of ordinary people (+/- 800 of us) who do ordinary things. About the most exciting event in our town is the Volunteer Fire Department’s drive through town around Christmas, flashing lights and all, to distribute candy canes and fire safety reminders to each home. Small towns have their own ways of making things happen. News gets around very quickly through an ancient form of social media – neighbours talking to each other. It is common courtesy in town for motorists and pedestrians to acknowledge each other as they pass by – just a brief wave does the trick. Our local food bank and associated thrift store are volunteer-operated. The seniors’ lodge and long-term care facilities have strong local volunteer support. An accessible playground was erected this year with the help of 40 volunteers working for 3 days in 30 C degree weather. Ordinary people doing ordinary things make this an extraordinary community. But people don’t seem to think about it very much. They just do what needs to be done. Small things make a big 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 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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Peter Woodcock’s Story: Ordinary People Making a Positive Difference

I like to find my inspiration in everyday life, through ordinary people doing extraordinary things, which then makes those people far from ordinary.

One person who has given me great inspiration and who makes me strive to be a better citizen is my Boss, my Neighbour, my Friend, Mary-Margaret McMahon.

My inspiration started when I realized how much the current City Councillor had done years before when she was an ordinary citizen.  On a big scale, with 2 young kids in tow, MMM was working to save the environment.  Ona smaller scale, she was working to make her community a better place.  She was involved in her children’s school .  She was involved in creating one of the best Resident’s Associations in Toronto, Danforth East Community Association (DECA) and was instrumental in starting a wonderful Farmer’s Market, that is still going strong today.

There are far too many accomplishments since winning her seat as Councillor to list.  But trust me, they are amazing.

But it is the accomplishments that this powerhouse neighbour, mother, friend did on her own that inspire me to be the best I can be in my community.

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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Peter Taylor’s Stories: Ordinary People Making a Positive Difference

Peter Taylor, Boston, USA, 19 November 2018

I am grateful for the influence of ICA Toronto. ICA has informed and inspired my running of events that affirm Ordinary-People-Making-a-Difference principles, especially: “There is insight in every response. We know more than we are, at first, prepared or able to acknowledge. When we are heard, we can better hear others and hear ourselves.” Here are two relevant stories; both about processes that followed the death of a family member.

Twenty years ago, at a wake for a family member who suicided, I took the opportunity to lead a go-around in which everyone said one thing they appreciated about the person and one thing they had difficulty with. Even the youngest relative there, a 9-year old, had clear things to say on both counts. Speaking and listening allowed us to acknowledge the ambiguity of losing someone whose mental health issues had challenged each of us: when and how do we stay involved and when do we step back and care for ourselves?

Three years ago, after my wife, Ann, died from ovarian cancer, we had a pot-luck party, which is what she had requested instead of a funeral. I asked guests to “introduce yourself to someone you don’t know and share what it meant to have Ann in your lives.” Each hour, starting at 11 in the morning and going into the evening, I rang a bell and for ten minutes people took turns to reflect or share a simple story “that captures how having Ann in your life has influenced you.” I had actually started this process nine months earlier so friends and family members could write when visits weren’t possible. But Ann thought the notes sounded like eulogies—“I am not dead yet!” was her retort—so I archived them on a private blog. After her death, I asked for permission to make the blog contributions public then added condolence notes and audio recordings from the party and two memorial events. At some point I wondered if blogs could be downloaded into a word file—yes. I realized the steady assembling of small contributions was adding up to material for a book. A few months later, audio recordings transcribed, cover and interior style designed by a former student, photos selected, and copies scanned of 14 years of letters Ann had written to a friend as young adults while they both worked to become writers (and etc.) became Ann(ie) Blum in Our Liveshttp://bit.ly/ABIOL2016).

At first, I called it a “memorial book” for Ann, but then I saw that the blog from which the book emerged was my way of allowing many people to have their voice. And for that voice to be one heard by a community, not only by the immediate family receiving the condolence notes. But why do people need to have their voice heard in a community? At first I thought I was giving recognition to the fact that many people were grieving Ann, not just me, her partner of 30 years.

