Ordinary People Making a Difference: Abdel Hai Patel’s Stories

1 – In 1985, I submitted a one page report on some safety issues in apartments in Thorncliffe Park to the Mayor’s Committee of former Municipality of East York. The report was supported by 53 Division of Toronto Police.

The committee acknowledged that, we don’t have By laws to address most of these issues, so it ordered review and revision of Property Standard By laws. The By laws were just few pages about 20 in my estimation. When it was updated, it was close to 500 pages of new Property Standards By laws. The new By laws addressed some items, such as:

Elevator Safety, Hot Water temperature, Street and Park lightning etc. Thus making safer living for all residents in Thorncliffe Pk.

2 – In 2003 or 4, I was invited by the local Council of Scouts Canada, to help with its outreach in GTA’s ethnically and religiously diverse community. One of the problems we found was Scout’s Oath. I helped developed a Neutral Oath, acceptable to all Faiths or no Faiths. Thus making it easier for many communities to join Scouts.

3 – In my work on building bridges among various faiths in Canada, we came up with an idea of taking a group of adherents of Abrahamic Faith to Israel and Palestine. The aims were:

  • By visiting holy sites sacred to Judaism, Christianity and Islam, the participants will broaden their understanding of three faiths;
  • Message of peace and harmony to Citizens of Israel and Palestine, showing our Canadian model of peaceful co-existence among diversity of faiths and cultures.
  • Empowering participants to help promote Inter and Intra faith relations in Canada.


In our first trip in 2011, there were 55 people and on 2nd trip in 2013, 40 people went on the trip.


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Ordinary People Making a Difference: Ann Gloger’s Story

Ann is the director of a community organization called Storefront in the East End of Toronto.

She told me this story on a subway train just before Christmas – this is how I remember it.

One group of people in the community has for years put together packages of hand-made hats, scarves, and mitts for people that need them in the community, including homeless people.  Until this year, they have put out messages that people who need them should come to their centre to pick them up if they needed them.  A few people came each year, but they were concerned that many people were going without.

This year, they put each set in a resealable plastic bag with a message.  They put them in bus shelters and in other outdoor gathering places across the community, inviting people to take the bag of warmth if they needed it.  All of their packages were picked up, and they knew that people who were too shy or too far away or otherwise found it difficult to come to their centre were able to get what they needed.   It took away the shame of admitting that they couldn’t afford warm clothing.

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Ordinary People Making a Difference: Inez Killam’s Story

Inez Killam’s Story

The Child Advocacy Council in Camden County, Missouri, sponsors a program each year called “Christmas Is Sharing.”  The sign up for help averages over 350 families and over 900 children each year.  One of my favorite stories from Christmases past is this one:

In delivering Christmas presents to the needy family that Child Advocate Maggie adopted, she discovered that the family had a huge tree with many presents already wrapped and under the tree.  Maggie was thinking that maybe the children didn’t need all of the packages that were in the trunk of her car.  She was beginning to feel a little angry, too, that this family had asked for help, but followed the mother into her kitchen with the boxes of food.  The mother turned to Maggie with tears in her eyes, thanked her for her generosity, and asked if she could give Maggie a hug.  When Maggie commented on the size of the tree, the mother proudly whispered to Maggie that the tree had been cut in the hills behind their house and the presents under the tree were boxes of the children’s favorite snacks and cereals.  She said that they had so little to spend on their children that they could only afford the “good snacks” and “real cereal” once a year; they wanted to give the children something that she knew they wanted.  Maggie looked under the tree and realized what she was actually seeing.  She and the woman unloaded the toys and clothing from the car and Maggie took off feeling she had not done enough for this family.  Maggie made a return trip to the home the next day, bringing food cards, gas cards, and winter coats for the entire family.  In retelling this story Maggie always cries and prays that what she surmised initially about this family is forgiven.  What she remembers most is one of the children saying, “Are we going to get REAL presents?”

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Ordinary People Making a Difference: Kaze Gadway’s Story

Sitting with the Homeless  (by Kaze Gadway)

Gabriela left the homeless population two years ago. After her one daughter died in a car accident, she become addicted to heroin and lost her job. After being evicted, she started living on the streets.

