Mrs. Melvina Sullivan, Everyday Hero

This is a portrait of my mother. She was not a famous person, not well known even, and fairly typical of her time and place. For the most part, she did what was expected of her, sometimes a little less. She was a baker of bread, cookies, and pies.  She was a canner of berries, pickles, and jelly. She cleaned, cooked, gardened, tended livestock, and raised children. You might wonder, "Where is the heroism in all of that?" I would argue that my mother, like most rural women of her day, lived her ordinary life with great courage and strength.

Melvina "Vina" Sullivan was born Helena Melvina Phelan on February 12, 1925 in Morell, Prince Edward Island, the second youngest of twelve children. Her father Ambrose, a farmer, was the son of Irish Catholics. Her mother Melvina Stewart came from a long line of Scottish Protestants, a North American lineage that stretched back to some of the earliest settlers in New England, specifically to the Society of Friends (Quakers) in Nantucket.

Vina's early years would have been difficult. She was just 2 years old when her mother died from childbirth, leaving 8 boys and 3 girls in the care of their father, the youngest child having died along with his mother. Despite the sadness of her mother's absence and the grinding poverty of the 1930's, my mother talked about her childhood as if it were an adventure. She went barefoot all summer. She picked buckets full of blueberries along the railway tracks and sold them for a penny. She attended a one-room school where they used lead pencils and slates. She travelled for miles on foot, by horse and buggy, or by horse and sleigh.

By the time World War II began in 1939, my mother Vina was 14 years old. Most of her elder siblings were already grown and gone, and she had recently left school to look after her father's household. At age 16, Vina travelled to Charlottetown for the first time, a journey of 25 miles. She ate her very first orange. From there, she travelled on to Montreal to work as a nanny. She must have felt very lonely and out of place in this rich urban household. She did not remember the experience fondly.

Happier days awaited her in Toronto, where she joined her elder sisters Mary and Evelyn. It was 1942. Mary had a young and growing family, and Evelyn was newly-wed with a husband at war overseas. Vina settled in amongst her extended family and got a job in a factory.

By the time WWII ended in 1945, Vina was back in Prince Edward Island rooming with a girlfriend in Charlottetown. Now age 20, Vina was an apprentice hair dresser. Her early 20s appear to have been happy, filled with friends, dates, and dances.

In 1950, Vina met and married a farmer from Glenfinnan, Prince Edward Island, a rural community 10 miles from Charlottetown. My father, JD MacDonald, was part of a large extended family, whose ancestors had emigrated from Scotland's west coast in the late 1700's. They were proud Scots, and proud Catholics. The young couple set up house about 50 yards from JD's parent's home. Together they tended a large farm with about 20 dairy cattle, 15 beef cattle, and over 1000 poultry. Vina worked very hard. After 15 years had passed, their 2 bedroom household was bursting with 5 children (4 girls and 1 boy), one farmhand, and one married couple approaching middle-age.

Vina was 40 years old in June of 1965 when her husband JD was killed in an automobile accident. He died instantly. At the time, Vina's 5 children ranged in age from 14 years to 1 year. Everyone would have understood if she had fallen apart from shock and grief, but she didn’t. Vina spoke of how she had been able to accept her husband’s death as if this acceptance were a gift, a gift that allowed her to get on with the business of living. She had the support of an incredible rural community. Both she and JD had been very active in community affairs: Vina in the Catholic Women’s League and Home and School and JD in the School Board, Farmers’ Cooperative and Knights of Columbus.  Family, friends, and neighbours rallied around Vina and her children. They were very generous with their time and effort in the months and years that followed.

Vina was a single mother from 1965 to 1970. She moved her young family off the farm. They settled 3 miles away in Johnson’s River. Vina established a hairdressing business in their basement. There was a Clover Farm across the road, a Catholic Church next door, and lots of neighbours within walking distance. Vina didn’t drive so all of this was much more than convenience. (Eventually Vina got her driver’s license, in 1970 at age 45.)

