Tag Archives: giving back

UEP. How to make a difference

United Way of Calgary and Area

Yesterday, the United Way of Calgary and Area announced the results of its 2015 Campaign.

Calgarians contributed $55,200 million to Calgary’s social services network. In spite of job losses, increased and on-going anxiety around job security, the continued collapse of oil prices pummelling the major industry of our city, Calgarians once again stepped up to show they care and to make a difference.

Last night, I presented at one of my favourite projects initiated by the United Way — Urban Exposure Project or UEP as everyone calls it.

I can’t remember if this is my 4th or 5th year of presenting to this group of ‘next generation’ Calgarians. I only remember how much I love being part of their desire to make a difference in our city and how grateful I am to be invited to be part of their endeavours.

The description for UEP on the United Way’s website reads:

The Urban Exposure Project (UEP) engages next generation Calgarians on social issues affecting our city and the impact of United Way through the lens of photography. Participants enhance their knowledge of social issues and photography, producing a final project to be shared with the community. UEP empowers young Calgarians to build leadership, awareness and community through their art.

The project runs from late January – April each year with weekly sessions focused on social issues, photography skills and the work of United Way and partner agencies in our city. UEP culminates with a gala-style event in May to showcase your work, stories and experiences with friends, family and community members.

The amazing and talented Jeremy Fokkens shares his photographic knowledge, tips and talents to inspire the photography skills of the group. My role in the project is to help the participants get comfortable with story-telling. To help shift their awareness from ‘fear’ — how on earth can I ask someone if I can take their photo? How do I find my story in the photo? How do I not mess up?… To a place of — Wow! What a great opportunity to connect, heart to heart, to other Calgarians and to learn more about our human connection and inspire others to learn more too.

The first time I presented at UEP there were maybe 15 – 18 participants. Last night, there were over 40 people crowded into the room — all of them coming from different walks of life, all of them eager to learn more about Calgary’s social services network.

I always begin my presentation with an invitation for participants to pair up and…. wait for it… “Draw the face of the person beside you. You have 1 minute. Start. Now!”

And the response is always the same.

Groans. Nervous laughter. Apologies for the lack of ability to create a masterpiece.

When the minute is up I ask, “How many of you immediately went to ‘I can’t do that!’ when I gave you the instructions?”

Inevitably, at least 50% of the group says yes and then, when I challenge everyone else, most of them sheepishly acknowledge they too felt an inner angst kick in the minute they found out what they had to do.

The point of the exercise beyond it being a great ice-breaker– we all have a natural push back when asked to do things we tell ourselves we can’t do. Few of us are immediately comfortable stepping outside our comfort zone. Few of us actually believe we can draw – or allow ourselves time to explore our creative abilities.

So what? I ask the group. Did you have fun? Did you laugh a lot and did you get a little more comfortable with the person beside you?

Last night, I had the privilege of working with a group of engaged, excited and inspiring people who are committed to learning and doing more to create a great city.

Yes, Calgary is facing tough times. Everyone in that room is nervous about their job security. Everyone is nervous about the uncertainty of the future. As one young woman I spoke with said, “I’ve never gone through this before.”

It’s okay.

Whether we’ve gone through a market downturn and downward slide of the economy once, or twice or more, it is always hard. Even without a crumbling economy, people experience hardship, tough times, uncertainty.

What’s important isn’t The Job or The Title or even the newness of label on our designer clothes.

What’s important is we turn up. We commit to making a difference and we give back.

Giving is Receiving.

Last night, as evidenced by the number of next generationers who were in the room to give back to community and the United Way, Calgary is in good hands.

Markets may tumble and stocks may fall, but our willingness to give back, to be there for one another, to support eachother will carry us through.

Thank you UEP, to everyone in that room last night, to the United Way of Calgary and Area, to the thousands of people working in hundreds of agencies across our city to support people in good and tough times.

You make a difference.

The Happy Trails gang give back joy and laughter.

Photo from The Promotion Committee Blog of the Calgary Stampede by Madeline Babinec
Photo from The Promotion Committee Blog of the Calgary Stampede by Madeline Babinec

In 1912 when vaudeville performer and trick-roper Guy Weadick arrived in Calgary to stage an outdoor rodeo competition that was also designed to preserve the values and romance of the ‘old-west’, I doubt he had any idea how big and amazing the event would become.

Today, billed as The Greatest Outdoor Show on Earth, the Calgary Exhibition & Stampede (or The Stampede as it’s called by most Calgarians) attracts over a million visitors every year and along with some healthy purses for the winners of the various events, it provides volunteer opportunities for over 5,000 people a year.

When my brother-in-law, JT, retired several years ago, he was looking for something to fill his time and his desire to give back to community. He signed up to become a volunteer with the Stampede.

Today, he and his fellow posse in The Happy Trails Gang, visit locations all over the city, and environs, celebrating the spirit of the west while providing onlookers an opportunity to clap their hands, sing-a-long and maybe even do a two-step or more. From September to May, they turn up with their “Happy Trails” show every last Tuesday of the month at various seniors’ lodges around the city.

Last night, JT and his gang rode into the lodge where my mother lives to turn up the music and get down to some good ‘ole country twang.

My sister Jackie and I trailed along, as did my beloved, C.C., and while I had a great time listening and clapping along, what struck me most was the pure joy and passion of JT and the other members of the gang.

They take their Stampede spirit seriously and share it generously.

The Stampede Queen and Princesses were also there, as was Indian Princess, Maya Many Grey Horses in her stunningly beautiful beaded traditional dress and moccasins. The young women, whose role it is to act as ambassadors for the Stampede, and for Maya, the Indian Village, circulated amongst the crowd, sitting to chat with the seniors, to dance and to sing along. They even lead a couple of line dances and took the mic to sing a couple of tunes together!

Harry the Horse, the 30-year-old mascot for the Stampede also turned up and flirted with the women, got up to some of his playful antics and lead the crowd in boisterous Yah Hoo!s that bowled him over with their fervour, garnering a big cheer from everyone in the room.

When we stopped to grab a bite to eat afterwards, both C.C. and I reflected on how joyful an evening it was and how everyone felt wrapped up in the warmth and energy of the Happy Trails Gang.

Which brings me back to the spirit of giving. There were over 15 members of the Happy Trails Gang there last night along with at least 4 people accompanying the Stampede Royalty and Indian Princess and Harry the Horse. All of them volunteers.

Giving back makes a difference.

To the receiver and the giver.

At the end of the evening, JT introduced us to the man on the committee he calls, ‘my mentor’.

“We’re best buds,” his mentor exclaimed as he bent down to kiss my mother’s cheek and give her a gentle hug.

As we left, one of the residents of the lodge called out a joyful, “Good night” to anyone within hearing distance as she pushed her walker towards the elevator. I’ve never heard that happen after any other event at the lodge.

And that’s the spirit of Stampede.

It allows people to connect, on a deep, whole-hearted level to values we all hold true, but values that sometimes get forgotten or stepped on in the busy-ness of every day living.

Community. Loyalty. Sharing and having fun.

I spent a couple of hours last night surrounded by people committed to giving back to community. Their willingness to share smiles, laughter, good spirits and joy was contagious.

I’m richer today because of their giving back.

Thanks JT and everyone with the Happy Trails Gang! You make a difference.