May’s Woman – Rise Up. Speak Out. Act Now.

May Woman – #ShePersisted 2021 Calendar

In a comment on yesterday’s post, Iwona wrote, “The timing of this post is uncanny given the resurgence of news about the RCMP’s class action lawsuits and the release of the special report by former Justice Bastarache on the long standing “mysoginistic, racist and homophobic attitudes” within the RCMP. Equal rights. Equal voice. Equal opportunity. Maybe one day, maybe.”

I wish it were just the RCMP where such attitudes and behaviour persisted.

It’s not.

It happens everywhere. Not always to such a blatant degree as the report found in the RCMP, but throughout our world. As Justice Bastarache says, “The problem is systemic in nature and cannot be corrected solely by punishing a few ‘bad apples.’

We must Rise Up. Speak Out. Act Now.

Many years ago, I worked as a stockbroker. (I know. Seriously? Me?) I only lasted 4 years in the business.

In part, because I was good at longterm portfolio planning. Terrible at day-to-day trading, the bread and butter of the trade.

And also, because I grew weary of the misogynistic attitudes many of the predominately male brokers held, particularly those of ‘the older generation’. Like my VP at the first firm I worked at. He offered to share his ‘book’ with me (a book is a list of client names and contact info – gold to a broker) if I had sex with him. “I can make your life easy. Or make you wish you never set foot in this office,” he tsaid. He went on to inform me that whether I accepted his offer or turned him down, if I told anyone, no one would believe me – “I’m a VP. I make this firm a lot of money,” he said. “You’d just be some little chick looking to either sleep her way to the top or stick it to ‘the man’.”

I stayed silent and left the firm. It felt like my only recourse.

A few years later I was working for a technology company as their Director of Marketing. A counterpart in the US office kept making sexual innuendoes on the phone. My response was to laugh and pretend I didn’t get ‘the message’. I treated it as a joke. Until one night, while we were at a conference together in Dallas, we happened to be the only two people in the elevator at the end of the day. The elevator stopped at his floor first. The doors opened, he turned to me and asked, “So? You coming with me?” And once again, I laughed it off. He turned and walked away. The doors closed and I thought that was the end of it.

He didn’t agree.

The next day, where once he treated me like the golden child of marketing, suddenly, everything I did was crap. And he made no bones about telling everyone how incompetent I was.

Even the president of the company noticed. In a meeting one day he asked me what was up. I told him the truth. His first response was one of disbelief. “You sure he wasn’t just kidding?” Eventually, he shrugged it off as ‘boys will be boys.’ The solution – say nothing. Pretend like it didn’t happen.

I am not alone as the Me Too movement and others so clearly illuminate.

In my response to Iwona, I wrote,

“I get so tired of what some days feels like ‘same old, same old’ misogynistic, racist, homophobic practices all packaged up in some worn-out patriarchal suit.
To raise myself up, to find my balance and calm my pounding heart down, I must write and paint it out. It is there, in the creative field that courage draws me out to face my fear that these ‘things’ will never change.
They must.
And they will if we continue to speak up, act out, and raise our voices above the fray so that those who have been bullied into silence can find their voices again.”

May’s Woman is the reminder I need – Silence is the adversary of change.

Silence allows disbelief and make-believe to overcome truth and reality.

To change the world, to make a difference, we must speak out against the practices, policies, social mores and discriminatory laws that disenfranchise, minimize and segregate people into ‘haves and have nots’, ‘worthy and not-worthy’ of being treated as human beings worthy of dignity, respect, kindness, fairness, equality and justice.

It is just one century-in-time since most women were enfranchised in Canada (Asian Canadians and Indigenous Peoples had to wait a few more decades.)

The roots of patriarchy that kept us ‘in our place’ run centuries deep.

We must keep digging them out with our hands, our feet, our bodies, our voices. We must keep working together and stand up tall for what is right, just and fair, again and again.

And we must not allow our silence to be heard as a vote of confidence for the voices who would tell us to not ‘worry our pretty little heads about the state of the world.”

It is those voices that have created the state of the world.

It is our voices united, calling out for justice, rising up in a song of freedom and equality for all, that will make the difference that will change it for the better and make a difference for everyone.


You gotta stir the pot to change the world (A short story)

This post is longer than usual. It is a short story/fable I wrote inspired by my #ShePersisted series. 


