The heroes in homelessness.

For the past three years Calgary, where I live, has been working on its “Ten Year Plan to End Homelessness.” One of the biggest shifts since ‘ending homelessness’ became a part of the city’s social consciousness, and an official component of its social policy structure, is the decrease in panhandlers on our streets. Agency workers, in consort with police and other emergency services and city workers are continually scanning the streets for individuals in need of assistance. In their efforts to provide appropriately framed help that reflects the individual’s level of need, they have made a difference.

I believe raising the goal of ‘ending homelessness’ into the public psyche is vital if we are to create kinder, more caring communities. When one person falls on the street, we all fall. Providing essential care, from emergency shelter to food and clothing, and assisting in ensuring every individual receives support to address their personal needs, is critical to creating opportunities for those experiencing homelessness, and its many contributing factors, to find their way back home.

Here in Vancouver where I am currently visiting, a ‘plan to end homelessness’ was introduced last fall. And, while street homelessness has declined significantly since its high in 2008, panhandlers are very evident on the downtown streets. As in other metropolis across North America, cost of housing, addictions, lack of jobs, mental health issues, and a complex myriad of other causes contribute to ongoing homelessness. Subsequently, in a city deemed ‘the most expensive city to live in North America‘ which also boasts a temperate climate, visibly homeless individuals of all ages wander the streets, sit with hats upturned on the pavement before them, panhandling, or, aimlessly waiting for ‘that something’ that will make sense of where the path away from home has led them.

Homelessness is a complex social issue that eats at the fibre of our communities, spilling people onto the streets who never dreamt this is where they would find themselves. Helping them find a way back home is vital, important and at times, exhausting, work.

When I worked at a homeless shelter in Calgary, I believed it was vital that agencies work together, collaborate and cooperate in finding solutions that address not only the immediate needs of the people being served, but that also addressed the social and economic contributors that were leading so many people to our streets.

Being here in Vancouver, I am reminded of that imperative again. One person, one group, one agency cannot solve the social and economic issues that contribute to homelessness in one person’s life. Only through working together, only through having a goal and a dream of ‘ending homelessness’ can we build pathways that support individuals in their quest to come in from the cold.

Hats off to the team at the Calgary Homeless Foundation and to other organizations with the spirit, heart and vision to build the dream for all of us to follow. Kudos to all the agencies, from the shelters to social services to emergency services to housing support, who assist individuals to stay alive, and reclaim their lives, away from the street. And, near and dear to my heart,  ‘big props’ to the arts and culture groups who create innovative programs to assist individuals both with the lived experience of homelessness and the artists and art groups with a desire to connect and inspire individuals on the streets and in communities in decline  to discover their dreams once again through exploring their creative essence. (ie “Art from the Ashes” — Detroit’s Heidleberg Project)

And blessings to those experiencing homelessness. Homelessness is not a dream they once held near to their hearts. It is a nightmare that only love and time and sustainable action through communities that care can help them awaken from.

People working together to end homelessness are Heroes!

And people experiencing homelessness, people sharing their lived experiences of homelessness and those seeking to understand and take action — you are all heroes too.

Miracles are Free

Coming through the Roger's Pass
Coming through winter on The Roger's Pass

On May 21, 2003 at 9:14am  two police officers walked in and arrested the man who was busy trying to organize my demise. I didn’t care. I had spent so many months wishing I was dead, immersed in thoughts of suicide that I wanted him to do it, to get rid of me, to end it all so that I wouldn’t have to carry the pain and sorrow and grief of what I had done to my life, and my daughters’ lives and the lives of those I loved any longer. And then, a blue and white police car drove up and delivered a miracle — I got my life back.

In the hours following his arrest, I sat in catatonic horror looking at the devastation of my life, trying to grapple with what I would do next. I had 72 cents in my pocket, a few clothes and Ellie, my golden retriever.

I did the only thing I could think of. I phoned my sister Anne who lived an hour away from where I had been hiding out for almost four months while ‘the man’ tried to devise a scheme to escape Canada and get rid of me in the process.

