Feeling is knowing

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“Seeing is believing, but feeling is knowing,” said Cayley Tkach, during his acceptance remarks at the recent Community Building Awards. Cayley was the co-chair of the Shell Albian Sands campaign with Cathy Steeves for the 2015 and 2016 community campaigns and they won the 2016 Groundbreaker Award. Cathy talked a lot about Cayley and the work they did together during a recent IMPACT interview on 91.1 The Bridge.


Now an Emergency Social Services Coordinator with Emergency Management at the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo, Cathy has stayed connected and involved with United Way by volunteering on our Community Investment Committee.

Growing up in Winnipeg, Cathy traveled the world as a teacher – California, France, Bahamas, and British Columbia were some of her stops along the way – before transitioning into the world of safety training here in the oil sands region.

She made the decision to come to Fort McMurray despite all its stereotypes and eventually discovered what most of us know to be true.

“It’s actually a fantastic place to live, filled with great people who come here to work hard, not just at their jobs, but for the community as well.”

She was enlisted to help with the workplace campaign at Shell Albian Sands in 2015. The learning curve proved to be steep, but incredibly rewarding.

“It was a real stretch for both Cayley and I,” she recalled. “We’d never done anything like it.”

With one successful campaign under their belts, and with the wildfire in the rearview mirror, they began planning a different approach for their second go around as co-chairs. During the summer of 2016, they started exploring ways of connecting more deeply with co-workers by asking a lot of hard questions.

“What are we going to do this year that will set it apart from last year?” they asked. “How do we incorporate the fact that everyone is upset from the recent wildfire?”

They decided to focus on education, dispelling myths, and cutting through gossip. In so doing they would be able to get to the heart of what the United Way does.

“Cayley’s personality lends itself to facts and figures,” said Cathy. “He loves doing the research. He knows more about United Way than United Way knows about United Way.”

He would bombard them with facts, but in a kind and respectful way. And while the message about United Way was cutting through, it wasn’t achieving the desired result.

“We would go to meetings and give them fact after fact after fact, and we wouldn’t get anything out of it in terms of donations,” said Cathy. “We learned that you can bombard people with facts, but you have to connect it to an emotion in order to have the outcome you would like.”

The team of Cathy and Cayley turned out to be formidable as they leveraged their respective strengths.

“Cayley’s fact; I’m emotion,” she said. “When we put those two together it was a volcano of reaction as people asked for their pledge forms back so they could increase the donation amount.”

Their approach worked, resulting in a sizeable increase in the number of donations and first-time donors.

Cathy Steeves on IMPACT

Cathy’s way of telling stories and sharing the United Way story is powerful. You can listen to the entire conversation with host Russell Thomas by click here. Toward the end of the program you will hear a heart-warming story about the time she took her son Mitchell on a ride-along with the Salvation Army’s Community Response Unit. Part of the role of this unit is to provide services and support to the homeless living rough. The night they went out it was bitterly cold, but it gave Mitchell and his friend John unforgettable insight into the work of this United Way funded agency.

“The reaction of these 14 year old boys was priceless,” she said. “They had to serve these people with kindness, dignity and respect.”

The impact of watching Dave, the Community Response Unit driver, engage with men and women living homeless in the cold winter was significant.

“He treated those homeless people like they were people,” said Mitchell. “Dave didn’t see what they were wearing or what they looked like; he saw them.”

The heart of United Way resides in so many people: donors, volunteers, front-line life changers, and thousands of people who are positively impacted by agencies. Cathy understands that United Way is all of us. She also understands that good solid facts, combined with a little bit of emotion, can go a long way to inspiring people to give.


Author: Russell Thomas

​Russell is a marketing and communications professional who has spent 20 years in Wood Buffalo working with the OK Radio Group, Keyano College, Arts Council Wood Buffalo, and now with The United Way of Fort McMurray. A regular blogger, Russell's writing can be seen online (www.middleagebulge.com) and in multiple publications. His paintings can be seen in homes and businesses throughout the community. Married to Heather and "Papa" to Dylan and Ben, Russell is a passionate spokesperson for United Way.