Seeing Is Believing tours deepen understanding

One of the ways that the United Way connects the act of giving with the reasons to give is by taking people on Seeing Is Believing tours. Usually comprised of three short visits to United Way member agencies, these tours have a way of changing perceptions, promoting understanding, and inspiring a deeper connection of the work that is happening at social profit organizations in our community.

On September 29th, a group of about 10 representatives from Shell Albian Sands, CNRL, Syncrude and Diversified Transportation gathered at The Redpoll Centre at Shell Place.

“It is important to start each Seeing Is Believing tour by checking in with our guests,” said Jennifer Kennett, Resource Development Coordinator. “We used a simple tool called Know-Wonder to quickly get a baseline as to their understanding of the United Way and the agencies we were going to visit.”

This particular tour took the group to the Multicultural Association of Wood Buffalo, Stepping Stones and the YMCA.

Every agency is given about 30 minutes to share their story and provide a brief tour of their facility. The diversity of the type of work done by the agencies is matched by the myriad ways that they engage visitors. In the case of the Multicultural Association of Wood Buffalo, a video introduction was preceded by testimonials by two amazing ladies whose lives were impacted in a positive way.

In a community that continues to attract immigrants from around the world, integration can be a difficult process. Isolation and loneliness in being in a new place, learning a new language and figuring out customs can all create barriers. The Multicultural Association of Wood Buffalo has a variety of programs that aim to make the transition to a new place easier.

Alejandro and Naoko, from Venezuela and Japan respectively, have achieved a sense of belonging through their involvement with the organization.

“I appreciate the people who give me absolutely beautiful experiences,” shared Naoko. “If it was not for the Multicultural Association, I would probably still be lonely.”

The second stop on the tour was a nondescript home in the Dickinsfield area called Stepping Stones, a youth shelter that has been in operation since 2009.

“We have had about 275 kids through our doors since we opened,” said Lynn Rhoddy, Executive Director. “The work we do here is very powerful. We treat everyone with respect and ensure that everyone has a voice.”

The impact of Stepping Stones is profound, achieving a 97-percent rate of reintegration of youth with families.

“If I would have heard 60-percent reintegration I would have been impressed,” shared one person on the tour. “Ninety-seven percent is staggering.”

The tour moved on to the YMCA on Tundra Drive, an organization that recently completed a merger to become the YMCA of Northern Alberta – Wood Buffalo Region. We learned about the variety of programs funded through the United Way and the reality that it is providing essential access.

“Without United Way funding, we would have to turn away several families every single day,” said Jennifer Best, Manager, Community Programs.

The Seeing Is Believing tour wrapped up back at The Redpoll Centre with a quick debrief. Guests experienced a new understanding and appreciation of the United Way and the three agencies we visited.

“Seeing Is Believing tours are a great way for our volunteer canvassers to deepen their understanding of the United Way effort,” said Diane Shannon, Executive Director. “Hearing the stories directly from the agencies, in their own voices and spaces, has a profound effect on our volunteers.”

To get more information about Seeing Is Believing tours contact Lindsey Bradbury, Community Impact Liaison, at or 780-791-0077, extension 3019.


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 ( 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.