Stirring the pot to stir up change.

A fable by Louise Gallagher

©2017 Louise Gallagher

Once upon a time there was a girl who wanted to change the world. The world was a pretty big place which was kind of scary, so she kept doing the little things she knew she could do to make her own little world a better place.

One day, while walking to work at the Ivory Tower where every day she did what she was paid to do to keep the wheels of commerce turning, she met a man who asked for some loose change. “I’m hungry and have no money to buy a bowl of soup,” he told her.

“I’m not allowed to carry loose change,” she told him. “My bosses only like to deal in millions of dollars and it makes them nervous to hear the jingling of small coins.”

She wanted to do what she could to help him though and promised to meet him in the same spot the next day. “I’ll bring you a bowl of soup,” she told him.

And that’s what she did. The next day, and then the next and the next until one day, the man brought a friend to share in the bowl of soup. A few days later, a third man joined them and the number of people trying to share the one bowl of soup grew.

Eventually, the girl realized that one bowl of soup was not big enough to feed all the people who kept turning up. She decided to make a great big pot and bring it down to the street.  And the people kept coming and she kept making soup until she realized, she had to do something different.

She didn’t feel a lot of satisfaction counting money and pushing paper. She decided to quit her job. There were so many people clamouring for her soup, she decided the time was now to find a space to make soup close to where the people were so nobody had to travel too far to fill their bellies.

The girl pooled all her money, posted a CrowdFund site on the internet and asked her friends for help. Everyone pitched in until she had enough to get a great big room with a great big kitchen in a building that stood all by itself on a side street near the great big Ivory Towers where once she’d worked.

Every day she’d go to her soup kitchen and make great big pots of soup to feed the people who kept turning up.  They said it felt like home. They said, ‘Thank you’, and offered to help make the soup and serve it and clean up every day.

It worked well. Everyone contributed what they could and she felt good about what she was doing. So did her friends who’d helped raise the funds for her soup kitchen. They couldn’t always take time out from work to help her make soup, but they always made sure she had enough money to buy the ingredients she needed to make a wholesome meal for the people who needed it.

She was doing her bit to change the world, one bowl of soup at a time.

One night, just before the lights went out in her soup kitchen, the girl noticed a man curled up under a table sleeping.  “You can’t sleep here. It’s against the rules,” she told him.

“Then where am I supposed to sleep?” the man asked.

“Why don’t you go home?”

He laughed and said, “I don’t have a home to go to.”

“Oh. What happened to your home?” she asked the man.

He told her the story of how his job was made redundant when a robot took over what he did. “I couldn’t afford the rent on my apartment ‘cause the boom kept pushing the cost higher. And I couldn’t find work because I never had a chance to finish high school after my dad died and I had to get a job to help my mother take care of my brothers and sisters.”

The girl was surprised by what had happened to him and started asking everyone who came to the soup kitchen if they had a home.

Lots of them didn’t.

She didn’t think that was right and decided to go see The Powers That Be to make them change the rules for her soup kitchen so the man, and all the others who came to eat soup and didn’t have a home to go to, could sleep on the floor at night.

She travelled to the Seat of Government and told the elected Powers That Be her big idea. The Powers That Be really liked it. They’d received lots of complaints from other citizens about the people without a home wandering the streets and asking strangers for money. The Powers That Be didn’t like complaints, especially when they piled up just before an election.  The girl and her soup kitchen, that also had a floor to sleep on, was the answer to their prayers.

And so it went. Year after year. She kept changing the world with bowls of soup and a warm place for people to sleep on the floor at night.

And all around her, people kept going to work and businesses kept humming along as the wheels of commerce kept turning and the Ivory Towers kept growing taller.

One day, a man in a black silk suit looked way down at the street far below his eerie at the top of his Ivory Tower and noticed all the people lining up outside the girl’s soup kitchen. He called his assistant to his side and asked , “Do you know what dwelling that is yonder and why so many people are lining up outside its door?”

“Yes sire,” his assistant said. “It’s a soup kitchen.”

The man in the Ivory Tower had never heard of such a thing and called his cronies together from all the Ivory Towers around him to find out if anyone else had heard of a ‘soup kitchen’.

Nobody had. But one man, an economist, informed them that a soup kitchen fell into the fiscal category of Not Good for Business. “I understand from my assistant that it attracts people of dubious background. He tells me they are all poor.”