New Year’s Eve of 1969 marked the beginning of a new chapter in Vina’s life. She agreed to let her friends arrange a date for her that evening with Peter Sullivan, a well respected widower with 7 young children of his own (4 boys and 3 girls). Peter had a good job with the federal government in Charlottetown, and lived about 4 miles away in the community of Southport. Vina and Peter began a courtship in the early days of 1970. Six months later they were married in a quiet early morning ceremony.  All 12 of their children were in attendance.

Wedding Breakfast, July 1970. Mr. and Mrs. Peter Sullivan and their 12 children.

At this point in Vina’s story, it’s difficult to separate her life from Peter’s. They were quite a team! All 12 children lived at home during the first year of their marriage. Vina delegated household chores like washing dishes, cleaning bathrooms, vacuuming, baking biscuits, and peeling vegetables among the children. There was even a schedule on the fridge. Peter did the grocery shopping; dollars were stretched, but meals were nutritious and filling. By the end of 1982, all of their children had graduated from high school. Five had already earned a university degree or technical diploma. Three were married. Vina and Peter were now 57 and 58 years old. They had 4 grandchildren. In another 3 or 4 years, their “nest” would be officially empty.

For the most part, Vina thoroughly enjoyed life in her 60s and 70s. She returned to hairdressing for a time as a hospital volunteer. She completed her grade 11 GED. She travelled on holiday with a friend to the UK and then to Florida. She also travelled to visit her siblings, her children, and her grandchildren. Day-to-day life with Peter was quiet and pleasant. Church was central to them, as were visits with their children and grandchildren, now 19 in number.

Vina and Peter had been married for 32 years when Peter died from illness at the age of 78 (November 2001). By this time, Vina was in the early stages of dementia. Her mental condition would deteriorate significantly over the next 3 years until her sudden death – from natural causes unrelated to dementia– at the age of 79 (November 2004).

Mrs. Melvina Sullivan was an everyday hero who dealt with life as best she could. She raised her children well. She supported her community. Many of us owe what we are today to rural women like my mother, courageous and enduring. Thanks Mom.

Written by by Rosemary MacDonald
Edited by Kristine Scarrow

Shooting for the Moon - One Production at a Time

When Andrie Nel first became involved with theatre in high school, she knew she had found her passion in life. She dove in head first, scoring a role in every play her high school offered. Once graduated, the job market was calling and Andrie did not continue in theatre until her mid to late twenties. This time, her love of theatre blossomed even more and she became very passionately involved with several drama groups. In one year, she was doing up to nine plays, sometimes rehearsing three at one time.

She knew when she left the stage to raise a family that many years later she would come back to it. “I had plateaued and I didn’t mind stopping at that point. I said I would return, but I would return in a way that encourages kids [to learn drama]. “I only discovered in high school that I loved this,” she says. What might have happened if I discovered it earlier?”

With a family in the works, Andrie pursued her MBA and opened a business consulting firm that worked with the high tech sector. Andrie and her husband, who she met in theatre, took turns playing the role of the stay-at-home parent. “I knew I could be successful at the job and I enjoyed it for many years, but I also realized the assumed goal of being a president was not what I wanted to do,” she says. “I was not going to go where I was programmed to go.”

Out in the country, where Andrie was born and raised, there was not a lot in the way of formal drama training. In schools, children were limited to sports as an after-school activity and there were not many businesses nearby offering alternatives. While she pulled back work-wise, she quickly became involved with the school council and the community. It was there Andrie realized that the arts were severely underrepresented.

As the mother of two children with learning disabilities, it became obvious to her that there was no place for her kids – and others like them – to shine.  Her notion of returning to the stage slowly turned into a reality, and in the capacity she had always dreamed. Andrie formed a drama club and put on several plays in the next year.  The program grew too large for the school and Andrie’s hunger to have a drama program for kids from all across their rural town made moving into the Old Metcalfe Town Hall a logical choice.

Just Kiddin’ Theatre was born December 2006, out of Andrie’s fervent passion for theatre and the drive to deliver a quality dramatic arts program to kids of Ottawa’s rural south.  It continues to thrive thanks to her dedication and the support of volunteers, parents and the children. Andrie does it all – runs the non-profit organization, writes, directs and produces the plays, and raises a family with three teenage daughters. “I have modeled to them that regular people can do this and nothing is out of reach for them.”

