Rotary District 5370 Charitable Foundation raises, distributes $1M in Fort McMurray wildfire relief

The flames have long been extinguished and much of the area devastated by the May 2016 Fort McMurray Wildfire—dubbed “The Beast” by former regional fire chief Darby Allen—has been rebuilt, but the emotional impact will take longer to heal, particularly the sense of loss felt by the community’s youngest residents.

As a result of the generosity of Rotarians and others, there is a tool available to help the children of the Wood Buffalo region come to grips with what they experienced.

newfoundland dogA grant of $75,000 from the Rotary District 5370 Charitable Foundation allowed Some Other Solutions to contract with local filmmaker Michael Mankowski to create an animated film that will be used with children in Fort McMurray and made available to other communities that have experienced similar disasters.

SOS, the mandate of which is focused on suicide prevention, was one of nearly 20 agencies and groups to receive grants from the $1,000,000 in donations received for the Fort McMurray Fire Relief Fund.

The film injects the actual words of the fire’s survivors into a world inhabited by the animals of the boreal forest.

“We hope that by juxtaposing these very humanistic, emotionally weighty stories with the light-heartedness of an animated animal world, we can create a compelling and cathartic experience for our audience,” Mankowski says.

Within days of the fire, which destroyed parts of Fort McMurray and forced a month-long evacuation of the more than 80,000 residents from the community, the Rotary District 5370 Charitable Foundation began to solicit funds for its Fort McMurray Fire Relief Fund. 

“Within a matter of months, nearly one million dollars had been received,” says Past District Governor and  former Charitable Foundation president Julius Buski (RC of St. Albert-Saint City). “Donations ranged from single digits to $100,000 from one donor. Rotary clubs from across Canada, the United States, the Caribbean and even the United Kingdom contributed over $125,000. The balance came from caring and concerned individuals.”

The Foundation is a separate entity from Rotary District 5370 and is recognized by the Canada Revenue Agency as a charitable foundation. It is governed by a board of directors elected annually by Foundation members, all of whom are Rotarians.  There is no paid staff.

Its mission is to assist clubs in the district to raise funds for their projects.

Five years before the Fort McMurray fire, the foundation raised and distributed funds following the Slave Lake wildfire.  Julius says this was a “valuable experience,” which prepared the foundation to deal with the much larger 2016 fire.

Another grant of $60,000 was awarded to the Centre of Hope, which executive director image001Amanda Holloway says, “provides programs for people experiencing various stages of homelessness.”

She says, “the fire put an incredible strain on the community and non-profit agencies to meet the needs of people.” 

Following the fire, the agency saw an increase in the number of people it was serving. “About 25 per cent of the people we serve are new to homelessness,” Holloway says. “It’s incredibly important that we are there to deal with people who are new to homelessness.”

The agency offers homeless people a safe place to go, where they have access to laundry facilities, showers and snacks. Staff works with clients to overcome barriers that prevent them from moving from homelessness to more permanent accommodation.

The support of the Charitable Foundation was acknowledged at the provincial level, when then-District Governor Frank Reitz, Foundation Treasurer Kathy Strobl (RC of Edmonton Whyte Avenue) and PDG Laura Morie (RC of Westlock) were introduced to members of the Legislative Assembly of Alberta.

Issuing a call for donations was only the first step for the Charitable Foundation.

“While donations flowed in quickly, making disbursement from the fund was a much longer process,” Julius says. “The Red Cross and other agencies provided necessary immediate relief. Many residents did not experience personal loss, but others needed to deal with insurance companies, rebuilding homes and emotional stress and grief.

“Once the situation was stabilized, the Rotary District 5370 Charitable Foundation began considering how the funds in the Fort McMurray Fire Relief Fund could best be utilized,” he says.

The Foundation established a local allocation advisory committee, chaired by Fort McMurray Rotarian Bryan Lutes, to identify the most critical needs. Other Rotarians on the committee— Susan Bottern, Jennifer Bludd, Rob Denis and Kyle Warren—came from the two Rotary clubs in Fort McMurray; DG Frank Reitz also provided advice.

The committee solicited applications from groups eligible to receive funds from the Foundation under Canada Revenue Agency’s rules. After reviewing applications, the local committee made recommendations to the Foundation board, which made the final decisions related to grants.

On February 28, 2018, the Foundation and the Fort McMurray Rotary clubs hosted a “Million Dollar Dinner” for grant recipients, the mayor and council of the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo, and MLA Tany Yao to celebrate the hope that grants from the Fort McMurray Wildfire Relief Fund provided the community.