As one voice the gathering of men from the Ivory Towers rejected the idea of poor people on their streets. Poor people will bring down our credit ratings and the value of our realm, they declared.

Something had to be done.

They made a plan on how to conquer the problem of the people on the street. They would go see the Powers That Be, the ones they had elected into the Seat of Government. It was their job to take care of the poor people. They would force them to do it.

Together, as one voice, the men from the Ivory Towers went to the Seat of Government and demanded the Powers That Be fix the problem of the poor people on their streets. It’s Not Good for Business, they told them.

The Powers That Be told them that they needed to pay more taxes if they wanted to fix the problem because they did not have enough money to fix the problem..

The men in the Ivory Towers did not like that solution. They left the Seat of Government vowing to find a better way.

After lots of gathering and ruminating over their thoughts and much pounding of fists on tables and counting from on high the people lining their streets and number crunching and filling in the boxes of profit and loss, they determined that the girl and her soup kitchen was the root of the cause of the poor people on the streets. Without her, they wouldn’t be lining up for soup. She was The Problem.

Determined to wrestle the problem into submission, the men from the Ivory Towers gathered en masse to take matters into their own hands.

They donned their cashmere winter coats over their $3,000 silk suits. They entered their gilded elevators and rode down to street level. Their assistants scurried before them, stopping traffic so they could cross the street safely, sweeping aside the people asking for handouts and clearing the way to the building where the girl and her soup kitchen operated. As they walked towards its doors, their assistants used their bodies to shield their bosses from the people who stood in line, and one rushed forward to open the doors so that the men from the Ivory Towers could sweep into the soup kitchen like a covey of crows descending upon road kill.

A gust of cold air preceded them as they entered, but the room remained warm and cozy. The men in their cashmere coats did not notice it. They were on a mission. They marched as one body towards the girl who stood in front of a great big stove, stirring a great big pot of soup.

“Welcome,” she greeted them, smiling sweetly as they jostled for position in front of her. “If you would like a bowl of soup, you’ll have to wait your turn. It’s only fair. Others have been standing out in the cold much longer than you.”

“We don’t have time to stand around, and we definitely don’t need your soup,” they proclaimed, ignoring her suggestion they wait their turn. Their assistants busied themselves laying out upon the kitchen counter top the reams of paper they’d prepared with their pretty coloured graphs and balance sheets and profit and loss statements.

They pointed to the bottom line, “Look. Here’s the evidence. It doesn’t lie. Your soup kitchen is Not Good for Business. You run it. You are The Problem. Because you’re here, people are lining up outside your doors. They don’t look like us. They look poor and that’s not good.  It’s not good for our businesses nor the people who make the wheels of our businesses turn. It makes our city look bad and it scares the tourists away. You have to stop making soup.”

The girl didn’t know much about balance sheets and profit margins, but she did know that what she was doing was changing the world, a bowl of soup at a time. She showed the men from the Ivory Towers the people sitting at the tables quietly eating their soup. “Who will feed all these hungry people if I stop?” she asked.

The men from the Ivory Towers looked around the room. They hadn’t noticed the people when they’d first entered on their mission to fix The Problem. Looking down their noses at the huddled masses, they were surprised to see how many people were gathered in the room, eating soup.

“These people are not contributing to the Greater Good,” the men from the Ivory Towers proclaimed. “All they’re doing is sitting around eating soup and bleeding our city dry.”

“They can’t contribute to the greater good if they’re always battling the greater issues of being poor,” she said as she slowly continued to stir a great big pot of soup.

The men from the Ivory Towers were not moved by her emotional appeal. It’s just a sob story, they muttered amongst themselves. She’s trying to sway us from the facts with her bleeding heart.

They pounded their fists on the closest table. “If their issue is being poor they need to get a job!” they told her.

“And how do they do that?” she asked, gripping the ladle in her hands a little bit tighter and moving it around the pot with a little more force. “You won’t hire them because they’re poor and even when you do, you don’t pay them a living wage because you’re always more concerned with balancing your bottom line.” She stopped stirring for a moment, looked each of them in the eyes before adding. “And without a job, how can they afford food on the tables they don’t have and a place to call home they can’t pay for?”

The men from the Ivory Towers were growing frustrated with the girl and her bleeding heart. “Be quiet and listen to us. We know what we’re doing,” they told her. “The problem isn’t whether or not these people have jobs. There’s lots of jobs around if they’re willing to work. The problem is you keep making soup and that keeps them coming back. You have to stop.”

