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.

About jofacilitator

On Sept 1, 2020, I will celebrate 50 years of work with the Institute of Cultural Affairs, facilitating meetings, groups, communities, and organizations, making it possible for ordinary people to have a voice in decisions that affect their lives.
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