Too many high-impact stories to enumerate

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Passion of St. Albertans makes this job easy

It’s been less than one year since I began my tenure at the St. Albert Gazette, and it’s been a fairly action-packed 10 months both professionally and personally.

It wasn’t until I was asked to consider what were the most important stories of the year that I realized just how much I’ve done since I arrived last February.

Hands down, the story I worked on this year that had the biggest impact on me was the mental-health series I wrote with my co-worker Scott Hayes.

My own struggles with mental health have been absolutely minor by comparison to some of the stories we heard – both from the people we interviewed and the people who got in touch with us afterward to tell us what reading the series meant to them.

The mind can be a terrible and frightening thing, and knowing the kind of struggles some people deal with on a daily basis while still pushing forward has had a humbling effect that I can scarcely put into words.

In all that, the biggest impact was having the opportunity to hear Kaitlin Hrudey and her father Kelly speak about the ups and downs of her mental illness. She described anxiety, obsessiveness and hypochondria that derailed her plans time and time again, and one can’t help but admire the courage to stand up and tell everyone her story.

If there was a dry eye in the house at the Arden Theatre when those two spoke, I certainly didn’t see it.

Many of the other stories I had the opportunity to work on this year have had similar effects on me, and the overarching theme is the sense of community spirit and community pride held by the people in St. Albert, Sturgeon County and Morinville.

In March I spoke with Bellerose Composite High School staff and students involved in a little bike-a-thon that over the years has ballooned into a major event and has raised well over $1 million for cancer research.

In April I spent a morning counting birds on Big Lake with members of the Big Lake Environment Support Society, and was struck by the passion of the many people I spoke with. Big Lake is an absolute gem, and remains so thanks in no small part to the efforts of these volunteers.

In May I met with many four-legged therapists and the two-legged volunteers who accompany them to their various destinations helping to support people who maybe just need something warm and soft to pet, play with or read a book to.

In June I heard a Grade 12 student tell me that she wants “tobacco companies to be scared, because we’re coming for them,” in response to a provincial announcement menthol would be included in a flavoured-tobacco ban.

Over the summer I had the privilege to attend a powwow at Poundmaker Lodge, where I met people who were more passionate about their religion and culture than I thought possible. A beautiful hawk circled overheard while drummers drummed and dancers danced; it was a spiritual experience for me, which is saying a lot coming from an atheist.

There’s not room in a single newspaper, let alone a single story, to do justice to the respect and admiration I’ve developed for this city and region. At the end of the day, it’s the people who make for a good community, and it’s the people who make for a good news story.

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Doug Neuman