Andrie has always lived by the motto “Shoot for the moon. Even if you miss, you’ll land among the stars.” Andrie is living proof that those who pursue their dreams wholeheartedly will one day live them out. “It comes down to passion. If you’re passionate about it, listen to that passion and let it lead you there,” she says. “If you’re not passionate, then think twice, because then it is work.”

Keeping all of the balls in the air to run Just Kiddin’ may seem like grueling work. If you asked Andrie on any given day, she would agree, but with that comes many rewards. “It’s always the kids that keep me going – cliché but it is true. There are days when I am exhausted, but the enthusiasm and the innocence of the kids absorbing and doing their stuff energizes me,” she says. “It is self-sustainable because they bring as much energy back every time.”

Most days, Andrie feels she is living an ordinary life complete with its ups and downs but also feels like she has had a bit of an eccentric life. “I went against the grain. My husband and I traded traditional roles and I didn’t feel boxed in by mainstream thought,” she says. “If I only had the option to pass down one value to my kids it would be that. Just because other people do it doesn’t mean you have to. Don’t be afraid to take risks, challenge the norm and try new things. Nothing is a waste of time if you believe in it.”

Written by Daria Locke
Edited by Kristine Scarrow

Joanne Farley - "Never Turn Anyone Away"

With a $5,000 donation and a dream, West Island Citizen was born in 1976 with the idea that a community takes care of its disadvantaged residents with no other reward than the good feeling of a job well done.

Thirty-five years later, the philosophy hasn’t changed but the organization sure has.

Funding has ballooned from the initial $5,000 to more than $500,000 annually and the number of protégés has jumped from 15 matches in its first year to approximately 400 today.

Citizen Advocacy’s conception can be attributed to a Winnipeg conference founder Joanne Farley attended in 1976 where she was inspired by Dr. W. Wolfensberger and his “people helping people” philosophy.

As the parent of an autistic and intellectually challenged son, Joanne had already spent more than 20 years championing the causes of people with intellectual and physical challenges in the West Island of Montreal when she decided to open the first Citizen Advocacy office in Quebec. 

“She was strong, determined and nothing stood in the way of what she wanted,” said Mary Clare Tanguay, Joanne’s daughter and current Director of Citizen Advocacy.

When Paul was born in 1950 and later diagnosed with autism, a term unfamiliar at that time, it pushed her to spend the next four decades creating educational, recreational, and housing programs for the handicapped. 

In addition to helping establish the first special education program in Quebec with the Baldwin Cartier School Board, Joanne sat on the board of the West Island Association for the Intellectually Handicapped and helped raise funds to get the Gary Taylor Centre built.       

If that weren’t enough, she helped establish a summer camp for the intellectually handicapped at Camp  Kinkora and she was involved in the development of the  Lakeshore Vocational Project which provided jobs with local employers for the intellectually handicapped. 

In 1985 WICA launched a housing project called the Church Apartment Program designed to provide supervised housing for people experiencing mental health problems.  CAP provides shelter for 42 residents in the community as well as in two apartment complexes called Heron House and Farley House. 

The primary mandate is to recruit, screen, match and follow up volunteers with disadvantaged people in the community.  It could include the intellectually and physically challenged, people experiencing mental health problems, and seniors.

Mrs. Farley’s philanthropic efforts have not gone unnoticed.  She was awarded the Order of Canada in 2004, which was hand-delivered to her Pointe-Claire residence by then-Governor General Adrienne Clarkson.

“It was her philosophy to never turn anyone away,” said Mary Clare.

That philosophy has carried Citizen Advocacy into the year 2011 and counts almost 400 active matches, 350 volunteer advocates and almost 500 protégés.  

Written by Marla Newhook
Edited by Lucinda Atwood

Stand in Your Power

If there’s one piece of advice that Louise Pitre can offer Canadian women, it is “Stand in your power.”

