Thanks for Giving

I’m always encouraged when I hear of families who want to spend their time volunteering and helping people less fortunate.  Especially to know that there are many parents who are concerned that their children understand that not everyone in the community is completely comfortable in their lives.  It’s a great way to demonstrate the idea of being happy and grateful for what you have – whatever that may look like in your life. 

This time, however, when I was told of this family’s intentions, I was humbled.  While giving my friend Pam a lift home the other day, she casually mentioned, “I told my kids we’re going to serve Thanksgiving dinner in the inner-city this weekend.  I thought about it and decided it was time for them to see just how lucky our family is.  I think that's a good way to spend Thanksgiving.”  Then, she went on to ask how she would sign up to volunteer her whole family to help at the upcoming Homeless Connect on October 17, 2010. 

What was humbling for me was thinking about my friend, and all she has been through in her own life.  For Pamela, a mother of five and grandmother of two, the cycle started early. She was raised in Edmonton; her mother was an addict and prostitute. Pam was often left playing in the park outside of the York Hotel waiting for her mother to be done working, using or drinking. It was a life that taught her survival, and unfortunately led to her own addiction problem.

Years later in an attempt to turn her life around, Pamela moved to Camrose where instead, her addiction got worse. In addition to being a drug user, she also became a dealer. She lost her children and received drug charges – life did not get better. And then her lawyer heard about the Edmonton Drug Treatment Court Program.

Pam joined the program and went to Pommakers for treatment, then for three months lived in McDougall House where she received support and was taught practical tools she would need to stay clean on her own. After leaving McDougall House, Pam was now homeless and working to get her children back. She needed help and asked for it.

Boyle Street Community Services helped Pam and her family secure low income housing. Bissell Centre helped her to get furniture, dishes, linens and all of the household items needed to have a home. And Boyle McCauley Health Centre provided medical support to help with her addiction, and help her stay on track.

“Poverty sucks,” says Pam, “but I am not ashamed to face it today because I feel wealthy. I have my children, I have my health, I have my pride and self-respect, and I have support.”

Last year Pam set a goal.  And that goal is to one day go back to school so that she can work with agencies to help others like her.

Today Pam is working part-time for the Edmonton Drug Treatment Court and through their training will be a certified program counselor in three years.  She is also a very active volunteer with United Way as one of our workplace campaign speakers and was chosen to be one of our first Discovery video speaker in 2009.  As well, Pam and her four-year-old son, Malyki, were featured in our 2010 Campaign Video - simply titled, Thanks.  I invite you to view it.

If you ask Pamela Spurvey what she is passionate about you will get a very simple answer - “I want to give back what was so freely given to me.”

As we prepare for the Thanksgiving weekend, I am very thankful that I have a friend like Pam who is so grateful for everything her community has done for her.  She doesn’t take it for granted.   Pam, on behalf of your community, thanks for being so giving.  

Nancy Critchley is Director, Communications for United Way of the Alberta Capital Region.  She is also a wife, mother and grandmother of one (and very excited to share that two more grandbabies are on the way!)