Women can change anything. Using bold action in pursuit of a dream, five women did just that.
They are women who did not set out to change the world. They simply saw a need or a problem in their own community and set out to find a solution.
This year is the 17th anniversary of the International Women’s Day Awards, a signature event of St. Albert’s Baha’i community.
These awards recognize women of distinction, who through their own initiative, ability and personal grit, have made a tremendous effort and inspired those around them.
Whether trailblazers in their field, or young women on the rise, these humble pathfinders have made a substantial contribution to the fabric of our community.
These notable role models are Jenny Bocock, Velvet Martin, Katie Fitzgerald, Sarah Hall and Lynne Rosychuck.
The International Women’s Day Ceremony is at the St. Albert Curling Club, 3 Taché St., on Saturday, March 9 at 7:30 p.m. Tickets are $10 at the door. RSVP to 780-458-5214.
Jenny Bocock: protector of the environment
Throughout her lifetime as a Sturgeon County farmer, Jenny Bocock has been part of numerous organizations – 4H, Unifarm, The Sickle Cell Foundation, Burma Watch and Clean Air Strategic Alliance.
In a commitment to the environment, the Bocock family even donated a huge solar panel to St. Albert United Church to produce clean energy.
Over the decades, Bocock has watched urban creep destroy some of Canada’s richest farming soil.
“I’m concerned how we are going to feed seven billion people going towards nine billion. I’ve been to Eritrea and I saw a man with three goats trying to make a living on rocky soil. Ever since then, I believe we need to be responsible to feed the whole world.”
In the ’90s when a sour gas plant was built in Sturgeon County, it spewed noxious chemicals in the air, causing sickness and death in animals and affecting the health of many residents, Bocock says. During a three-day flare, four head of cattle died on the Bocock farm.
One of the representatives from the sour gas plant suggested it was “psychosomatic.”
Bocock’s reply was simple.
“When cattle drop dead and die, it’s not psychosomatic.”
She became involved in the Rose Ridge Citizens’ Committee and on behalf of county residents, took their concerns to the Clean Air Strategic Alliance (CASA). Eight grueling years of fighting resulted in the precedent of scrubber installation at the plant. It prevents the flaring of 2.3 tonnes per day of toxic sulfuric acid into the atmosphere.
“My belief is if we reduce emissions, we will have a more healthy people and there will be less strain on the health care system,” she said.
To this day, she still follows the advice passed on by her mother, English actress Phyllis Konstam.
“If you want to see a new world, you need to change it yourself.”
Velvet Martin: advocate for children with disabilities
Velvet Martin, a St. Albert woman, has advocated for the rights of children, the vulnerable and the disabled throughout her life as parent.
Her daughter Samantha was born in 1993 with severe disabilities. To access support and therapies from the provincial government, Social Services told the couple that was not possible unless Samantha was surrendered to foster care.
Martin discovered that under an archaic law, children with disabilities can be treated the same as children in abusive situations who need to be apprehended. Under this law, parents were seen as “unfit” and had no right to access services freely given to a child in foster care.
With no choice, and desperately needing the therapies for Samantha, she gave up her daughter as a ward of the court. Doctors recommended that the Martin couple move on. Basically the couple had no rights.
“But how can you forget a child and move on. It’s ridiculous. You can’t forget your own child,” says Martin, also a mother to four boys.
Before moving to Alberta, Martin studied law at the University of Toronto. With her legal background she decided to fight to regain custody of her child and change the law.
Initially, doors closed everywhere she turned.
“You get an attitude of ‘surely, you must have done something wrong.’ It feels shameful. I’m an educated woman. But what about all the other people who don’t have an education or are single and faced with this? How do people survive? Someone has to talk for them.”
While in foster care, Samantha suffered abuse, bruises and broken bones. At one point, a year went by without a visit from a social worker. Martin meanwhile was faced with layers of bureaucracy.
Finally after years of struggle, 12-year-old Samantha was brought home. Tragically, at 13, Samantha died of cardiac arrest.
More resolved than ever, Martin kept up the fight. In 2007, the Alberta government passed an amendment that provides for separate legislation for children with disabilities.
“I wanted to make sure there is a distinction, that support is given at the home level. If I had to do it over I would include parents with disabilities as well as children. I want them to be treated with dignity and respect.”
Although Samantha’s Law is only on provincial books, it has garnered national attention. In fact, Martin will be speaking at Our Canada Children Conference on May 17.
“To see people rise from these situations, that’s the empowerment,” she said. “It gives you strength knowing you are able to affect change. Knowing you can make positive change is the healing portion.”
Katie Fitzgerald: youth activist and volunteer extraordinaire
Katie Fitzgerald, 15, is a dynamic young woman attending Grade 10 at Paul Kane High School. She is a top student and a strong athlete who competes in basketball, volleyball, track, badminton and rugby.