The phrase may seem short and simple, but its message hardly lacks impact. As the Executive Director at Sexual Assault Centre London in London, Ontario, Louise has spent more than six years heading the organization, which provides a safe place for all victims of sexual violence and harassment. Offering a multitude of services, including a 24-hour crisis and support line, individual and group counselling, and public education and training, the women who make up SACL envision a world without sexual violence.

Fifty-one percent of all Canadian women have experienced at least one incident of sexual or physical violence. This sobering fact is what moves SACL’s staff and volunteers to change the stories of the men, women and children in the community.

“The work we do is important because when you have been sexually assaulted, you have been violated at your core,” says Louise. “It harms your spirit, your body, your soul. The healing journey becomes important because we want women and girls to be able to live to their full potential. If you carry that trauma forever and do not address it, there isn't that opportunity, and it can shatter lives."

SACL serves close to three thousand clients every year through their many services. This includes accompanying clients to the hospital or police, counselling, or offering assistance through the crisis phone line.

SACL has two full-time counsellors who provide free, confidential, non-judgmental counselling services. Heather Fredin started as a volunteer seventeen years ago and now dedicates her professional life to helping victims on their healing journey as a counsellor. Heather explains that a lot of women who come to SACL are coming for trauma they have experienced as a child.

“I hear women come in, and they say that their friends or their family will say to them 'just get over it'. It is really minimizing the impact of that abuse,” she says. “I don't know why we still get stuck around this issue of why it’s wrong to take care of yourself if you notice things are surfacing from your past.”

Heather believes that allowing yourself to get help is a huge step.

“Physical and sexual abuse is a really traumatic experience, and if you don't get support, it can hang around. Any time is a good time to get support.”

Louise stresses that her beliefs in feminism are in line with what SACL does, and that those ideals are essential to the message of the organization.

"I think feminism is a way of seeing the world that allows us to recognize that the way in which women, men, girls and boys have been socialized are different,” says Louise. “Because they're different, our gender impacts the levels of power, the access to privilege we may have. It also contributes to the vulnerability. We need to change attitudes in our society about women, about sexism in working towards equality.”

Although Louise feels women have made progress, she feels a lot more work has to be done.

“I tell my 18-year-old daughter and 15-year-old son, especially my daughter that just so you know, if what’s happening in our home with allowance were applied to the real world, you would get 70% of what your brother gets."

Louise also thinks there has to be support in other areas in order for these issues to be properly addressed.

“There has to be a lot of goodwill from the governments. We have made progress, and we will continue to make progress, but there is a lot of hard work to get there.” Although SACL does primarily see more women coming through their doors, they also provide a safe place for men to share their stories of trauma. Heather Fredin believes that it is essential to recognize that sexual violence can happen to men and boys as well. “There are different pressures on men and boys regarding being silent around that issue. I'm glad we're talking about it happening to boys,” she says. “I would like to see us do more work with men and boys. I think that’s an important piece of it.”

Louise says that a big part of getting people involved in the issues and raising awareness is through youth engagement. She has created and been a part of several initiatives which help youth become more involved with the organization.

“Our youth mobilization group engages youth. We are also launching a website very soon called ‘Be the Revolution’, and we just completed a participatory action research project called ‘Girls Helping Girls,’” she explains. “We had over thirty young women involved in that initiative about building leadership capacity.”

Louise believes that there is a lot of negative stigma about youth involvement in our society, and she takes pride in providing a place for youth to let their voices be heard. She thinks that an important part of being the leader of an agency means that opportunities for youth must be optimized in order to spread the message.

“We often hear comments that youth are not engaged,” she explains. “I don't believe that to be true. I believe youth care deeply about their community, and they care deeply about these issues, and they want an opportunity to be involved.”

SACL believes that there are little things everyone can do to stop sexual violence, and that recognizing the role everyone has is essential to ending that sexual violence.

“People need to recognize that sexual violence exists. When they are in a situation where it’s happening, they need to find safe ways to stop it, or they need to find ways to refer that person to the help that they might need,” she says. “When a survivor discloses to us, we can believe that person. Just doing that creates safety. We can tell our friend at the bar trying to take a woman home who's drunk that that’s not cool. We can stop downloading music full of sexism that hurts women. We can stop watching TV shows that are full of sexism.”