“But isn’t that good business?” the girl asked, innocently enough, as she continued stirring the pot of soup at a more measured pace. “Don’t you call it supply and demand? I’m simply responding to their need for food and shelter. What are you doing?”

The men from the Ivory Towers puffed up their chests and huffed loudly through their noses. “We are keeping the wheels of commerce turning and building empires and taking care of the little people who keep our Ivory Towers growing higher.” And they pounded the closest table again, just to make their point.

“Please don’t pound the table,” the girl told them. “You’re scaring my guests.”

“Your guests are not our problem!” the men yelled loudly. “You and your soup kitchen are The Problem. You have to stop making soup so people will stop lining up on our streets and scaring people on their way to work.”

And the men from the Ivory Towers kept pounding on the table, telling her to stop.

And the people kept lining up for soup and a place to call home.

And the girl persisted. She kept stirring the pot and doing what she could to change the world.

The moral of the story is:  You can’t change the world if you don’t stir the pot.


What if we change the story?

I watch three men, sitting alone at the bar watching the hockey game on TV. They don’t look at anyone. They don’t chat with the bartender. They don’t look at each other. They eat, sip their beer, watch the game on the screen in front of them.

I am witnessing these human stories at a pub where I have joined C.C. for dinner until his buddy arrives to watch what they hoped would be the last game of the Stanley Cup.

“Do you think those men are lonely?” I ask my husband of the 3 men at the bar.

“I don’t know,” he replies.

“In the story I make up about them, they are,” I tell him. “See their rounded shoulders. The way they never look at anyone. The way one sits huddled over his food, one arm on the bar’s counter, swooping out and around his plate as though he’s protecting it. Maybe he came from a large family where people grabbed for food and you had to fight for everything you got.

In the story I am writing about the man at the end of the bar, he feels lost, his marriage is broken down, his kids are grown up and he feels like life is avoiding him just as he avoids it.”

I am always making up stories of people’s lives. C.C. smiles and says nothing.

There was a man at the shelter where I used to work. He was like those men at the bar. Lonely. Depressed. His marriage had fallen apart. His kids were grown, their relationship with their father strained. He’d sit at the bar by his condo every night just to feel human connections around him, even though he did his best to avoid them.

One day, a stranger came in and sat beside him. They struck up a conversation. They became friends. A few days later, the stranger whispered into his ear, “You know. I’ve got something in my car that will make you feel way better than that Scotch you’re drinking.” And the man decided to try it. His friend was giving it to him for free. His friend would never hurt him.

That man had a Masters Degree in Education, worked as a High School Counsellor. And still, his loneliness drove him into taking the risk. It wasn’t long before he lost everything, including all connection with his family. He did gain a criminal record. He carries it with him today along with the scars of that five year period of his life when, at 60 years of age, he was so lost he gave up on fighting for himself and gave into the despair of homelessness.

Today, that man’s story is one of loss and hope. Of sadness and possibility.

Everyday we pass people on the street who have stories we have never heard, yet about whom we make up stories based on what we believe homelessness to be all about.

Drugs. Addiction. Crime. Loss. Abuse. Hopelessness. More crime. More drugs.

Yesterday, as I took a walk at noon, I passed a couple sitting on a concrete barrier lining the sidewalk. They were visibly homeless. Pan-handling for change. A woman in front of me stopped, handed them a bag with two sandwiches. She smiled and said, Enjoy! and walked away.

What’s her story I wondered? Did she buy the sandwiches to give away? Would she have to stop again to get one for herself and her boss or co-worker? Does she have a loved one who is lost to the street and this is her way of giving back, of making a difference.

What is the couple’s story? Where do they sleep at night? What brought them to the street?

What’s the story we tell about panhandling? People are just asking for money so they can buy drugs? Why don’t they get a job instead? What’s their problem?

What if we change that story?

What if every outstretched hand was viewed as being extended for help, not money?

What if we view our role as a response to someone asking for help?

What if the stories we told changed everything? What if instead of despair we read hope. Instead of loss, possibility. Instead of homeless, humanity.

What if we stopped believing the stories we think we know and lean into the stories of our hearts where truth is written beneath the wounds we carry. Where truth is known beneath the fears we believe are real.