As a community-minded individual, Fitzgerald has volunteered on diverse projects ranging from raising money for cancer research and developing awareness of privacy issues to cleaning up rivers, planting trees and helping the food bank.
“It’s important to be involved in the community. Everything I’m involved in, I’m passionate about,” Fitzgerald says.
Social issues top her concerns. In 2011 she submitted a video on racism to a contest administered by the minister of Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism. It reached the semi-finals.
This year she submitted a different video to the Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada for a national video competition on privacy issues and social networking. The video placed third in Canada.
A long-time animal lover, she has raised more than $1,100 for Second Chance Animal Rescue Society through collecting pop bottles. And her family just adopted a second dog, Scooby, a Labrador-shepherd mix to go with their other pet, Macy, a lab-sheepdog mix.
“Lately I’ve started doing foster care for SCARS. It’s what I’ve always wanted to do – experience it and save a dog’s life. It’s really rewarding when you nurse it back to health and give it a new family,” she said.
One volunteer venture that created a huge impact on her life is Homeless Connections, a group of more than 60 businesses that gather biannually at the Shaw Conference Centre to provide free services to the homeless or those at risk-of-being-homeless. A two-time volunteer, Fitzgerald has done laundry and set up a play area for children.
“Just seeing all the people and seeing how many people are homeless had a big impact,” she said. “You see them on the street, but you don’t realize how many there are until they come together. It’s changed my outlook. I try not to take things for granted. They need all the help they can get. It makes me appreciate my life more.”
Sarah Hall: supporter of mothers and community life
Sarah Hall is physically and literally the girl next door. She is a woman with whom others develop an instant rapport and want to know better.
The mother of four moved to Morinville in 2010. She had been raised in small-town Saskatchewan and moved to Edmonton in 1997.
“I didn’t want to raise my children in a big city,” she said. “I couldn’t fathom sending my daughter to school on a bus. I wanted to raise my kids in the country. My mom knew at all times where we were, who our friends were and who their parents were.
“I was also looking for a personal connection and friendships. I wanted regular girlfriends and not frivolous relationships.”
Hall was pregnant with her youngest, but after moving to Morinville, a search for a support network yielded very little.
“I knew my neighbours and I looked for a mom’s group online. But the closest playgroup was in Riviere Qui Barre. I even joined Mary Kay to get out of the box.”
After going through a season of soccer, going to school interviews and still not meeting many people, Hall turned to social media.
She created a Facebook page, Morinville’s Marvelous Moms, and added people she knew. Within a week 60 people joined. By the end of the month 100 mothers had signed up. At last count there were 542 women on board.
“After 26 women had signed up, it dawned on me it was really needed. It just took one person to start it.”
The page has developed into a necessary communication centre for social gatherings, finding babysitters, asking child-care questions, trading medical information and posting funny parenting stories. There are even spinoff pages for weight loss, home-based business advertising, and buying, selling or trading items.
“It’s been a really good way for brand new people to get comfortable in the community. It’s just phenomenal. I have personally met over 100 moms.”
For Hall, the Facebook page’s biggest plus is eliminating the isolation many mothers may feel when their community has few resources available.
“Women are connectors. They need other women. It helps women live at home and get involved in the community. It helps women make choices in school and it has helped local businesses big time.”
By using the power of technology, Hall has helped, “all like-minded people find friends when it could have taken years. It’s nice to find a group and get started on your life right away.”
Lynne Rosychuk: champion of the vulnerable
Lynne Rosychuk has expert knowledge in the area of domestic violence. Her daughter, Jessica Martell, was in an abusive relationship for 10 years. The abuse ended after her partner brutally murdered her in plain view of the couple’s three children, then under the age of seven.
Some mothers would have crumpled with the pain and stress. Instead, the Morinville resident refused to allow the horror to destroy her family.
Mother and daughter had often spoken of the need for safe houses in small rural towns where resources to assist domestic violence are few, if any. Although cocooned in grief, Rosychuk borrowed Jessica’s dream and vowed to build that house.
In the meantime, Martell was well known in Morinville and everyone rallied to her support.
“Three women approached and asked if they could fundraise. Within three hours of posting it on Facebook, we had 500 people wanting to help. And not just Morinville, but communities all around wanting to help,” she said.
Rosychuk approached the provincial government for funding but was turned down.
“It was my understanding there were enough shelters and there were only so many dollars. Any other government shelter would take money away from other shelters,” she said.
Undeterred by the setback, Rosychuk decided to fulfil the dream by building a private safe house modeled on Westlock’s Sparrow’s Hope.
Friends and strangers continue to host fundraisers for the Jessica Martell Memorial Foundation, now a registered charity. To date the charity has raised $28,000. Approximately $1 million is needed to buy land and build a private home.
“When this thing happened to my daughter, this community was amazing – the offers, the support, the help with the kids,” Rosychuk said. “I need to give back to this community. They’ve been so good to me. I want to thank everyone who supported me. Without support from family and friends, I would not be where I am today.”