Seeing is Believing tour shows impact

Seeing is Believing tours are a great way to see first-hand where United Way donations are being invested in the community. The tours are generally made up of visits to three United Way member agencies, where participants get a behind-the-scenes look at the daily activities and challenges that the agencies face. These tours allow for a clearer understanding of the vast communal impact that results from donating to the United Way.

Last week, a group of 12 individuals from industry, local business and member agencies came together at The Redpoll Centre eager to partake in the tour. On this specific trip we visited Justin Slade Youth Foundation, The Salvation Army and the Multicultural Association of Wood Buffalo. Each agency has approximately 30 minutes in which to explain the programs and services provided, as well as give a tour of the facility.

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Our first stop was at Justin Slade Youth Foundation’s (JSYF), The Dugout. The Dugout is a youth drop-in centre, open 7 days a week. The purpose of the centre is to provide a safe, clean and drug-free environment for youth to hang out. Executive Director, Mandy MacDonald gave a tour of The Dugout as well as a brief overview of the programs offered by JSYF.


During this time, a colleague of mine and I were approached by a young man who thanked us for what the United Way does. He explained that he regularly comes to The Dugout and that he was a resident of Stepping Stones Youth Home- a short-term facility for youth ages 12-18 who are experiencing housing instability or homelessness- a partner agency of The United Way of Fort McMurray. He said if it weren’t for the services available, such as JSYF and Stepping Stones, he would be on the streets. It was amazing to meet a gentleman who was directly and positively impacted through United Way donations.

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The next stop on the tour was at The Salvation Army. We were met by Joan Nobles, Program Manager. Upstairs she showed us the Soup Kitchen and the dry shelter. The dry shelter provides clients nutritious meals, bath/shower, clothing and shelter in a secure, safe environment.

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Next we were taken to the main floor where the thrift store and Family Services resides. Family services assists individuals and families to meet their practical needs when facing financial or emergency situations. Finally, we were taken to the basement where the organization runs its Mat program. The Mat program allows individuals a safe place to sleep and is not a dry shelter, meaning that individuals will not be turned away if they are under the influence of drugs or alcohol. Everyone stopped for a commemorative photo outside the building, and then we were off to the next location.

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Our third and final agency was the Multicultural Association Wood Buffalo (MCA). We got to stop in at their new facility at Keyano College. There we were met by Executive Director Justine Rukeba, and Program Manager Jamie Desautels, who sat with us in a round-table formation to talk about different programs funded by the United Way.

“You came on a good day,” said Justine in reference to the fact that it was MCA’s 32nd birthday.

The Seeing Is Believing tour ended back at The Redpoll Centre with a short debrief. Participants had a newfound understanding of how impactful and far reaching United Way donations are in the community. A recurring thought expressed among attendees was their surprise in the magnitude of the services offered by each of the agencies.

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It was evident through this deeper understanding, that seeing truly is believing.

Our continued thanks to Diversified Transportation for being a fantastic community partner in getting us safely from agency to agency.



Author: Meaghan Szpak

Meaghan has earned her degree in Public Relations from Iowa State University and has returned to work with The United Way of Fort McMurray. Her interest in the social profit sector brought her to the United Way last summer when she worked as an intern. Although she has spent the last few years in the United States, Meaghan is not new to the community of Fort McMurray and considers it home. She is excited about interacting on a daily basis with the people and agencies who give back and help make her home community a better place. In her free time Meaghan loves taking road trips, exploring new places and hiking new trails, all with her husky by her side.