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Six philanthropic leaders receive Community Paul Harris Fellow

Rotary Club of St. Albert made history across the province awarding six Community Paul Harris Fellows
The St. Albert Rotary Club handed out Paul Harris Fellows to six community members at a special event at the Art Gallery of St. Albert on Feb. 28. Receiving awards were (front row from left): Terry Soetaert, Wendy McDonald, Lynne Rosychuk, Joe Becigneul, Cheryl Dumont and Bart Yachimec.

When members of the Rotary Club speak about Paul Harris, there is a reverential tone attached to the discussion. 

Harris was a practising lawyer in Chicago at the turn of the 20th century. He envisioned a place where professionals of different backgrounds could meet, exchange ideas and form meaningful, lifelong friendships. 

When he founded the first Rotary Club in Chicago, it was more than a “meet and enjoy a drink” club. From the start, it was a humanitarian organization, and its mission was to serve others. In honour of the founder, Rotary Clubs across the world present Paul Harris Fellows awards to members for outstanding service. 

This year in a first for clubs across the province, the Rotary Club of St. Albert awarded six Community Paul Harris Fellows to non-Rotarians for their extraordinary service. 

Joe Becigneul, Cheryl Dumont, Wendy McDonald, Lynne Rosychuk, Terry Soetaert and Bart Yachimec were honoured on Wednesday, Feb. 28 at the Art Gallery of St. Albert. 

“It’s neat to celebrate what we do, but never before have we celebrated community leaders via our club. This is a coveted award like a badge of honour,” said local Rotary president Doug Webster. 

Joe Becigneul 

Becigneul is a prominent city leader known for his commitment to education. He was elected to the Greater St. Albert Catholic Schools board of trustees in 2016 and continues to serve on the board, including three years as chair. 

He grew up in Dartmouth, Nova Scotia and started volunteering with a church group as a teenager, fundraising for the local food bank and taking part in Christmas charities. 

After moving to St. Albert in 1994, he joined several school councils, served as a St. Albert and District chamber chair for four years, volunteered at the Northern Alberta Business Incubator for seven years and served in Knights of Columbus. 

By 1996, he started coaching his son’s hockey teams. Becigneul worked his way up the ladder and by 2009 was the volunteer Referee in Chief, dealing with administration and supervising 140 provincial referees in the North Zone. 

These mentions only scratch the surface of his contributions. 

"Volunteering is part of my psyche. I got the bug. For the most part, when you help somebody, you feel good. It doesn't cost you a thing, and the rewards are you feel good,” Becigneul said. 

Cheryl Dumont 

Dumont is a central figure in the city’s non-profit and community sector. She served as executive director for St. Albert and District Further Education, worked as a St. Albert Public School trustee for more than a decade and is still involved as a board member for the St. Albert Housing Society. 

She is also a member of the Philanthropic Educational Organization (P.E.O.), a sisterhood of women who celebrate, support and motivate women by helping them advance through better education. 

“We raise funds for women in Canada and overseas for post-secondary education. In general, we work with women in poverty who want to get ahead,” said Dumont. 

She has also been instrumental at Poundmakers Lodge Treatment Centres helping people recover from addictions and teaching them new life skills. 

Wendy McDonald 

McDonald champions people with mental and physical disabilities and has spent the last 30 years helping more than 800 individuals find meaningful employment. 

A leader within Inclusion Alberta, she supported families by providing hard-to-find information and coaching them through government bureaucracy to access support. 

As a member of the Sunrise Rotary Club, McDonald attended the 2000 International Rotary Conference. The challenge that year was “increase the employment rate for individuals with disabilities.” 

McDonald accepted the challenge and formed  Rotary Employment Partnership. It is currently a multinational support organization that assists people with disabilities find paid employment. 

“Eighty per cent of people with disabilities are unemployed. They are isolated and impoverished. They rely on the government and often don’t have a reason to get up in the morning. In our society, we tend to isolate and segregate them. The rate of abuse for people with intellectual disabilities is four to five times higher than those without,” said McDonald. 