I was blessed. Like my daughters, they had spent the final months of my journey into hell not knowing if I was alive or dead. Too beaten down, too frightened and too far into the web of his control, I hadn’t let anyone know where I was or what had happened to me. It didn’t matter to my sister and her husband, Lee. Without any questions or recriminations, they came and got Ellie and me and took us to their home. It was in the safety of their home I began the journey back to myself.  I lived with Anne and Lee for a year and a half and in that time found myself on the other side of the dark days. I found myself coming home to myself, joyful, exuberant and living life fearlessly in Love.

I am blessed. Anne and Lee were the difference between my falling into despair or coming out on the other side of the pain. I am grateful.

Last night, after driving through spring and winter, bare roads and slushy conditions, rain and sleet, Ellie and I arrived safely to a welcome of a warm dinner, a glass of wine and beautiful companionship.

It was a good drive yesterday. I played tunes, sang at the top of my lungs. Listened to CBC radio when I could get a signal in the  mountains as Ellie slept in the back seat. As we drove into Vancouver, her head popped up and she sat up to watch the city emerge out of the rain and fog that had been clinging to the sides of the mountains as we crossed to the leeward side of the coastal range.

It is her first time back since I left Vancouver in 2005 to move back to Calgary to live once again with my daughters.

I am different now. Life is different now and thanks to Anne and Lee, my daughters and I have healed and our lives are so much different than what might have been had they not responded so lovingly to the miracle of my getting my life back on that day in May almost 9 years ago.

A road paved with smiles

I am off on an adventure today. Heading west to The Haven on Gabriola Island for a one week course, Come Alive and then, Easter in Vancouver with my daughters — I am stoked!

Ellie is coming along on this journey. She’s all dolled up with a new do (her spring shave down) and is lookin’ real purdee. I’m not sure who is most excited, me about spending a weekend with my daughters or my eldest daughter Alexis about getting to see her Ellie for a few days!

Yesterday, in preparation for my journey, I got new tires, an oil and filter change and just a general tune-up of my car. And yes, I realize I did literally leave it to the last day — it was all in my plan. (wink, wink)

When I went to the tire/tune up store (Lionel at Ok Tire on Richmond Road really rocks!) I took Ellie with me because I knew my car would be a couple of hours and one of my favourite coffee places is just a 20 minute walk away from the shop.

Ellie was a big hit. She pranced into the store, all proud of her new do and pink ribbon tied to her collar. (okay so maybe she feels a bit self-conscious about the pink bow but it’s really cute!) Lionel who owns and manages the store has a 14 year-old Dalmatian/Border Collie cross and was immediately on side with Ellie’s wish to be pet and oohed and aahed over. Another man in the store shared his stories of his dog, Jethro, who went to doggie heaven several years ago. We chatted and laughed and everyone was smiling when we left.

Which brings me to one of the greatest lessons on making a difference in the world.

Take a dog with you where ever you go. They’re real ice breakers!

While sitting in the warm afternoon sun on the patio of the coffee shop Ellie and I walked to, a mother walked by with her two twin daughters. “Can they pet your dog?” she asked.

Ellie was most obliging.

The twins laughed and giggled, never once letting go of the stuffed toy gopher they held between her. I joked and told them that Ellie really likes gophers. One of the twins eyes widened. “My name’s Ella!” she exclaimed.

“Ellie’s named after Ella Fitzgerald,” I told her (like I thought a four year-old would know the great Ella!)

The mother smiled and Ella looked at me with a somewhat confused expression on her face.

“Do you sing?” I asked.

“Oh yes!” she replied and promptly burst into a verse of one of my favourites, “Inch by inch. Row by row.”

The entire patio stopped for a collective moment to smile and wonder at the joy of this small child singing in the afternoon sun.

Such innocence. Such beauty. Such natural joy.

Now those are differences the world could use more of!

As you travel through your day today, watch for moments where you can sing in the sunshine, or the rain. And let lose. Be silly. Be funny. Be full of joy! Share a smile or many!

I know I’ll be travelling down that long ribbon of road, heading west, and singing my heart out. Me and Ellie-mcgee. “Cause freedom’s just another word for nothin’ left to lose.’ And we’ve all got everything to gain by living life large, being the difference we want to see in the world.