After eight years, she turned around and worked with a sponsor to get off drugs and into a rehab program. She moved into a Title Eight apartment and began to volunteer her time with the homeless in Albuquerque.

I met her at the park where many homeless people sleep at night and sit during the day. She buys water with her limited income and sits at a park table to talk to people and hand out water.

Everyone likes to sit down and talk to her. She has lived on the street and gotten out. She speaks her native Spanish to the Latino population and English to everyone else.

Although she has several physical problems including a Bi-polar diagnosis, she doesn’t give up on awarding dignity to a population that is often treated as invisible. She visits the homeless on the streets every week and volunteers to hand out food daily at a soup kitchen.

I ask her what keeps her going. She tells me “It is not much but at my age it is something I can do to spread hope.”

She does not change the system of homelessness. Her presence has a ripple effect among those who have few to care for them individually. I hold her up as an unsung hero of presence in a community of indifference.

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Ordinary People Making a Positive Difference: Heidi Zahrt’s Story


About a week ago, a fire started on the hills at the outskirts of my city.  Most of the city was not in danger, but emergency responders decided that large sections of the city adjacent to the hills should be evacuated.

The evacuation order was announced shortly after the fire began, and the winds were relentless. People packed and left quickly. Traffic jams occured on the few roads out of the area.  The sky turned black with smoke and was illuminated by red-hot flames.  During evacuation, some people who had just completed a Community Emergency Response Team training decided to jump right in and help calm people and direct traffic.  A few others of the neighborhood CERT teams decided to check on people who may need assistance.  All were evacuated with no harm, but there was confusion about where to go and how long they would be out of their home.

The next day the evacuation order still held, but people were desperate to get to their homes for forgotten medications or pets left at home, and just to reassure themselves that the house was ok. The Sheriff arranged a system and asked for volunteers, to support traffic control and escort residents to homes for a quick check and get meds, etc.

People in line were just about frantic for their health, their pets, their property.  It was made more tense by the length of the line and the time of waiting to be next in line to be escorted to their home.  Volunteers from several trained agencies showed up. They walked along the stopped lines of traffic, talked to residents. Listened to harrowing stories, worries and frustration.  Offered water to drink. They gave up-to-date information on the process and time expectation for the line to move up.  At the front of the line, several volunteers were assisting the Sheriff deputies by riding and escorting the residents to their homes.  Some of the volunteers just calmly sat in the shade and held pets while people visited their homes.

For the volunteers, it seemed like not much of a job to do, but the residents were so thankful.  The feeling of having a reassuring presence, knowing there was order and a procedure and that people were being listened to and cared for changed the whole perspective of this day of waiting.  After our day of working with the residents, we heard such grateful comments.  I heard from the volunteers what a gift it was for them to receive the appreciation and gratitude from the evacuated residents.  Each volunteer was so uplifted to have given their support to the people when needed and sharing the positive spirit to keep the calmness and comfort in the community.

By the end of the second day after the evacuation, the residents were allowed to return to their homes.  The fire had moved in a direction away from our town.

I am grateful for the volunteering community who rises up to meet the needs of the moment.

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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.

Refugee sponsors welcome Syrian family to Canada

 Story from CBC news, Nov. 21, 2018

They’ve only been in Canada a short while, but a group of Syrian refugees living in Brockville, Ont., is already paying it forward by sponsoring a family of eight from their homeland.

Khaled and Aveer Sultan and their six young children arrived at the Ottawa International Airport Tuesday to cheers, tears and hugs from their sponsors, who pinned tiny maple leaves to the newcomers’ lapels.

The sponsors will act as guides, translators and an extended family to the Sultans as they adapt to their new life in Brockville.

“This family is like my brother, like my family,” said sponsor Omar Alahmed.

The five sponsor families have their own worries about relatives left behind in precarious circumstances, but say they decided to open their arms to strangers because of the way Canadians welcomed them.

“Canadian people did not know me, but they helped me,” said sponsor Ahmad Alkafrei, who arrived as a refugee in January 2017.