“Employment opportunities not only changes the lives of people with intellectual disabilities, but it changes businesses too. Research has shown it is beneficial for business and there are cultural benefits. That is the thing I’m most proud of.” 

Lynne Rosychuk 

Royschuk is a tireless advocate for victims of domestic violence, and her relentless work was instrumental in building Jessie’s House, a Morinville-based emergency shelter for individuals and families escaping partner violence. 

She founded the Jessica Martel Memorial Foundation in honour of her daughter, who lost her life to domestic violence. Rosychuk's perseverance and commitment has made a difference quite likely saving the lives of many vulnerable women and children. 

Jessie’s House will celebrate its fourth anniversary in May. 

“I’m still in awe of it. Many times I drive up to the house and stare up at it and I can’t believe it’s here. It’s bigger than I envisioned,” she says of the 9,200 square foot living space. “I knew violence was high, but every day is a shock to me — the numbers of people who ask for help and we can’t find any place to put them.” 

However, the foundation is opening a second-stage triplex in the spring. It will be called Eileen’s Place, named after a very generous donor. 

“I’m very appreciative that they have awarded me this, but I didn’t start it for recognition. I started it to help others struggling like my daughter. All the amazing people around me saw the vision and helped to accomplish it. This (award) is for all of them. Thank you.” 

Terry Soetaert 

A long-time St. Albert resident, Terry Soetaert is vocal advocate for the 2SLGBTQI+ community. Soetaert along with daughter Mia, founded Outloud Foundation as a place for kids to meet and hang, obtain information and join in educational programs. 

He serves on many boards connected to local youth and family issues. Host Sandra Fenton noted in her introduction that Soetaert approaches each endeavour to make a positive impact. 

On Friday, March 15, the Outloud Foundation celebrates its 10th anniversary gala at the Arden Theatre. 

“It’s kind of surprising. When I started this with Mia, my wife and a couple of kids we were trying to get a place where they would be comfortable and make connections. The first meeting we had four kids. The second six or seven. We didn’t realize that the thing keeping kids away was that meetings were held at St. Albert United Church. When we moved to Bellerose, 15 to 20 kids showed up and it grew from there. In 2023, 300 people attended and took part in various programs,” Soetaert said. 

“I want to thank Rotary for the award. It was nice of them. They’ve donated several times to us, they come to our shows.” 

Bart Yachimec 

Yachimec started his rise to success first as a professional hockey player in North America and Europe. In 1984, he was part of Team Canada that won the Spengler Cup in Davos, Switzerland. 

Once leaving hockey he went into the family business of car dealerships. He founded the Yachimec Group that consists of six automobile dealerships and four marine and sports dealerships. 

By 2000, he was financially successful and wanted to give back to the community. 

“But I wanted to give something that I could attach something big,” Yachimech said. 

At the time, the Stollery Children’s Hospital was receiving roughly $1 million a year in fundraising and required a huge infusion of cash to grow. Yachimec reached out and worked on an educational campaign to market the Stollery. 

“We worked with the hospital on a campaign with papers, TV and radio supplied by us. Today the Stollery receives $20 plus million a year.” 

His next big charitable donation tackled Little Warriors, an organization that advocates for children traumatized by sexual abuse and treats child sexual abuse survivors. 

Working with founder Glori Meldrun, also a child sex abuse survivor, Yachimec donated $600,000 over a three-year period. 

“Her dream was to build a house in an area for children to overcome issues. I went to the ranch and she had tons of trades helping out. The sad thing is, there hasn’t been support from the government.” 

“We’ve been part of both charities, but the Little Warriors was too important to not do anything.” 

Yachimec also coached soccer while his sons played and now the family bonds through Edmonton Impact paintball team. Yachimech is the owner-coach and both sons have played on the team.  

Anna Borowiecki

About the Author: Anna Borowiecki

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