Have a great one!

Keeping My Commitments

It is interesting to make a commitment to write in this space everyday about making a difference in the world. Interesting and not always easy.

The question that faces me most mornings is…. so, Louise, what did you do yesterday to make a difference in the world? And some days, it’s not always easy to see ‘the difference’.

Like yesterday where,  in an attempt to lessen my footprint on our planet, I did not drive my car, nor spend any money.

Does the universe really care?

Perhaps not. But I do. I care about keeping my commitments. And not driving my car one day a week nor spending money one day a week is a commitment I made at the beginning of the year as part of my commitment to consciously focus on what it is, and what it takes to make a difference in the world everyday.

I think what surprises me most about not driving or spending money is how hard it can be. Without thinking, I will grab my car keys to race off the grocery story — if I’m not conscious of what I’m doing. Like yesterday, my daughter and her boyfriend were coming for dinner and I realized I needed…. No. Stop. You will have to use what is in your kitchen to make dinner, Louise, my inner guide reminded me as I was getting my coat on.

Oh, can’t I make tomorrow my day of not driving…

No, she said firmly (she can be quite bossy that inner sergeant major, oops, I mean, guide). Tomorrow you have errands to do (like get the oil changed on your car) before leaving for Vancouver. You do need to drive and spend money tomorrow. Today, is the day you made the commitment. Take your coat off. Go check out the fridge.

Sighing, knowing she was right, (but seriously, I wish sometimes she’d just let me take the easy way out for once…)  I checked out the fridge and discovered I had the makings of a great dinner waiting to be whipped together with just a little bit of creativity and a whole lot of love.

In the end, the three of us shared a delightful dinner complete with Falafel appetizers with Tahini sauce and a main course of  homemade seafood pasta and salad and a delightful bottle of wine from Jesse Willis’ new wine store — which if you haven’t visited it and are in Calgary — do!  Jesse is a friend of my daughters’ and a great young man. Vine Arts Wine and Spirits is the fruition of a dream come true for Jesse — you can check it out on Facebook — there’s a Grand Opening on Saturday — the store is beautiful, the atmosphere welcoming and Jesse and his team love to treat every customer with care and attention, sharing their wealth of knowledge of wines and spirits freely and graciously.

So, the difference I made in the world may have been infintisimal in the grand scheme of world peace, or climate change, or keeping the economic engines turning, but it was significant in my world. Because, keeping my commitments keeps me on the positive side of the ledger of feeling good about myself and my presence  in the world.

And how I am, what I do, what I create makes a difference in the world everyday when I am giving my best and doing my most to share the best that I can be!



Counting My Blessings Makes a Difference

Yesterday, as I drove and snow fell in big white fluffy flakes I found myself irritated with other drivers. And then, can you believe it! I tried to use my handsfree to make a call to let someone know I was late getting to our meeting and the electronic voice kept getting the number wrong. I mean seriously. It’s not like I was mumbling or anything. What’s her problem?

I had to laugh outloud as I gave a sarcastic “You suck!” to the disembodied voice in my Bluetooth, after my third attempt to get her to get it right.

Gotta admit, it was a good thing I was alone in my vehicle as my energy was not fit for the world.

What was I really irritated about? Definitely not some cyber-generated voice. More likely it had to do with my angst of leaving on Thursday for two weeks to the coast and not having organized anything I need to do before I go.

And still, I tried to take it out on an electronic voice that truly didn’t care.

Eventually, after three times of trying to get her to get the number right, I pulled over and dialed it myself.

If you do what you’ve always done, you’ll get what you’ve always got. 

And something I’ve always done (quite well I must admit) is to allow my ennui and angst override my well-being.

To make a difference in the world, I must be accountable for my emotions and how I express them.

Yesterday, as I found my ire rising over a simple mis-communication with a disembodied voice, my patience waned and I turned my ire against other drivers. I had a chance to let someone in, chose to ignore it. Someone cut me off, I forgot to welcome them in with a kind, “Bless them. Forgive me.”

All things are connected.  How I do one thing is how I do all things.

