Lest we never forget

This painting adventure of mine has allowed me to contribute to various charities and causes by utilizing my newfound skills with the brush. Most recently, I was able to do a live portrait at the 10th annual KD Gala, an event put on by the Centre of Hope in support of the United Way Community Campaign.

Some may think that starting with an empty canvas and doing a painting from start to finish in front of a live audience might be a little nerve wracking. For whatever reason, that is not the case with me. I actually enjoy it, and feed off the energy in the room. That was especially the case as several hundred supporters of the Centre of Hope feasted on Kraft Dinner delights and connected with each other.

I decided to paint Carla, a young lady who passed away last December, a client of the Centre of Hope, the Salvation Army Mat Program, and likely several other agencies in town. She was loved and is missed.

russell painting carla

To be honest, I knew very little of Carla before I started painting on Saturday afternoon. All I had were impressions. I remember the intense sense of loss that certain caregivers felt when she died. I imagine that it is never easy when a person who has experienced homelessness dies owing to their circumstance, but it was especially hard with Carla.

I asked the guests at the KD Gala to contribute to the piece by writing down a message on a little slip of paper to a particular person that we have lost, or several, or all. From their words, my sense of Carla deepened, as did my appreciation for all who had passed.

“Missed but not forgotten,” wrote one person. “It could be me,” wrote another. “Fully human,” wrote someone else.

“Hope” and “Love” are scattered throughout the finished portrait. But I think that “Too short the embrace” captures how those closest to Carla still feel ten months after she left this world.

Kind, innocent (like a child), loving, are just a few of the words that a caregiver used to help me better understand Carla.

“She had a special light,” this person said, “like a little angel on earth.”

carla memory project

Carla, like many others who we see on our streets, in the shelters and at the Centre of Hope, struggled with a lot of different things, and eventually – despite many people and organizations trying to help – succumbed to her circumstances. She was loved and appreciated by those who knew her, and will be remembered fondly.

The painting and the words contained in “The Carla Memory Project” raised $2,500 for the United Way Community Campaign thanks to a bid from Bryce Kumka from Roger’s Insurance. More importantly, it provided a moment of reflection, when several hundred people paused and remembered.

Our deepest thanks to the entire team at the Centre of Hope for a beautiful event and for everything you do to care for those who between homes.


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.