Retirement reflections from Diane

Diane broken plate

Someone recently sat across my desk and said “Diane – you should write a book”, a book sharing the amazing journey the community benefit sector has been travelling over the last few years…

As I plan my retirement, I have a lot of plans which involve beaches, grandbabies, and some long restful sleeps for the first couple months, but if I do decide to write that book…

CHAPTER 1 will be about how welcomed and connected within this community I have become and how that warmth is extended to everyone who wishes to accept it. It will be about a ridiculously inspirational Board of Directors, a strong body of volunteers which swells to 1,000 at the peak of campaign season and a staff team which is really my YMM family. Together we have celebrated successes, births, and marriages and suffered when we had to say goodbye to loved ones. We have evolved and grown together as we have worked on creating the wonder that is our shared space – The Redpoll Centre, we have moved our community campaign to a high of $8.2 million that we strategically invest to alleviate the impacts of poverty, to strengthen the programs for those of our community who cope with a myriad of disadvantages and, most of all, we have worked tirelessly to ensure that our children have every hope for the future.

Our journey together over the last 8 ½ years has deepened my understanding of what passionate commitment partnered with a generosity of spirit that sees each of you gift your skills, your treasure, and your valuable time, can create. What we have built together has exceeded my wildest imagination.

In meeting our founder, Maryanne Warren, I know she was just as amazed as I have become at the strides we have taken. Never did I imagine that we’d be able to grow and take the risks to improve every aspect of the organization and create the level of governance excellence that led to us becoming one of the first 80 organizations in Canada accredited by Imagine Canada.


This chapter of my book will be about how our sector is more connected and claiming an elevated level of importance in our community. We have moved from being a ‘NON” profit and expounding on what we DON’T do to being a SOCIAL PROFIT sector and bragging about the community benefits we DO provide to the heart of our community.


About being the 3rd leg on the “community” stool with government and business being the1st & 2nd

About the powerful change that can be created when organizations come together around a unique project like Social Prosperity,

About collaboration and collective impact, about shared space and bringing unlikely people together,

About genuine partnerships, and building trust and strong relationships.


I could never have imagined that this chapter – my swan song – would become more of a phoenix rising from the ash – that we would be dealing with community trauma on such a large scale. I do feel it is a privilege to be involved in laying the building blocks to help rebuild the social infrastructure of our community. It makes me so proud to reflect on all the challenges already addressed by the Social Recovery Taskforce, about the strong collaboration between the United Way and Red Cross which was able to imagine and create a Community Partnership Table of stakeholders which connects with all the other committees working so hard to communicate and strategize on the best initiatives to move forward. There is much more to do, but I consistently witness leaders acting from their deepest values – where it’s not about ego, not about taking credit, but about genuinely determining how to improve conditions.

I feel surrounded by leaders who are at the top of their game and this is especially poignant when I take a moment to reflect on how many of those stepping forward also suffered a tremendous personal, direct impact when the flames overtook our community in May.

Wherever I travel I am proud to relay the story of how we are community… of how corporations, rural communities, our uniformed protectors, neighbours, and strangers, all became one and just “did the right thing” in an unparalleled situation.

It truly feels that the way we reached out to each other that day has been reflected in the outpouring of generosity and support from across the country; from other United Ways, service organizations, and everyday families – I have never been more proud to be a Canadian.


This chapter begins in summer when many local United Way leaders got together and imagined what we might accomplish. It was so inspirational to hear them express how proud they were and that “This is Home”. They confirmed how important it was to hold a campaign this fall and to be able to continue to support the community as we move forward.

Around that time, I was toured through the neighbourhoods of Abasand and Waterways – down streets that no longer had any identifying landmarks, I saw people seeking physical remnants that would bring back memories – people digging through the ashes – and I saw little piles of broken ceramic statues and dishes on the sidewalks. It reminded me of hearing about… KINTSUGI, which is a Japanese artform.

broken plate

In Japan, instead of throwing out a broken treasured piece, it is repaired using gold filler. Kintsugi finds value in the small missing pieces and brings to light the scars that have come from life experiences – The dish becomes more beautiful and more highly treasured for having been broken.

You are strong and determined individuals – We are a strong and determined community. Together we will create our own KINTSUGI – we will continue to create a new sense of beauty – with ways of honouring our scars and of filling in the broken pieces with supports for those in need of a helping hand.

The talent, commitment and values you all bring to everything you do make United Way and Fort McMurray what it is – and what you do is now more important than ever as we make history together.


My story is not over, but it is important to know when it’s time for a new chapter to begin, and for me that time has arrived. What made the decision easier is my complete confidence in what we have built together. I want to end this volume by thanking all of you. I’m filled with gratitude and admiration for all the colleagues and friends that I’ve made over the years on this incredible adventure. You have made my time in YMM truly unforgettable, and you will always be part of my life.

The Chalkboard message I copied onto my office wall a dozen years ago still resonates:


I am a big believer in the need to turn passion into something real and tangible and I will definitely seek new leadership and Board volunteer opportunities in the Edmonton area when I resettle. Although I will have a new address, I will never stop being a YMM community advocate. When people ask “where are you from?” I will always say I’m from Fort McMurray – This is HOME.

With my complete gratitude,

If you would like to stay in touch, my new contact will be at: 780-881-0616

… My story to be continued


Author: The United Way of Fort McMurray and Wood Buffalo | 780-791-0077 ext. 3015