When I let silly little things like an electronic voice’s mis-interpretation disturb my peace of mind, I am letting the world and myself down. I let go of being the difference I want to make and become the problem.

Eventually, I made it to my meeting, my mood somewhat restored by finding a parking spot directly in front of where I needed to be. Have I ranted yet about the cost of parking in Calgary? No? Well, let me tell you….

No. Stop. Let me not tell you about my ire. Let me tell you about my joy, my abundance, my many blessings.

To be the difference I want to see in the world, I must begin with counting my blessings and sharing my gifts and joy with abandon. In turning my focus to my abundance, the small stuff wanes in comparison and I am restored to a state of peace, love and joy where my ripple radiates outward in a sea of harmony.


Simple Gifts

It is often the simple things in life that make the biggest difference.

On Saturday evening I had dinner with two friends. I’ve known the woman since 1999 when her son and my eldest daughter were in The Young Canadians together and we car-pooled getting them to and from rehearsals and class. I’ve always enjoyed her company, she’s an awesome cook (which sings to my heart) and a wonderful friend. As I was leaving on Saturday night, she said, “Oh. I have a gift for you. It’s just something I saw in a store and immediately thought of you.” And she presented me with a beautiful glass plate with a dragonfly painted on it.

“No reason,” she said. “Just because.”

My heart was touched and I felt embraced in Love and caring.

Yesterday morning, as I was about to leave the house with Ellie for our walk, I thought of a girlfriend who delights in joining us when she can. I called and asked if she’d like to meet us at the park. She was just waking up and immediately said Yes! I need twenty minutes to get there. It gave me time to stop and grab both of us a Latte at the Starbucks on my route to the park.

In the mystical, fog infused morning, we spent a delightful  hour and a half wandering the trails of the Weaselhead, stopping frequently to take photos and inspect natures beauty all the while oohing and ahhhing at the frost tipped wonder of the trees and bushes all around.

It was a gift of time with a special friend. We’ve known each other for over 30 years (I was there when she met her husband). She is one of the friends who saved my life when I was in the darkness of an abusive relationship. It was her actions that lead the police to finding us and arresting him in the darkest hours of that journey.

In the simplicity of the pleasure of our walk together, I was reminded of how important friends are in my life. My friends make a difference.

And so does family.

I called my sister in Vancouver one day at her office and she told me that my eldest daughter had just stopped by to drop her off a coffee from her favourite coffee shop. The delight in my sister’s voice was palpable to receive a little thing that made a huge difference in her day.

As you travel through your day, are there moments when you can reach out and touch a friend or family member, just because? A simple phone call to say, “Hi! I’m thinking of you.” Can you send a card just to say hello? Or drop off a coffee, for ‘no reason’?

It is these simple gifts of sharing our time, treasures and talents that weave a beautiful tapestry of love throughout our lives.

Take time to Make a difference today in someone’s life. Share a simple gift from your heart.

He Made a Difference (Guest post by Glynn Young)

I have never met Glynn Young in person, yet meeting him through his blog, Faith. Fiction. Friends, has touched my life, and my heart, deeply. Glynn is one of those people who makes me believe in the possibility of a better world. He is kind and caring, a brilliant writer, a poet, a novelist (his first novel, Dancing Priest, is a wonderful read — do order it, it’s available at Amazon as well as on Kindle. I read it in one evening — I couldn’t stop! — and reviewed it here).

Glynn never ceases to inspire me with the deepness of his thinking, the power of his expressions and the beauty of his soul shining bright in everything he does and says and writes.

Along with being a super guy, Glynn is a super grandpa!  In a continuation of celebrating grandparents this weekend, Glynn is the guest blogger today! Do drop a note in the comment box to let Glynn know how his story touched you. It is a beautiful read about a man who mentored him and made a big difference in his life.

Like his friend, Jim Fox, Glynn makes a world of difference by supporting writers and artists and poets and dreamers online and in the real world.


He Made a Difference

by Glynn Young

In 1980, I attended a speechwriter seminar in New York. I had just joined the speechwriting team at my company, and this seminar offered an opportunity both for professional development and to talk with speechwriters from other companies.

