On Saturday night several of my Twitter friends were attending and twittering about the KD Gala here in town. If you don’t know about this event, it is an annual event, and it is in support of the Centre of Hope. As I sat thinking about the Centre, I decided to share some very personal stories about what the Centre of Hope has come to mean for me and my family.
The first few months that I was in Fort McMurray, I was hired and working for the registry office here in town. I met people from around the world while working there, and heard so many personal stories since some of the services provided there meant that you had to ask some personal questions. Over a couple of weeks I saw one man come into the office on several occasions, but I never had him at my counter. I could see that he was frustrated some days when he didn’t have the proper paperwork, and sad on other days when he realized that he would have to return with another form to get whatever he needed. On a Friday afternoon, in mid November, he arrived at the office which was almost deserted because outside it was bitterly cold, and the wind made your face sting when it hit you. The girls in the office had been digging out Christmas decorations since it was so quiet, and I was nearest the counter when he entered, so he became my customer that day. I was not in a rush, as we often could be, and that day, we walked through every form, every step, and we filled everything out together. I made a few phone calls with questions, and we finally had everything done so that he could receive an Alberta driver’s license. He left, and I never really thought about the transaction at all, until about three weeks later, and it was getting closer to Christmas. It was again a Friday, but the office was filled to capacity, and the line was going out the door. This man entered the office, and asked if he could have everyone’s attention. He then went on to say that he had been struggling to get his license in Alberta, and had finally received it that day in the mail. He said he did not have money to buy chocolates for the girls in the office who had helped him, but that he wanted to share a song as thanks instead. You could have heard a pin drop as this man told his story and then gave a stunning rendition of Silent Night and then We Wish You a Merry Christmas. It was better than any of the chocolates we received, and the sweet memory still lingers. On the day he came in and I served him, I too was stuck with how to help him, so I called the Centre of Hope. They knew the man, he had used their services, and together that day we came up with ways to help him. The day he came to say thanks, he said that he had already gotten a job, and would be getting a place in camp. That was the first time I thought that the centre truly gave people hope.
I never thought our relationship would get more personal, but it did. I had debated sharing the rest of the story, but it really is something to be proud of instead of not talking about, so here it goes. Our little girl’s biological mother has had a very hard life, and sadly, she never had a strong family connection or support. So when she found herself in labor on a record breaking cold night in February, she had no one to go to….except for the Centre of Hope. Workers there took her to the hospital, and were there when our beautiful baby was born. As we worked towards the adoption, she continued to struggle with her own demons, but her love for her little girl always shone through. Mother’s Day rolled around, and after we were all out to brunch, I thought, “I bet her mom would like to see her today.” But where would she be? I drove to the Centre of Hope, and there she was sitting on the picnic table, she had gone there for support that day as she was missing her little girl. We returned on July 1st to watch the parade together. The Centre was our connection. And then came Christmas Eve. We were busily running around, and were heading out to gather with family who was visiting, when we got a call from the Centre of Hope. Our little girl’s mom was there, waiting for a visit with one of the government workers. I called the office, and no one knew of a visit, and anyone who could help had already left. At this time, we were drawing closer to the adoption, and the worker who I eventually spoke with was very matter of fact, and said that I did not even have to call back, not to worry about it, and that no visit would happen. I sat torn for almost 20 minutes, but the image of her mother sitting there on Christmas Eve was too much to stand. I called the Centre back, and told them not to tell her, but I was coming, was it okay with them?
I will never, ever forget arriving with our little girl dressed for Christmas Eve. Her mother ran faster than any Olympic sprinter down those stairs when they called up for her, and she ran straight into my arms with words of thanks and gratitude pouring from her mouth. Everyone there, workers, and clients both gathered around to proclaim what a beautiful little girl we had. Her mother beamed proudly, and quickly handed her back when she started to cry because she did not want to upset her. She said she would have been happy just seeing her through a window, but this was so much better. It was one of the most powerful moments I have ever had in my life, and as she handed her daughter back to me, she said, “Go back with your mommy, I love you, Merry Christmas baby girl.” The Centre of Hope made the moment happen, they give hope to those who are way too often overlooked, and while there can be many hard stories, the Centre has magic happening there, and should be supported and celebrated by the community. I am glad the gala was well attended, and I hope the support continues as we approach the Christmas season.
Verna can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org