But then I saw that the value of people having their voice heard in a community is that we—this includes me—have very partial narratives about what the loss of someone means for their lives. We say something—such as “I so miss her” or “Cancer sucks” or “I’m doing as well as can be expected”—but we know there’s more to what we are feeling. Things that are hard to articulate, things that are hard to know whether this is the person and the time to explore it with. So those things often get left un(der) explored; we just carry on. The book allowed, however, readers to bring their own thoughts to the surface through hearing the partial things others were able to say, to give voice to. And also to learn more, which adds to those thoughts. In that way, there is more play, more processing of what each reader wants to carry forward as part of their own lives.

Although these two stories revolve around deaths, they are also stories in which allowing everyone’s voices to be raised contributes to people making a difference to the life-direction-making of themselves and others.

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Nadine Bell’s Story: Ordinary People Making a Positive Difference

Linda Evans got involved in organ donation efforts when her husband needed a transplant 10 years ago or he would die. The hospital he was in said they could not get him the organ he needed and he should write his will and make funeral arrangements . Rather than stand by and let that happen, Linda moved heaven and earth to find a viable alternative. Mayo Clinic in Florida gave Gary a second chance at life and the transplant was successful. Ever since that time, Linda has dedicated some of her efforts to enlisting people to donate organs so that no one ever has to go through what she and Gary did.

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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Melody Scherubel’s Story: Ordinary People Making a Positive Difference

This is a story one of my hospice clients told me.

She and her husband took in a young (around 7-8 yrs old) multi-racial boy.  He was around the age of her grandchildren, so she told him he was one of her grandsons.

She found out he was being made fun of and bullied on the school bus.   So the next day she escorted him to the school bus and got on with him.  She faced the children and said:  “hi kids (small town, they all knew her)—this is my grandson, Johnny (not real name).   Will you all be friends with him and include him in your games.”

No more problems.  A beautiful solution.

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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Mireille Menard’s Stories: Ordinary People Making a Positive Difference

Three Stories from Sudbury, Ontario

Léo Therrien

I first met Léo when I was in High School. I was volunteering for the Red Cross and he was working with Development et Paix, a faith based social justice organisation whose aim is to improve living and working conditions of people around the world. With a team of volunteers, we organised the first Rich Man Poor Man Dinner in Sudbury.

After that, he worked with Contact Interculturel Sudbury, an organisation that works on welcoming and helping newcomers to the community. He also started Village International; Sudbury’s equivalent to Ten Thousand Villages.

In 2000, he moved on to Maison La Paix; a supervised housing unit for people living with HIV-AIDS. He accompanied a few of his clients in their last days and was deeply touched by this experience. Seeing a great need for a Palliative care facility in Northeastern Ontario, in 2007, he gathered community support and spearheaded a project to create a Hospice for those at the end of their lives. Since 2008, he has been Executive Director of the only Palliative care facility in Sudbury. His next project is adding a space for respite care to the facility.

Léo is recognised for his dedication to the community and to those in need. He is a soft spoken man who can convince anyone to participate in any initiative he undertakes.

Suzanne and Denis Benard

Suzanne and Denis are central members in our parish. But they are so humble and discrete that you woudn’t know it. And that pretty much describes all of their life together. Over the past 30 years, they significantly touched the lives of dozen’s of children. But to look at them and speak with them, you woudn’t know it because they don’t think of themselves as exceptional. They just do what needs to be done. Here is their story.

Suzanne was one of the oldest of a large family in our parish. I went to school with her youngest sister. When I was about 11 or 12, Suzanne asked me to babysit her three girls and that’s when I got the priviledge to meet one of the most amazing and inspiring couples I know.

While raising their daughters, Suzanne and Denis opened their home and arms to other children who needed love and stability. Thirty years ago, they became a foster-family. They even adopted one of the children who came to them.