Recipient organizations made short presentations, highlighting how the funds would be used.

In addition to SOS and the Centre for Hope, other grant recipients included:

Stepping Stones Youth Services ($68,860) – Outreach worker for youth at risk

Ecole St. Paul ($10,000) – Replacement of destroyed library books

Girls Inc. of Northern Alberta ($10,000) – Mental health mentoring

Wood Buffalo Child and Youth Advocacy Centre ($40,000) – Child and youth advocacy/mental health

Multicultural Association of Wood Buffalo—Welcome Centre ($86,160) –  Interpretation and translation unit

Fort McMurray Public School District ($75,000) – School-based mental health therapist

Northern Lights Health Centre ($100,000) – Infant-care resuscitation and warming units

Wood Buffalo Educare Society ($37,126) – Lost hearing aids and supplies

Habitat for Humanity Wood Buffalo Society ($60,000) – Warehouse space rent and volunteer support

STEM Wood Buffalo Charitable Projeclit ($72,000) – After-school and summer learning programs

Fort McMurray Catholic School District ($9,000) – Resources for out-of-school care programs

Anzac Family Community Support Society ($5,500) – Community support services

A second set of grants were distributed in June 2018 to: 

Canadian Mental Health Association – Alberta NE Region ($45,000)

Fort McMurray Public School District #2833 ($50,000)

Fort McMurray Society of the Friends of Music ($5,625)

 Hub Family Resource Centre ($31,500)

Fort McMurray Catholic Board of Education ($34,377)

Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo ($75,000)

Northern Lights Health Foundation ($43,500)  

 “We were touched by the generosity of Rotary clubs and individuals, and their contributions to the Fort McMurray Fire Relief Fund,” says past Foundation chair Julius Buski. “It’s heartening to see such an outpouring of care and concern in a time of crisis.”

More than 20 years of service to Ethiopia recognized with a major Rotary award

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Leo Seguin, the 2017 recipient of the Donald MacRae Peace Award, stands between PDG Betty Screpnek and DG Frank Reitz

Leo Seguin (RC of Westlock) is the 2017 recipient of the Donald MacRae Peace Award (Zones 24 & 32), recognizing his commitment of more than 20 years to the people of Ethiopia.

Past District 5370 Governor Betty Screpnek, who currently serves as a director of The Rotary Foundation Canada, presented the award during the Fort McMurray District Conference. She noted that it was learning of a famine in that nation that led Leo to become involved in Ethiopia.

“When the famine attacked Ethiopia in the late 80s, this Rotarian could not stand by when he and his neighbors’ ‘bounty’ was abundant,” Betty said. “He went into action and grain drives with the Canadian Grain Banks filled some 20 grain cars to feed Ethiopia.”

The Donald MacRae Peace Award is an annual award presented by Rotary Zones 24 & 32 to recognize and honour an individual or organization for outstanding achievement consistent with the ideals of Rotary as expressed by the Fourth Object of Rotary:

“The advancement of International understanding, goodwill and peace through a world fellowship of business and professional people united in the ideal of service”

A former president of the Westlock Rotary Club, Leo has lead several international projects in Ethiopia. He travels to Africa frequently to listen to the people and gain firsthand knowledge of the projects, to be sure the funds we raise are well-spent.

His next visit is scheduled for January 2018.

IMG_4180In 2004, Leo was instrumental in establishing the Rainbow for the Future, a NGO headquartered in Westlock.

Information on the Rainbow for the Future website explains that it “is a Canadian development agency dedicated to the organization and integration of sustainable development efforts in Ethiopia. We are committed to helping the poor help themselves, and those we help in Ethiopia are truly the poorest of the poor.”

The agency supports “irrigation-based development projects as a means to improve food security, allowing communities to become autonomous and independent. When household income is stabilized and food security is established, the focus can then turn to education, healthcare, and long-term sustainability in a number of areas. These include education—particularly the education of girls and women— access to healthcare services and medical facilities, and income-generation programs, especially for women.”

Since its inception, Rainbow for the Future has raised $10 million, 95 per cent of which directly supports projects in Ethiopia, many of which have been accomplished in partnership with other Rotary clubs and agencies. Volunteers pay their own expenses related to participation in projects.

The award commemorates the contribution of Halifax Rotarian Donald MacRae, who in a speech to the International Convention in Kansas City in June 1918 proposed that Rotary become an agent for the promotion of goodwill and peace among nations—the first time that this vision of Rotary was expressed publicly.

