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.