The sponsorship program the families are taking part in is administered by the Refugee Hub at the University of Ottawa and funded by two charitable groups, The Shapiro Foundation and The Giustra Foundation, as well as six other donors in Canada and the U.S  Together, they’re donating  $3.5 million dollars to 150 sponsor groups across the country to support the resettlement of 685 refugees, drawn from a list compiled by the United Nations.

Kailee Brennan, an outreach officer with the Refugee Hub, first met the families in August at a recruitment event in Brockville. They came hoping to bring their own relatives to Canada, Brennan said, but soon learned that’s not how the program works.

“Of course, many of them had left family behind, and it’s always so difficult to explain that.” Brennan said.

After a prolonged discussion in Arabic, the translator, Brockville businessman Ahmad Khadra, declared the group had decided to open their arms to a family they didn’t know.

“I told them, ‘You are not a refugee anymore. You are now 100 per cent Canadian, and Canadians love to do something good,'” said Khadra, who came to Canada from Syria in 1995.

Khadra was also at the airport Tuesday, handing out cups of strong Syrian coffee to the new arrivals.

The sponsors have rented a furnished apartment in Brockville for the Sultan family, and will be close by to help them access food, clothing and medical care. They’ll also be able to point them to the best places for Arabic food and other small comforts that will help the family ease into their new life in Canada.



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Invitation to a Storytelling Party: Ordinary People Making a Positive Difference

Front Yard Greeting

This post is the context for the stories that will follow in this blog and on social media.


My 70th birthday is coming up in November.  Last year my sons said they would support anything I wanted to do for my birthday celebration.  So I’ve been thinking about this for some time.  I would like this event to symbolize my gratitude for all that has brought me to this point, and to give something back to the world in that gratitude.  I’m inviting you to participate.

Over the last year, and particularly the last few months, I have experienced deep despair about the future of the world.  Constant negative news about economic, political, cultural, environmental events and forecasts have had a huge impact on me.  And when I talk with others, there is a near universal response of “I’ve experienced the same thing”.  Many of the events we hear about seem to be beyond our control.

At the same time, every so often, stories crop up of something that ordinary people are doing in their communities or beyond, that make a significant difference in people’s lives.  Many have huge ripple effects. These give me hope, and are the antidote to despair.  The more I look for them, the more I see and hear. This fits with my life-long observations that significant change begins with ordinary people, generally at the local level.

I am thinking that what the world needs to counter the despair that paralyzes us is to hear real, grounded stories of how ordinary people are making a positive difference for others – their communities and beyond.  And as I look for these stories, my sense of our capacity to make significant change begins to return.

Invitation to the Storytelling  So as my gift back to the world, I propose to host a birthday party event on Sunday November 25 that is a storytelling event.  It can include people who can physically attend, as well as all my friends, colleagues, and family globally who can participate virtually by sending their stories to me.  The face-to-face storytelling event is inspired by the “Swamp Gravy” process from Colquit, Georgia, where we share stories with each other using active listening.  Those who are present can tell their stories to each other, and we will also share stories sent in by those who can’t attend.

Here’s what I’m asking of you to do as a gift to me and this process over the next 2 months: look everywhere for stories of where ordinary people are making a positive difference in others’ lives, and capture them.  Tell the stories in your own words, and write them down.  These can be very local stories, like the one of Peter in my neighbourhood who saw that the park across from his house was becoming a place for vandalism and drug deals, and organized the “Friends of Stephenson Park” to create eventfulness year-round that makes the park a community-friendly and cherished space, and brought together neighbours that wouldn’t have spoken otherwise.  Or they can be stories that make the news, like the Parkland school shooting students who are organizing young people across the US to register and vote, giving voice to a powerful new force.  Or the global stories of “Free to Run”, which has engaged young women in Afghanistan and other cultures to run long distances together, inspiring other young women to claim their freedom.  They can even be stories of what YOU are doing.

I will capture the stories we collect and tell each other on a blog afterward, and share them at regular intervals on social media, email lists, and other modes, to inoculate all of us against despair, and inspire more local action.


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