The seminar leader was a man named Jim Fox. His bio on the seminar materials noted his extensive speechwriting background and the fact he had been the president of the national Public Relations Society of America organization in 1975. I had just joined PRSA the year before.

The seminar was called “Basic Speechwriting.” If we were expecting two-and-a-half days of lectures and presentations, we were to be sorely disappointed. Instead, it was two-and-a-half days of work. Intense work. Only one of the 20 participants had brought a portable typewriter (and this was long before personal computers and laptops appeared). The work was done in longhand.

Silver-haired, early 60s, gesturing with a cigarette held rather elegantly between his fingers, Fox gave a short introduction, explained our first assignment, and set us to work. When we finished, we had to stand up and read our work aloud. Our experience levels showed. We were all over the map. I was somewhere in the “beyond junior but nowhere near senior level.” It was a humbling experience.

I loved it.

By the end of the first day, I was exhausted. We had a cocktail reception with people from other seminars. It was there that I learned that Jim Fox had a famous wife – Sylvia Porter, the financial columnist published in newspapers across the country and the author of several books on managing finances. It was the second marriage for both, their spouses have died some years back.

After the reception, the 20 speechwriters went to their rooms and ordered room service for dinner. We had an overnight assignment. We had to write a 10-minute speech to hand in to Fox; he would review them and select six to be read.

My speech was one of the six. He had me read last. When I finished, he looked around the room and said, “That’s powerful stuff.”

In that single moment, I became a speechwriter.

I took his Advanced Speechwriting course and another related course later on. He persuaded me to join an association he helped found for speechwriters, trainers and managers of Speaker Bureaus. Then he persuaded me to join the association’s board. At a minimum, we saw each other every year at the association’s annual conference.

In 1991, Sylvia Porter died. It was a somber Jim Fox I talked with in San Diego. They had been married 14 years and some of him died with her. He officially retired, but he kept doing PRSA seminars. And then he retired for good, and surprised us all by moving to Brazil. We had one last exchange of letters, and then there was silence.

Jim Fox changed my life. He saw something in me and the words I wrote, and he kept pushing me to be better. When I won the highest award for speechwriting in 1989 and in 1991, it was Jim Fox who deserved the credit for inspiration.

And I miss him.

Grandparents are heroes

A day of heroes and I am celebrating…. grandparents!


Grandparents are heroes!

I don’t remember my grandparents very well. I only met my father’s father a couple of times, and my mother’s mother came to visit us once from India while we were living in France. What I remember about my grandmother is she used to sneak my sister and I treats, and money. Now that was fun!

I have often envied those who have grandparents in their lives. When my daughters were little, I went to great lengths to ensure they knew their grandparents on both sides of their family tree. In my mind, grandparents are gifts. They connect us to our ancestors, to the generations before us, and they connect us to our roots. Both the girls grandfathers have since passed away, but their memories live on and I am grateful they had an opportunity to have a relationship with both of these men who built the foundation of their parents’ lives with love and hard work and commitment and an unflagging sense of duty to family.

Glynn Young over at Faith. Fiction. Friends. will sometimes write about his love affair with his grandson, Cameron and everytime he does, I feel immersed in the beauty of Love come alive — especially when he shares photos!

Sandra Heska King often writes about her granddaughter, Gracee, on her blog, and in her words and the images she creates I am reminded of the power of love to transcend all.

My daughters have a friend, Jenn, whose grandmother raised her and her siblings. What a gift she was in their lives. Jenn continues to inspire me with her commitment to making a difference in the world through sharing her writing and her video skills.

My friends Debbie and Brian H. became grandparents for the first time last week. Congratulations to you both. Grayson is beautiful! And your love is radiant.

Nicole, (Nikky) who follows my blog, wrote a blog about her grandmother earlier this month. It is a powerful story of love and courage.

My brother-in-law Jim and Bill Cosby both have something in common — Bill Cosby’s father walked to school in bare feet in the snow and it was uphill for five miles, both ways. My brother-in-law rode a cow to school in the snow — and his path too was uphill both ways!

Grandparents rock! 

This one’s for all the grandparents out there!

