Helen Reddy’s feminist signature tune I Am Woman is a proclamation of inner strength that could easily serve as a mantra for International Women’s Day (IWD), celebrated on March 8.
IWD is a global day celebrating the economic, political and social achievements of women past and present. In countries such as Russia it is a national holiday.
Although Canada’s salute to women is low key in comparison, about 200 events across the nation are planned ranging from a summit, displays and panel discussions to special magazine issues, documentaries, art exhibits and even a rock festival.
Locally the St. Albert Baha’i recognize our local leaders with the 15th annual International Women’s Day Awards this coming Saturday, March 5 at Cornerstone Hall. The public is invited.
More than a shallow ceremony piped in by TV, it is a powerful platform to pay tribute to our mothers, grandmothers, daughters, sisters, friends and neighbours who spread peace, possibility and prosperity through their actions.
This year’s five recipients work tirelessly to bring about change and give hope to others. They all have one trait in common. They are humbled, even baffled to be nominated for doing something that gives them satisfaction.
The five recipients are environmental activist Elke Blodgett, volunteer advocate Pauline Vaugeois, educational behaviour consultant Sheila Chisholm, hope advocate Lenora Marie LeMay and unsung heroine Therese Gervais.
• Elke Blodgett – For more than 70 years Blodgett has been a steward of the environment, a legacy from her father, George, a renowned environmental engineer.
Several of her city projects have included the reduction of pesticide use to control weeds, monitoring and reporting major oil and gas spills in the Sturgeon River and identifying E. coli pollution at Riel lagoon.
Between 1996 and 1997, she fought for a bypass to stop the destruction of the Big Lake wetlands and received 11,000 signatures on a petition. Over the years Blodgett has led countless children and adults on expeditions teaching them about the land. In 1995 Grade 5 students at Sir Alexander MacKenzie awarded Blodgett with an Emerald Award.
Although she is a self-proclaimed “thorn” in St. Albert city council’s side, it recognized her by naming the peninsula at the Riel storm water pond Elke’s Peninsula.
Deeply honoured by the numerous accolades, Blodgett continues to live by one principle — “Take care of your own universe first.”
Of all the tributes she has received, Blodgett is most passionate about working with children. “I love to pass on what I have learned. They have such joy at discovery. They have a joy of learning and it takes me back to when I was a kid.”
• Sheila Chisholm – Helping children with autism, cerebral palsy, Down’s syndrome, Tourette’s, ADHD and social delays is Sheila Chisholm’s mission in life. The Saskatchewan transplant works for the St. Albert Protestant School Board as a PUFF resource, developing strategies for behaviour and special needs children.
However, schools are unable to fill all the needs. With partner Joni Bokenfor, Chisholm developed Infinite Resources, a business that fills gaps in providing families with additional coping strategies.
Chisholm offers special children’s programming, peer support groups, training programs, presentations and workshops. Some of the most important starts are social groups for special needs children that don’t fit anywhere. “Every family wants to feel their child is successful socially with another child.”
Ever since elementary school when she volunteered as a lunchroom helper for special needs children, she has witnessed how they have been misunderstood. “I want them to have what they deserve, to be treated respectfully and compassionately. I want to teach acceptance and inclusion.”
• Pauline Vaugeois – Born in Edmonton, raised in Legal, Pauline Vaugeois has lived most of her life in St. Albert. Displaying an indefatigable spirit for the past 50 years, she has promoted education, bilingualism and helped raise aboriginal awareness.
Vaugeois became entrenched in the volunteer sector when an Oblate priest asked her to secure donations for those in need. The Vaugeois home became a drop-off centre where family, friends and even strangers delivered donations. “Still to this day, I help with the inner city,” said Vaugeois.
She also volunteered with Girl Guides for several decades and was instrumental in pitching big summer camps just outside St. Albert for as many as 400 guides. “There were people like Lois Hole who would bring groceries and vegetables.”
Vaugeois volunteered for the MÄ‚Â©tis Nation of Alberta, the MÄ‚Â©tis National Council of Women, the Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate and the Catholic Women’s League. She even obtained funding for the Canadian Association of Medical Teams Abroad.
As for the International Women’s Day Award, she said, “”It humbles me to receive this award when the women who helped me deserve the award — the Barbs, the Elinors, the Marys, the Annes. St. Albert has a big heart.”
• Lenora Marie LeMay – Promoting hope is a guiding principle in Lenora Marie LeMay’s life. “Without it we die. We give up. There is some research to say hope helps us heal, it helps us cope and it gets us through the tough times. It’s an anchor,” LeMay said.
The Sturgeon County resident is the director of children, youth and education services at the Hope Foundation of Alberta. The registered non-profit is a research centre working in partnership with the University of Alberta that collects worldwide data, teaches and provides counselling services.
At the Hope Foundation, LeMay spearheaded the HOPE KIDS program, a concept that started at Leo Nickerson School. Initially students studied hope, made hope kits, took pictures of hopeful situations and conversed with parents. “We wanted them to think about it, feel it, act it out, relate to it and move toward a meaningful future,” LeMay said.
“The opposite of hope is fear and fear can immobilize us. We wanted them to see that with hope they can see a way forward when they are being challenged.”
LeMay became hooked on hope while conducting education research as the 2003 Horowitz Scholar and later became the main developer for Norquest College’s hope studies certificate program.
Now in her 11th year at the foundation, LeMay said the most important thing she does to instil hope is “listen to people’s stories, to be present and to make them feel they are important.”
• Therese Gervais – Rallying around Therese Gervais is an entire community of family and friends that describe her life as “love in action.”
A retired teacher and mother of four, the Morinville resident was on the board of La Salle, a second-stage shelter for abused women and their children. She also volunteered at Birthright for 15 years providing support to women faced with unplanned pregnancies.
“I am forever grateful I am alive. I felt very strongly life is a precious gift and I do what I can to support life,” Gervais said.
In 1979, when Canada received a wave of Vietnamese boat people, Gervais co-sponsored three families, helping them learn English and find housing and employment.
Using her organizational skills, she worked on the board of Star of the North Retreat Centre, and was instrumental in establishing a library at St. Albert Catholic Parish.
On her home turf, Gervais has been president of the Rendezvous Club and has planned many social activities, helped redesign the kitchen and initiated the collective kitchen for seniors finding it difficult to cook at home.
“There’s a season for everything. You can’t do it all at once, but whatever you get involved in, it’s a rewarding experience.”
International Women’s Day Awards will start at 7:30 p.m. The doors open at 7 p.m. Call Mitra at 780-458-5214 to reserve a spot.