Getting your feet wet – starting a new career path

Starting a new career path can be both scary and exhilarating at the same time. Leaving behind the many comforts related to your previous “job” including your work mates can add to the change and possible anxiety. In my new role as Community Investment Coordinator I have been reading, watching and learning as much as I can over the last four weeks. You could say I have been “getting my feet wet”. I would like to share a bit of this new learning with you.

The United Way Fort McMurray was established in 1978 by an innovative community member, Mary-Anne Warren. Since those humble beginnings, United Way has grown to be a leader and catalyst for positive and sustainable community change. Our Board and leadership take their responsibilities including transparency and accountability very seriously. In continued efforts to reflect best practice, our agency went through the accreditation process through Imagine Canada. The 2014 objective was realized when Fort McMurray exceeded the $8 Million goal generated through the generosity of individual donors, corporate donors and the hard work of our member agencies. I have been welcomed by new colleagues and the many agencies in The Redpoll Centre.

Here are a few of the stories I have learned about how United Way funded agencies are making a difference in our community.

A young pregnant woman arrived in Fort McMurray from Northern British Columbia. With the support of her family, she looked for community agencies to help her with parenting skills and  the process of having and then raising a child in Fort McMurray. To begin, The Hub Family Resource Centre offered prenatal classes. This gave her the tools and confidence to go through the birthing process with new knowledge and support. Once her child arrived, the Children’s Centre parent toddler program welcomed her to their weekly gatherings. The new moms shared lunch, listened to guest speakers, received milk coupons, and enjoyed celebrations together. The single mom developed a sense of community, new skills and confidence as a result of this program. Even before this child was born, our agencies provided a solid foundation for her family thanks to United Way support.

United Way of Fort McMurray takes community members on tours of agencies called “Seeing is Believing”. On one recent tour of the Center of Hope, we were talking with the Stephen, the Executive Director. He showed us the clean, modest “living room” and intake office for the homeless here in Fort McMurray. A “Memory” wall with several photos is a prominent reminder that people have died as a result of their circumstances related to homelessness in our own community. Stephen told us about the shower and laundry capabilities, the health care professionals that support their clients and the many services including tax preparation, document support and other imperative services available. As our group of about 20 were listening, a client of the Centre of Hope stopped by to say a few words.

“I would not be alive today if it weren’t for this centre”.

We all stood quietly listening to her as she continued to gather her words.

“I may not look like much, but I have had tough times. I come here and when I do, they listen and I feel like they care and I matter”.

So much more than a safe, dry place to have a cup of coffee. The Centre of Hope really offers a place to provide counselling, a listening ear, a few moments of comfort and basic needs and dignity including a sense of belonging.

Another place new to me is Pastew Place Detox Centre. When individuals have made the decision to enter an addictions treatment facility, they sometimes require a place to go as pre-treatment. Pastew Place is a local centre that makes this possible. After treatment, it is sometimes in the client’s best interest to return to Pastew Place for a strong Post-Treatment Program. Part of the program focuses on learning how to look after their finances and reintegrating into the world. We were on our  Seeing in Believing tour and talked to one client in the Post-Treatment Program. They were very proud of their sobriety and bragged about this success. Because of Pastew Place and their support the client will be reuniting with a daughter. Just one of many successes.

With nearly a month behind me I am eager to continue to learn and grow (making a difference) and become part of more United Way and agencies’ stories in the weeks and months ahead.


Author: Sherry Duncan

Sherry proudly calls Fort McMurray home. Having lived in several mining communities with her family, it has been her experience that the heart of a community can be found at the volunteer pancake breakfasts, food bank drives, parent councils and similar community events no matter where your travels take you. From an early age Sherry volunteered in service to others under the watchful eye of her socially conscious father. As a parent to her own 3 (adult) children she has practiced and passed on those many life lessons. Over the years she has Chaired several volunteer events including (more recently) a Keyano United Way Campaign and served as board member for various organizations. Fort McMurray has no shortage of opportunities to be involved at many levels. Most recently Sherry's volunteered both front of house and on stage for Keyano theatre, Tedx Fort McMurray, Safe Communities Wood Buffalo PARTY Program, Social Prosperity Wood Buffalo and The Western Canada Summer Games. Sherry has completed the internationally recognized Chair Leadership Academy as part of her position as Chair and Instructor in Childhood Studies at Keyano College where she was also awarded the President's Instructional Leadership Award. She is a proud Leadership Wood Buffalo alumni, facilitator and keynote speaker. For 29 years, teaching children and adults has been her career allowing her many opportunities to travel, present, facilitate and engage in both educational and philanthropic activities. Joining the United Way will truly bring together her passions for teaching, learning and making a difference in the heart of her community and the Wood Buffalo Region.