Healing Hearts

I had dinner last night with two wonderful women who never cease to inspire me with their grace and their willingness to make a difference in the world. I love our monthly dinners as I always come away feeling enlivened and filled with the belief that Yes! better is possible and the realization that there are so many possibilities for me to create a difference in the world. And it begins with ensuring I am connected to people who are also willing, able and actively engaged in making a difference in the world.

Together, we can make a world of difference!

First off, — if you live in Calgary, or are visiting, do pop into The Gratitude Café. This delightful vegetarian/vegan/raw food restaurant  in Kensington is everything others have told me – the food is absolutely amazing, the attention to the environment and to ensuring guests feel comfortable and welcome is outstanding!

At dinner, Rosemarie McGonigle shared news about her upcoming women’s event, Healing Hearts Retreats, which is being held May 4-6 at the Sanctum Retreat Centre near Caroline, Alberta. She’s already 75% booked and is excited about this first step out from under the label of her ‘interior designer’ career woman into the full scope of her lived experience as a Seminar Leader. Not that she hasn’t had a great deal of practice leading people to living their best life yet. Rosemarie and her husband Dan volunteer their time every month to facilitate at Choices, the personal development/life-skills program I also coach in – which is where I met Rosemarie six years ago.

Rosemarie and her new endeavour inspires me. Like Rosemarie, I would like to lead a retreat, create space and time and opportunity for people to deepen their relationship with themselves, and the world around them.

And Rosemarie is doing just that — Making a difference in our world by being the difference she wants to create. Sharing her talents, gifts and beauty with others so that they too can experience life beyond their comfort zone, completely at home in that space where they know, better is possible because good just isn’t good enough anymore.

Thank you Rosemarie for reminding me that to be the difference I want to create in the world, I need to take action, open up and be proactive in sharing my best so that others can find their best too! Thank you for inspiring me to keep doing what I’m doing to create a world of difference all around me.



This is My City Festival! – What a difference.

In the spring of 2008, Beth Gignac from the City of Calgary Arts and Culture department contacted individuals working within the homeless serving sector to talk about homelessness and the arts and what the city could do to support our work in creating art-based opportunities for clients such as those who lived at the shelter where I worked. At the time, had an art program that met once a week, or when a volunteer was available and a bare bones music program that consisted of a group of people who met every Thursday night for a jam session. From those initial conversations, This is My City grew into a year-long celebration of the arts in the homeless sector. Mentor artists from the larger community joined with homeless artists in the shelters to engage in creative activities from plays to trading cards to mask-making to quilt-making to found object sculptures. The fact that Onalea Gilbertson and the oratorio she created, Two Bit Oper-Eh Shun is off to the New York Musical Theatre Festival in July is a direct outcome of the mentoring and support Beth and the team organizing TMC provided.

It was a year that ended with a panel discussion on Art Matters hosted by then Governor General of Canada, Michaelle Jean. And through it all, a profound difference was experienced in our communities, on every level.

From those year-long events, This is My City Art Society (TMC) was created. Lead by Board Chairperson, Linda Hawke, a textile artist who is one of the original TMC mentor artists, This is My City is committed to making a difference by connecting artists on every level with people experiencing homelessness. With artist mentors like Cat Schick and Eveline Kolijn, TMC  continues to inspire art-based exploration and expression throughout the homeless serving agencies and across the sector. It also continues one of the founding tenets of the initiative, to engage everyone in the dialogue surrounding homelessness and marginalized communities.

The team of This is My City Art Society are currently hosting an interdisciplinary festival of art from the margins. Featuring exhibits, panel discussions, theatre, walks and tours, music and more, the  This is My City Festival is an exciting opportunity to engage all Calgarians in the conversations and creative possibilities surrounding homelessness. The Festival has been ongoing since January and will culminate at the beginning of May with a huge block-party in downtown Calgary to celebrate the difference the This is My City Festival has created in our city, our hearts and our minds.

Hats off to the team at the City of Calgary Arts & Culture Department and to the board and members of This is My City Art Society, as well as Partners such as the MOCA, Calgary Public Library, High Performance Rodeo and all the other cultural and social serving entities that have engaged in bringing the This is My City Festival to life for every Calgarian.

You are making a difference!