What if the stories we tell are the stories of our shared human condition? The stories of what make us one humanity, not separate human beings.

Would you change your story if you could see all humanity as you? Would you write a different ending for a world desperately asking for help?




#tbt Gratitude in a glass of water

FullSizeRender (91)It’s #throwbackthursday – the following post has been edited from where it originally appeared on Recover Your Joy  May 19th, 2007.

Last night [May 18, 2007] we held a dinner for client volunteers at the shelter where I work. Client volunteers are individuals who are using the facility and who volunteer while staying there. In the course of a year, using a base salary rate of $10/hour, client volunteers provide the shelter with about $600,000 in service.

The dinner was attended by over 60 people. The tables were covered with linen tablecloths and serviettes. China and silverware was at each place setting and the room was lit by the soft glow of candlelight. A big difference from the chaotic and noisy dining room on the second floor of the building where dinner is served to over 600 people a sitting.

As I was greeting guests last night I was struck by the gratitude each person expressed as they walked into room. “Hey. This is nice!” “Haven’t had a candlelit dinner in years.” “This is for me? Wow.” “Cool.” The comments were simple. Appreciative and reflective. Each guest felt part of a moment in time away from the rigors and fears of homelessness. The meal was a scrumptious buffet of salads, roasted chicken and potatoes or lasagne, a cheese plate with fruit, delectable delights and coffee.

As the guests were arriving and getting settled, someone came up to me and asked, “Is it okay if I pour myself a glass of water?” “Of course,” I replied. A few moments later someone else asked, “May I pour myself a cup of coffee?” “Help yourself,” I replied.

After about the third or fourth person came up and asked if they could help themselves to water or coffee, I decided to take action. I picked up a jug and walked around the tables offering people water. As I went, I reminded them that there was coffee to which they could help themsleves on a side table.

This may not seem like a big issue to you, but to someone who is homeless, who must wait in line for just about everything, who must wake up when told, go to bed when told, cannot just pour themselves a glass of water at will or make a cup of coffee when they want, being able to simply stand up and help themselves to a cup of coffee is a big thing.

What struck me even more, however, was the hesitancy with which people asked if it was okay to help themselves to something so simple as water. The night before we’d had a dinner for corporate volunteers, and no one asked if they could get water or coffee. They just did it.

For the client volunteers, conditioned to having to ask for the simplest things, having an entire evening dedicated to them was refreshing and sad all in one. It reminded them of all that they have lost. And yet, over and above the reminders of the past, there was one single attitude that overrode everything.


There is so much in my life I take for granted. A cup of coffee I brew myself every morning. A piece of toast made when I want. A computer to work on when I need it. The house a temperature I decide because I have control of the thermostat.

As I listened to the people gathered in the room, there was no difference between their behaviour and the behaviour of community volunteers served the night before. They all knew what a fork and knife was and how to use them. They all put their serviettes on their laps. They chatted and laughed and told jokes with those sitting at the table with them.

What was different was none of them took anything about last night’s dinner for granted. Not even a glass of water.

Next time you pick up a glass of water, think about what it means to be able to pour it at will.

You are blessed.

May we all have the blessing of not having to stand in line for everything we need today.

Share your Smile | 52 Acts of Grace | Week 1

acts of grace copy

On January 1st, 2012 when I began this blog (originally called, A Year of Making a Difference) my intent was to explore what it means to make a difference in the world.

Working at a homeless shelter for 6 years, it was fairly easy to make a difference every day. It was fairly easy to feel like I was living on purpose.

But what about when I wasn’t at the shelter? What about when I wasn’t working in an environment that naturally brought countless opportunities to make a difference just by being present to those around me?

Ahh, now there was a challenge. Or so I thought.

Making a difference is not a choice. It’s not a ‘thing’ we do or way we act.

We are the difference we make in the world. By the very act of being present on this earth, we make a difference. The air I inhale came from the air you exhale. The air I exhale becomes the air you breathe in. When we move, the space around us moves too.

Like a butterfly’s wings fluttering in Africa creating waves on other side of the globe, our presence in this world makes a difference.

The quality of our difference is created in the choices we make. It is in how conscious we are willing to become of how we express our difference that we create change for the good, or not. To be the change we want to see in the world, we must know what that change is.

I believe we are all born magnificent. That our birthright is to shine, to radiate, to be lights illuminating the darkness.