This little girl had suffered severe neglect as an infant and toddler. At almost four years of age, she could hardly walk, she didn’t speak, she was malnourished and was still in diapers. If you saw this confident 30 year old today, you would never know the hardships she went through. Yes, she is intellectually challenged and has significant health issues. And thanks to the love and patience of this family unit, she has flourished. Today, this girl who coudn’t speak is fluently bilingual and is an active volunteer in her community. This is only one example of how this family significantly touched a life. But there are many more stories of children they touched and transformed.   

It wasn’t always easy. They overcame great difficulties. At 10, their middle child developed anorexia, Suzanne struggled with a recurring cancer and more recently, Denis was operated for cancer also. But regardless of all of these hardships, they persevere. They are in their 60s and have three foster children as well as their adopted daughter living with them. And at Christmas, the table is always full as many of the foster children come back to be with family.  

Lucy Labelle-Clarke

I’m not sure what was in the well water on their farm, but Lucy is one of Suzanne’s younger sisters. Now in her 50’s, as a young woman, she trained as a pediatric nurse specializing in critical care.

Knowing that many children were not adopted because of health problems, she and her husband decided to give a permanent home to some of these children instead of having their own. They adopted three children with disabilities who are now caring and responsible teenagers and young adults. Fifteen years ago, she and her husband also became a foster home for preemies and newborns with mild to severe health issues.   

Imagine what that entails. As young parents, we are told that the sleepless nights only last a little while because babies grow. But they always had a newborn in their midst. Not only getting up at all hours for feedings and diaper changes, and colics, but also getting attached to these little beings and then having to let them go. Driving from Sudbury to Toronto or Ottawa for endless medical appointments and operations with pediatric specialists.  

Two years ago, Lucy’s husband passed away. Her 85 year old mother moved in with her and together, they keep on caring for babies and young children with health issues.   

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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Marci Sharle’s Stories: Ordinary People Making a Positive Difference

One happened just this morning as I was driving my daughter to school. Marena is my 15 year old daughter and we were on our way to school and work, driving slowly on the icy roads after a major over night snow fall that continued through the day today. As we slowed to a real crawl we exclaimed ‘ok what the heck is the problem up there??!!’  It turned out to be a fellow in a Jeep that had spun around half way and hit the curb. He had one tire on the curb and was trying to back up. Both our lanes of traffic stopped and gave him plenty of room to try and back up on his own. It appeared he wasn’t going to get very far as his wheels were spinning. Marena and I watched this unfold, and I said ‘oh someone just needs to give him a little push’ and just like that, a fellow who was walking down the street toward the bus stop began pushing. Soon another fellow joined him and the Jeep was back on the road, heading the correct direction, and everyone was on the move again slowly and carefully. Marena and I cheered and she said to me, ‘Mom, I love Canada!  That was the most Canadian thing I have ever seen!’  This warmed our hearts today – and it was SO simple!!!

The other story I have is from the most recent Facilitation exercise I have been involved with. Our Unit is part of the process design and facilitation of the Alberta PDD Review (persons with developmental disabilities). Meaning that we are going around the province with the Panel (independent people appointed by the Minister) to review the PDD program, listen to stakeholders and draft recommendations for improving the PDD system (engagement sessions are being held all across the province for the month of November and into December; we are talking with service providers, parents/caregivers, government workers and people who are PDD recipients and as such have developmental disabilities. We planned a process that can work for listening to all these groups). Anyhow, the other day while in one of the rural Alberta communities, there was a fellow who receives PDD assistance from the province who attended one of our sessions. He was SO thrilled with the opportunity to share his ideas. He engaged in each and every activity we had designed to make sure that his voice was heard. And his special idea that he emphasized throughout the process was: ‘talk to me. I have ideas. We all need to work together. And people just want their needs to be met.’  There was no more powerful input than that in all the people within the system. This said it all and said everything. From someone who receives the PDD program assistance. Now we just need to make that simple request happen – listen to the people and meet their needs. That’s all. 

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