In 1921, as chair of Rotary’s Constitution and By-laws Committee, MacRae had an opportunity to incorporate this vision into the constitution of Rotary. He presented a resolution to the International Convention in Edinburgh, Scotland that amended the constitution by adding the fourth Object of Rotary. This Fourth Object became the engine that drives Rotary’s International service: indeed, it has become the watchword of the Rotary Foundation.

“Reflecting the vision created by MacRae, the award focuses on advancing international goodwill, understanding and peace through peacemaking efforts or humanitarian activity of international significance. Peace can only happen by drilling those wells to provide potable water, education, disease prevention and feeding the hungry. That is the Rotary way of creating peace and I think we have it right,” Betty said.

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Three awards presented to recognize club achievements

District Governor Frank Reitz presented three awards during the Fort McMurray District Conference to acknowledge outstanding achievements of Rotary clubs during 2016-2017:

Membership AwardRotary Club of Barrhead – This award is for the largest percentage increase in membership (31 per cent) from July 1, 2016 to June 30, 2017.

The Rotary Foundation AwardAnnual fund – Rotary Club of Edmonton South – This award is presented to the club that has the highest annual per capita contributions ($478.43) to The Rotary Foundation.

Polio Plus Award – Rotary Club of Dawson Creek Sunrise – This award is presented annually to the club that has the highest per capita contributions to Polio Plus. The 41 members raised a total of $49,956 towards the eradication of polio.

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RI president’s rep and others praise District Conference as “inspirational” and a “wonderful experience”

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MC Brent Collingwood (RC of Edmonton Riverview) opened the 2017 District Conference held September 29 and 30 in Fort McMurray by asking the 250 Rotarians in attendance: “Why do we come to a District Conference?”

By the beginning of the second day, each of his four reasons had been achieved.

  1. We come to reconnect with fellow Rotarians we may not have seen for a while and to bond with new Rotarians, because Rotary is about forming friendships and professional connections.
  2. We come to learn from others, whether in the House of Friendship or from some of the Rotary projects you’ll hear about from the stage.
  3. We come to hear amazing speakers telling their personal stories of courage—because no challenge is too big for us.
  4. We come wanting to learn, and we leave wanting to do, because Rotary is about taking action to create lasting change.

Other attendees concurred with Brent’s assessment that the conference fulfilled its promise of an opportunity to reconnect, learn and listen to amazing speakers.

Mary Drader (RC of Drayton Valley) said she “enjoyed this conference immensely. I found the speakers to be very inspirational.”

Fran Milberg (RC of Thomasville, GA) also gave the conference and District high marks. “There’s nothing I haven’t liked, except maybe there was a little too much food. Otherwise, it has been a wonderful experience. I met friendly, wonderful people and I have been very comfortable with them.”

Fran, who is a past District Governor for District 6900, which includes about one-third of the state of Georgia, including the city of Atlanta, attended as a representative of Rotary International President Ian Riseley.

“I’m very impressed with the District and what they do—their service projects and their Foundation giving,” she said. “I’m just so impressed with this community and District for how they’ve come together after the crisis that occurred in this town.”

Fran was also impressed by the lineup of speakers, which included David Dotson, who spoke about the Dolly Parton Imagination Library, Chris and Kathryn Linford, who work with veterans suffering from PTSD and their families, former Fort McMurray fire chief Darby Allen, and 2010 Olympian and Amazing Race Canada host Jon Montgomery.

Fran was one of those who took Montgomery up on his invitation to hold the gold medal he won in skeleton. “I just loved touching that gold medal today and wearing it around my neck. I never realized that the gold medal was so heavy. I really enjoyed that and his presentation.”

Erwin Winwarkentin, a non-Rotarian from Vermilion, attending with his wife, felt that the order in which the speakers were scheduled was a factor in the success of the conference. “The idea of having the speakers in the sequence they were in was critical to the goal of communicating what they wanted to communicate. Having Jon at the end was critical to the whole thing. Having him in the beginning wouldn’t have made sense.”

Did you attend the Fort McMurray District Conference? What did you think? Add your impressions in the comment section below.

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2018 District Conference: Save the date . . . and save money by registering early

With the Fort McMurray District Conference a success, Rotarians can begin to look forward to next year’s conference. District Governor Elect Ingrid Neitsch (RC of Edmonton West) and her team have already set the day, booked the venue and lined up several speakers.

The conference will be held at Edmonton’s Shaw Conference Centre, October 18 – 20, 2018.

To learn more about what’s in store next fall for you, visit the conference website, which went live as the Fort McMurray conference ended. Register by November 4 to save $75.