A full house of men and women will gather this coming Friday for the Global News Women of Vision awards ceremony at the Shaw Conference Centre to pay tribute to 12 women who make a difference in their community.
Two area women who stand out from the crowd and have inspired those around them are St. Albert country singer-songwriter Hailey Benedict and Morinville Mayor Lisa Holmes.
Although their fields of endeavour are quite different, both women share several common characteristics: a can-do spirit, love of community, the willingness to go the extra mile, and humility.
They are our leaders of today and the future, women who want to make the world a better, brighter place.
Lesley MacDonald will once again host this year’s ceremony.
Fourteen-year-old Hailey Benedict is a singer who makes entertaining a crowd of 44,000 Edmonton Eskimo fans at Commonwealth Stadium look easy.
Or singing a song beside superstar Keith Urban at Rogers Place and having the performance exceed one million hits after it went viral.
Most of us would choke at facing crowds that big, and more than one person has remarked on “her nerves of steel.”
The truth is Benedict loves to perform. When she’s on the stage facing the crowd sensing their anticipation, she feeds off their energy and shifts into the zone giving it her all.
And it shows in her delivery. Just last week, the Grade 9 Lorne Akins student returned to St. Albert with five trophies after competing at the North American Country Music Awards, Intl. held in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee.
Performing her latest single Clean Slate and the salute to Constable Wynn, Dare to Be a Hero, Benedict won International Female Vocalist of the Year, International Most Promising Entertainer, International Most Promising Songwriter Patriotic Category, and International Songwriter of the Year.
She also won International New Country Duo with runner-up and friend Hannah Gazso. All the awards were for the 13 to 16 youth category.
In addition to singing, Benedict roamed Nashville’s country attractions including the Grand Ole Opry, Ryman Auditorium as well as performing a spontaneous version of Jolene and Somebody Like You at Tootsies.
“It was such an amazing experience and I will never forget those moments. On the plane coming home I was ready to go back,” chuckled Benedict.
The Gazette first noticed the then Keenooshayo student in 2012 making her Citadel debut as Jenny Cratchit in A Christmas Carol. That year the Grade 5 student was on a winning streak capturing the 2012 St. Albert Kids Idol, becoming a Capital Ex Northern Star finalist and winning a St. Albert Rotary Festival scholarship.
Since then she’s performed at Big Valley Jamboree, the Canadian Finals Rodeo and Singing Christmas Tree as well as numerous charities and fundraisers.
Benedict’s first paid gig was a trade-show fundraiser for One Love For Africa, an international organization that empowers African women. At the time, she was 11 years old and was paid $75.
“I didn’t know I could get paid for this. I was in shock and very excited.”
But her mother Brandee added, “She handed it back saying they needed it more than she did. I was so proud.”
To pay for the Nashville trip, Benedict was booked as a regular busker at St. Albert Farmers’ Market. The shift was five hours a day with breaks. Benedict refused to take breaks and finished her shifts with blistered fingers from playing the guitar.
“People see the accomplishments. But they don’t see the tears or how hard you work to make a dream come true. And that’s why I’m so proud of her – because she did it all herself,” Brandee said.
The Global News Women of Vision selection is an affirmation Benedict is galvanizing others while following her chosen path.
“It means I’ve inspired people without knowing it. Just being nominated along with all these special women means a lot.”
Mayor of the Town of Morinville and President of Alberta Urban Municipalities Association
The first things one notices about Mayor Lisa Holmes is her professional, poised bearing. No matter how awkward the question, she always answers in a soft-spoken measured tone that lets one know she is listening respectfully.
In an age when politicians and the public court bombastic wannabes, Holmes stands high above others exuding the polished, business-like skills admired in a bona fide leader.
Her formative years were spent in Hanna, the eldest daughter of Craig and Mary-Jean Burke. Holmes’ parents were small business owners operating the town jewelry store and were heavily involved in community service.
“I can’t think of a single community organization they weren’t involved in – the chamber, Kinsmen and Kinettes, Lions, Catholic Women’s League and the rodeo when it was in season. They were an unbelievable example of how to love a community and live in it,” said Holmes.
As a youngster, Holmes spent recreational hours skating in winter and swimming throughout the summer. But she was also expected to work at the store doing odd jobs and maintaining the accounting ledger.
By the time she was 13, the family sold the jewelry story and moved to Vernon, British Columbia where they purchased the Silver Star RV Park.
By the time she was 13, her accumulated accounting experience in the family businesses allowed her to obtain a job at the Salmon Arm Observer doing classified ads and accounts payable.
“It taught me to be respectful and professional as well as gave me the opportunity to experience skills not taught in school. When I graduated, it gave me an entry point into jobs other people needed.”
“Mostly it taught me time management – how to network and how talk to different people, how to work in a professional setting and what it’s like to be in an office and the expectations that go with it. And how to assert yourself without being pushy.”
Working in an adult environment turned into a stroke of good luck for the self-described “shy” young girl.
“I’d always had great difficulty in public speaking. I was so shy, unbelievably shy even though my parents put me in 4-H Club and Toastmasters. When I was elected in 2010, whenever I stood up to talk, I felt as if everyone could see me shaking.”
Although shy people often skirt politics, Holmes’ Grade 11 social studies teacher involved the class in the 1994 federal election where Conservative Kim Campbell and NDP Alexa McDonough were grabbing headlines.
“At the time I didn’t believe I would be a politician. I loved policy and believed I might have an administrative role or be involved in science.”
Bouncing from political science at Okanagan College to upgrading for NAIT’s x-ray technician program, Holmes finally settled into a political science program at Concordia College.
As mayor she has championed co-leadership positions where councillors are encouraged to apply their strengths and skills.
“It’s a way to let them shine.”
Holmes agrees that the political climate is not always welcoming to women. However, she adds, it has been known to change once women become involved.
“The culture is changing because people aren’t willing to accept things the way they used to be. I’ve personally experienced little sexism considering Morinville has only had two women mayors in 105 years.”
As mayor, Holmes has implemented the Junior Mayors program open to all young boys and girls. However, it is especially crucial to young girls that may never have had a female role model in politics.
“As a child in order to dream, you need to see it. I hope the Junior Mayors program is inspiring to young girls and that they believe they can be in politics.”