I believe we are all capable of greatness because greatness is inherent in our human nature.

I believe we are all connected through this condition called being human and in that connection is the capacity to make a difference for one another by being present to one another.

How do I want to express my difference in this world? With grace and ease.

Living in grace and ease does not always come effortlessly. Some days, when the sky is dark and shadows are long, it is easy to forget my desire to express myself through grace. Some days, it’s easy to get bogged down in the minutiae of life and forget all about rising above as I sink into the quagmire of being busy, or letting doubt, fear, confusion and a host of other non-productive human conditions pull me from my path.

It is in those moments I must stop, and breathe and act out — with grace.

For the next 52 weeks, every Monday I will be sharing one act of grace to inspire your every day living.

My goal is to practice each act of grace in my life every day. Some of the ideas I share may be things you do everyday, or maybe what I share will ignite your imagination to share some of your own acts of grace. I invite you to share them with me and everyone else here.

I hope you join in. I hope you share your ideas so that together, we can be like the butterflies and create waves of change all over the world.

Who knows what magic and wonder will arise as we delve into the joy of inspiring acts of grace in every day living.


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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.

Homelessness isn’t sexy

I am talking on the phone with a peer at another agency about their efforts to stage an event, and the lack of up-take from corporate Calgary.

Homelessness isn’t on a lot of company’s radar, they tell me. Most big companies want to invest in kids, women fleeing violence, the environment. Things that capture the public’s attention and help them feel like they’re making a difference. Homelessness just isn’t sexy enough.

Not ‘sexy’ enough? When was ‘sexy’ ever part of the homeless equation?

Somewhere in our collective psyche is the notion that people fall into homelessness by their own fault. Their own doing. Collectively, we hold an unspoken belief that people don’t deserve to receive any more help than having an emergency shelter to fall back on simply because, what they need to do to fix their homeless state is to clean up, dress up and get a job.

It’s not that simple. It’s not that easy.

Homelessness is not that benign.

Homelessness is a state of being present in a world that has not taken steps to address the issues that undermine people’s capacity to access the resources they needed to live without fear of falling through the cracks.

When we feel strong, when we have access to knowledge, resources and supports, finding our way is possible — no matter where we stand on the road of life. We have enough resiliency to get through the dark times because we’ve been supported in building a foundation that is strong enough to withstand life’s knocks.

People living on the margins, who have never known what it means to have equal access to resources to help them achieve their dreams to not know what it means to be resilient, self-confident, self-determined. Their lives have been limited by the lack of resources, lack of support, lack of advantages most of us take for granted.

In their lifetime of scraping by, of being unsupported, unacknowledged, unseen, they don’t recognize or see resources waiting to be accessed. They are too familiar with doors slamming closed in the face of their efforts to not fall through the cracks gaping on their road of life.

Homelessness is not who someone is. It is not a dream come true. It is a nightmare.

Believing people can fix the potholes and cracks in the road that lead them into their state of homelessness is like telling someone with terminal cancer to stop dying. No matter how hard you wish for it, it isn’t going to happen without a miracle or two and a whole lot of care and attention. Like a diagnosis of terminal cancer, the damage was done long before the evidence was in or someone hit the doors of a shelter.

We humans can be shallow. We can be pack animals. We can be easily lead to judge and label others based on our lack of understanding of what it is that they are experiencing.

Homelessness isn’t sexy.

It also isn’t a choice. It isn’t a decision one morning to get up, jettison everything in your life you hold dear just so you can wander the streets and sleep in a crowded space with others experiencing the same condition, and eat what you’re given when told and sleep where directed and lose your dignity and pride and sense of who you are in the world — if you ever knew it in the first place.

Homelessness is nullifying.

Debilitating. Scary.

Homelessness is deadly.

It strips you of everything you own, and steals your life from the inside out, one nullifying indignity at a time, scraping away your pride, your confidence, your belief in yourself (if you ever had any) with every grinding step you take.

Homelessness isn’t sexy.

Neither is telling someone when they’re down to just get up, clean up and carry on.

If it were that simple, we’d all do it every time we hit a bump in the road of life. If it were that easy, we would all just pull up ourselves up by our bootstraps and get going on living the dream life we’ve always imagined.

Someone told me yesterday that homelessness isn’t sexy.

They’re right. It’s not.