The women of SACL also shed light on the fact that the people who are affected by sexual violence are not the only ones who suffer as a result.

“This issue affects all of us. It is not limited to the women who walk through this door. It’s our sisters. It’s our daughters, our brothers, sons, grandmothers, aunts.”

As for Louise’s advice, she believes that motivating a woman to stand in her power is a message that relates to all women. She promotes the idea that women are resilient, and encourages people on a daily basis to be everything they can and fulfill their potential. The messages of positivity that the women of SACL provide are meant to empower their clients, and the community.

“The women we work with are fantastic,” says Heather.

Louise is proud of the work she does and the response from the community, feeling support from a number of sectors. She appreciates that support and feels it adds to the success of SACL. She believes that the work that has been done at SACL has saved lives, and if SACL did not exist, there would be a large void and a longer journey for people to obtain the help that they need in order to survive.

“As one client said to me – ‘If SACL were not here, I may not be here’,” Louise recalls.

Perhaps the most inspiring thing Louise adds is the reason why she dedicates her life to helping people.

“I do this every day because I want a better world for my daughter and for my son. Creating a world without sexual violence is about creating a world free of violence, a world of peace,” she says. “My daughter deserves not to be raped, and not to be made into a sexual object. My son deserves that as well. He deserves to be a sweet, kind man without being ridiculed. That matters to me.”

Written by Cassie Dowse
Edited by KristineScarrow

A Year of Achievements

Her name, Iniskimaki, given by Elder Tom Crane Bear of the Blackfoot Siksika Nation, means Sacred Buffalo Stone Woman. 
Iniskimaki, better known to the Durham College community as Janice Tanton, graduated from the Graphic Design program in 1985 and went on to become an entrepreneur. Tanton has had her artwork displayed with more than 800 galleries and retailers and has licensed her work for collector plates and clothing for Northern Reflections. At first she found it difficult for her art to be pure creation and still appeal to the demands of the market. 
“That raw sensibility and passion of the soul finds its way through a work to a viewer and moves him or her,” says Tanton. “If you are creating for any other reason, you’re in the wrong line of work.”
In addition to being an artist, Tanton also works as program manager for Aboriginal Leadership and Management Development at The Banff Centre. It’s been a busy year for her. She designed Buffalo Lodge, a teepee, for the centre’s 75th anniversary. Governor General Michaëlle Jean attended the traditional transfer ceremony. Tanton also received her Blackfoot name and was part of the Indigenous Deep Listening Project, performing and exhibiting her artwork with her son at the World Indigenous Peoples’ Conference on Education in Melbourne, Australia. She also received an Alumna of Distinction award from Durham College. 
When not busy at work or in the studio, she spends considerable time mentoring artists of all experience levels, just as acclaimed wildlife painter Glen Loates mentored her. Tanton also spends time with her children ages four to 16, is involved with their sports, and helps with community organizations.
“I look forward to what exciting opportunities might come in the next few years to allow me to use my gifts for the benefit of mankind. I find that very rewarding.”

Written by Alyscia Sutch
Edited by Lucinda Atwood

What Inspires You?

Imagine a leader. In your head. Or draw it out on paper. Describe them. Is this person a man? Or is this person a woman?

For me, that person is a woman. A woman who is extremely knowledgeable in her field. One who leads by example, and one who makes a difference in people’s lives.  I would like to celebrate the success of one of my professors who has shown us what it means to be a leader, and what a good leader is capable of.

Marilyn Laiken, PhD, has accumulated numerous accomplishments throughout her career. She has been serving consulting clients since 1975, and is a Professor Emeritus at the University of Toronto’s Ontario Institute for Studies in Education (OISE). In fact, she was the Chair of the Department of Adult Education and Counselling Psychology at OISE, and is still the Director of the Certificate Programs in Adult Training and Development, and Leadership Coaching for the Workplace. Marilyn has published numerous journal papers and authored several books, including “The Anatomy of High Performing Teams: A Leader’s Handbook”.

Despite all her success and accomplishments, many of which are not listed here, she is an ordinary woman who is not so ordinary in her own ways. She showed all of us that women can be great leaders. I can say that of all the teachers I have had throughout the years, she has had the greatest impact on me.

I had the fortunate experience of being in one of her classes last year, and it was an extremely memorable experience. Each and every single one of us in her class learned a lot about ourselves and each other. With Marilyn’s help we learned how to work through problems together. We also learned how to make ourselves become a better leader.

Marilyn was so calm and so patient with everything and everyone. She would always make sure each of us was comfortable, right down to the tiniest detail, such as food preferences. She led by example the entire time and taught us the gracious way to handle problems and find solutions. “Seek first to understand, then to be understood.”

Every person’s picture of a leader is different. To me, the greatest quality of a leader is being able to inspire others. Inspiring is defined as “to prompt or instigate by influence, without avowal of responsibility”. And Marilyn does exactly that. She naturally fills her students with a feeling of trust and confidence.

I know this because I’m not the only one who thought so. As one of my classmates, Sharon, said, “Marilyn Laiken is an inspirational role model: she encouraged her students to be open, patient and respectful with each other, and she exhibited those very qualities in every class and in all correspondences. She is a teacher who practices what she preaches, someone who truly exemplifies what a good leader and role model should be.”

There are a lot of things Marilyn can be called: a great mother, a great Department Chair, and a great Director. The list goes on. But to me, and many of us, she is a great teacher, and most of all, a great leader.

Thank you, Marilyn, for making our classroom a peaceful and growth enhancing place.

Written by Queenie Cheung
Edited by Lucinda Atwood

Love Koduah - Fueled by Passion

In 1976 Love Koduah left her native country of Ghana for a better life in Canada. Life was not easy when she first arrived. Her degree in psychology and years of teaching elementary school back home did not lead to many career options in Canada. Having to support herself and her daughter, Love took up factory jobs making as little as $2.35 an hour at times.   

Ten years after she first arrived and fueled by her passion to help people, Love went back to school. Love attended George Brown College and earned both a Community Service Worker and Human Services Counsellor Diploma. She graduated with honours in both programs. “My past experience and maturity really helped me to excel,” she says. Yet it wasn’t easy getting a job after graduation. “Peers that looked to me for help during school were getting jobs before I was.”

Refusing to be discouraged, Love volunteered and took contract work wherever she could find it. Love became Chairperson of the Firgrove Resident Association in Toronto. The Organization worked in conjunction with the Jane and Finch Community Ministry to help community members get in touch with needed resources. The operation was funded by the United Church of Canada. Love’s hard work and perseverance paid off when she started to land several jobs in her field. One of her first jobs was at the Black Creek Community Health Centre where she was contracted to co-ordinate parenting workshops.

 In 1996 Love joined the Rexdale Women’s Centre as a Multicultural Settlement Worker.  As a settlement worker, Love aids newcomers and immigrants in getting in touch with needed resources such as employment information, housing, child care, English and legal services. Her work has also enabled her to aid in community workshops such as ‘Eating for two’ that provides prenatal care and nutritional information to expectant mothers.

Love Koduah has been recognized with several awards throughout her career. In 1995 she won the New Pioneers. The honour is given out by the city of Toronto in celebration of the achievements of immigrants and refugees. Love has also received the Black History Award from the City of Toronto for community services and was most recently honoured with the Ghanaian Women’s Courage Award in 2010.  Love Koduah still works at the Rexdale Women’s Centre and says the best part of her job is helping people become independent. “Sometimes just listening to people and what they have to say helps a lot,” she says. 

The hardest part of her job she says is getting people to release personal information. “In order to keep getting government funding for our programs and workshops we have to collect private information which people are usually afraid or hesitant to give out.”

And how did being a Black female immigrant affect her Canadian experience? “It didn’t make it easier and I don’t think it made it harder. I’m just glad that I can help people no matter if they’re a newcomer or have lived in Canada all their lives. No one is ever turned away.” Love’s other accomplishments include residing as the Queen of the Ashanti Multicultural Association in Toronto (1994-2001) as well as co-founder of the High Society Ghanaian Women’s Group.

Written by Natalie Frimpong
Edited by
Kristine Scarrow