The Bird of Time is on the wing

It’s official.

I’m tired.  🙂

Yesterday, AG, my communications team-mate mentioned that he wasn’t sure if it was all the prep work on the Summit next Tuesday, but he sure wasn’t sleeping very well.

I laughed.

Neither am I, I replied.

My mind, full of details not to be forgotten, ideas germinating and sparking new thoughts on how best to present the Updated Plan to End Homelessness to ignite collective impact, doesn’t want to turn off.

Which means, like AG, short bursts of sleep interrupted by wakefulness streaming with ideas.

This morning, as I lay in bed considering the thought of getting up, my critter snuck in and whispered, “You’re too tired to get up. Sleep awhile more. Day has not yet broken.”

But it had. Light slipped through the open spaces between the slats of the blinds, I could see the outline of shapes in our bedroom. There was light out there and it was calling me to rise and shine.

It was time to get up. In fact, it was past my normal time of getting up.

And the critter hissed, “You’re too tired. Don’t do it.”


“Ouch!” he exclaimed at the suddenness of my gesture to stomp him out. “You hit me!”

“And I’ll hit you again,” I told him, my voice steeled with determination. “I am getting up. I am not going to let the thought of how tired I am keep me from leaping into my day and setting the world on fire!”

So there.

Take that you pesky critter!

And he lay silently in a sobbing mass, soaking in a pool of self-pity.

Yup. Definitely tired.

But not down.

There is still much to be done and I am later than normal in getting to it!

Gotta run!

The day has begun and there’s adventure afoot.

Sure, I am tired but AG and I have agreed next Wednesday is a day for total, complete rest. Neither he nor I will cross the threshold of the office.

Until then, mission not so impossible is waiting to be turned into the possibility of every Calgarian standing up and stating, unequivocally, “Count me in. I want to do my part to end homelessness in Calgary. I will….”

And then they will state the thing or things they are willing to do to be part of getting it done.

From supporting the idea of affordable housing in their community, to writing letters to the government to ensure funding for essential social programs is not cut to volunteering or donating, every Calgarian has a role to play.

Our job is to ignite their passion to create a Calgary that is great for everyone.

And just thinking about it revs me up and excites me to get to into my day!

Gotta go.

There’s lots to do and to quote my father whose copy of The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam, I treasure, “The bird of time is on the wing and the bird has but a little way to flutter.”


The Impact of Your Donation: Calgary United Way

Every fall Calgary’s uw_logo_horiz_colour_idUnited Way campaign kicks off with thousands of volunteers rushing in to support its success.

Every year, for the past three, I carve out time to participate as an Impact Speaker. It is a volunteer contribution I love to give. Prior to my role as an Impact Speaker, I spoke from the perspective of a United Way supported agency, one of hundreds who form the web of supports and services vital to fulfilling on the mission of ensuring Calgary is a great city for everyone.

This year, along with two other Impact Speakers, I was invited to film a video of my personal story. The stories speak of how we have each been directly affected by the United Way and the agencies it works with, and why we believe it’s important to support the cause and get involved.

It is easy in these times of seemingly too many demands on our personal energy and resources, of news of wars and famine and natural disasters desperately calling for our immediate support, to put off contributing or to rationalize not participating in a local fund-raising campaign for an umbrella organization such as the United Way.

“I give directly to the agency of my choice.”

“They spend too much money on administration.”

“They’re too big.”

“I don’t get why we need them.”

“I can’t afford to give,” or “I’m not sure how my giving makes a difference.”

For me, there is one very important reason to give, get involved, take action.

If not me, who? If not now, when?

There are issues that face our communities, society and world today that are so big, I sometimes feel helpless to do anything about them. And in my feelings of helplessness, I tell myself the safest course of action is to draw the circle of my world in real close and hold the ones I love really, really tight to my heart and hearth. I tell myself that I must conserve my resources and compress my circle of influence into a smaller and smaller circumference as if in the act of minimizing my worldly footprint, I will be safer, or untouchable, or even invisible to marauding eyes and the things I fear are out there, lurking, wanting to harm me and the ones I love.

Fact is, burying my head in the sand does nothing but leave my butt exposed.

It also leaves me exposed to all the buts I utter to convince myself and others there’s nothing we can do to change the world.

And that just ain’t true.

There is lots we can each do to create change, to create the world we want to live in. And it begins at home. Right here, in our own sphere of influence, in the circle of our impact.

And for me, that means, supporting the United Way.

Not just because they are doing vital work I know is necessary to change the socio/economic fabric of our city, but also because, I know I cannot do it alone. I know none of us can.

Together we are stronger. Together we are united.

Giving to the United Way makes me feel better about what I’m doing to create possibilities for greatness in my own life and in our city. It lets me focus on the things I love to do within my own immediate sphere of influence with the confidence that there is a bigger picture at play, and that big picture vision of a great city for everyone is being attended to with passion and the commitment of thousands of my fellow Calgarians who with me, are holding space for the vision to become true for all of us.

And in holding space together, I don’t feel all alone. I don’t feel so small and I definitely don’t feel helpless.

The Impact of Your Donation: Jeremy Nixon

The Impact of Your Donation: LeeAnne

The Impact of Your Donation: Louise Gallagher

The past is not the only avenue to the future.

When asked, “What did you fear most when you were homeless,” Gladys* answered without hesitation. “Dying on the streets.”

Recently, I met with the board of a community association where the foundation I work for is considering building a 25 – 30 unit apartment building for formerly homeless Calgarians.

It wasn’t an easy meeting. It wasn’t all sun and roses and welcome to our community.

There was openness. Curiosity. Awareness and a desire to be inclusive and supportive.

There was also fear. Concern. Misunderstanding and misconceptions present.

And there was possibility.

It is the possibility I want to stay with. To expand. To stretch out across the room, the community, the city so that every Calgarian can understand, fear of dying on the streets is real for some people. It is a constant grinding away at their existence. A continuous eating away at their experience of life leaving them to believe, there is no other way, no other street to walk. There is only this existence that is killing them.

Gladys no longer worries about dying on the streets. She is living in an apartment now. In her new way of being she is supported by people who understand her fears, and who believe that with compassionate care, she can thrive in community.

Her thriving will not look like yours or mine. It will be different. But then, mine is different than yours and yours is different than someone else’s. It is our differences that create the vibrancy of our communities. It is our diversity that builds strength into the intersections of our lives.

There is possibility in our differences. There is connection.

When I left the meeting, I marveled at the similarities of our perspectives and experiences.

One man at the meeting, in an attempt to ‘do good’ in a community in another city, had bought a building that was in receivership. He renovated it and provided low rent housing for individuals living on the margins.

It was not easy. It was not a good experience, he shared with the group. I will oppose this project 1,000 percent, he said.

I can understand his fears.

Like Gladys (*which is not her real name), his fears are built on an experience that did not meet his expectations. He set out to ‘do good’ and felt bad with the outcome. He felt abused. Betrayed. Confused. Why would people treat his property so badly? Why couldn’t they see he was trying to help them? To make a contribution to society?

Like Gladys, this man is stuck in his experiences and fears, in his belief that no matter what he does, or anyone else does, it can never be another way. The past dictates the present and determines the future.

My experience is different. My experience has led me to this place where I believe the past does not make the present a repetition of what happened then, again and again. My belief is that when we use our experiences of the past with the intent to inform our actions for the better today, we can create better, we can make a difference.

There are people living on our streets today, and in our emergency shelters, who have given up on believing there is another way. They live with the constant fear that dying on the streets will become their future.

In the streets they walk everyday, they have lost sight of possibility. They have lost hope for a new way of being present in the world.

There are people living in our communities today, who have given up on believing there is another way. They live with the constant fear that without high fences, without holding onto to what they have, they will be unsafe in their homes and in their community.

In the streets they walk everyday, they have lost sight of possibility. They have lost hope for a new way of being present in the world.

For my world to change, I must change how I see my world.

When I look at it through eyes of fear, I know fear.

When I breathe into possibility, when I open myself up to allowing possibility for another way to arise, my world becomes a reflection of what I want to create more of in the world around me.

We all know fear. We have all been touched by change and its constant hammering away at the walls of our comfort zones demanding we learn to stretch, to find new moves that will take us away from where we are into that place where anything is possible if we let go of holding onto to what we know and tell ourselves we cannot let go of.

Just as Gladys is learning to let go of street life so that she can embrace a new way of being present in the world today, the possibility exists for each of us to create the kind of world we want to live in. The kind of world our children can live in too. To find a new way of being present in the world today, we must we let go of believing the past is the only avenue to the future.