airdrielife puts the spotlight on everyday heroes we can all celebrate
Ian Aman, shining light on mental health
Airdrie’s Ian Aman used six pairs of running shoes this summer to run 1,600 kilometres from the top to the bottom of Alberta.
“I’ve never done anything like that before. It was a really neat experience.”
Sponsored by the Canadian Mental Health Association, he ran from July 1 to Aug. 29, from the Northwest Territories border to the Alberta-U.S. border. With his wife and three children as a support team, he raised more than $25,000.
Aman, who works for ATB Financial and also trains athletes through his company Legacy Endurance, organized the run for two reasons.
Running teaches the mind to focus, and as someone who once struggled with depression and anxiety, he wanted to “shine a light on mental wellness.”
Aman was encouraged by conversations he had along the way.
“There’s still a stigma attached to mental health, and people just want to share their stories, and feel comfortable about it.”
Lindsey Coyle, rebuilding Airdrie’s Block Parent Program
The iconic white-and-red Block Parent sign, a symbol of Canada’s largest volunteer-run child safety program, disappeared from Airdrie windows a decade ago. However, a stay-at-home mother of two is changing that, one household at a time.
But Lindsey Coyle needs help: “I have about 45 signs up right now … I need about 10 per cent (of households) for the program to function well.”
The goal of the revived Airdrie Block Parent Association is to have signs on schools, pathways and at the beginning of every street, she says.
Coyle, who grew up with a Block Parent sign in the window, can remember neighbourhood children coming to her house seeking help, and “it’s no different today.”
“You’re not going to give a seven-year-old a cellphone. They need to know they can take care of themselves if something happens, and having a Block Parent on every street provides that.”
Mike Loughman, advocate for hope
Mike Loughman, a former alcoholic and drug addict, says hope is what keeps him alive.
“I have ‘hope’ tattooed on my back.”
Loughman, a longtime Airdrie resident, was diagnosed several years ago as bipolar, with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) and several learning disabilities. But he already knew this about himself.
“Through my whole life, I wanted help, but I didn’t know how to get it. I fell through the cracks.”
His life became a cycle of drinking, drugs and partying, until one day he asked for and got help. Successful with his own recovery, and fuelled by a newfound hope, Loughman has become an advocate for awareness of the help that is available.
Collaborating in 2015 and 2016 with the Defeat Depression Campaign, a Canadian program that brings awareness to mental health, Loughman organized Halloween-themed walk/run events, which raised thousands of dollars.
“We need to talk about (mental health). We can’t hide from it.”
Sonya Lynde, a friend to animals
Last spring, when Sonya Lynde was preparing to drive to Cochrane where she volunteers with the humane society, she received a call from her supervisor.
“She said, ‘We have a stray cat in Airdrie. Could you pick it up (from the vet) before you come?’”
Lynde, a cat owner who has lived in Airdrie since 2002, says she was told the society was now servicing her community.
“There’s 60,000 people here; there’s certainly a need.”
Jaimie Anton, the Cochrane & Area Humane Society’s fund development coordinator, says Airdrie was included because residents were calling with concerns over the lack of services. Airdrie has bylaws governing dogs, but not cats, and no animal shelter, she says.
“We’re a good fit, we’re just down the road,” she explains, adding, “We have some really committed volunteers from Airdrie.”
Lynde is not sure of the number of animals in the Cochrane shelter that may have come from Airdrie, but she’s hopeful the community will one day have its own facility.
However, “it’s not something the City would do. Shelters are usually non-profit and rely on volunteers.”
“I love animals,” says Lynde. “I’d go anywhere to volunteer.”
Jeff McDiarmid, one of a brotherhood of heroes
“When you’re driving through a massive city at night, with smoke, zero lights, no traffic, no people, no pets, it’s just so eerie. It’s like a ghost town,” says Lieutenant Jeff McDiarmid of the Airdrie Fire Department.
McDiarmid, who was born and raised in Airdrie, was one of 30 department personnel who volunteered to go to fire-ravaged Fort McMurray last summer.
“As soon as the fire started, you automatically just put your name on the list. ‘Chief, send us up there. I’m ready to go.’”
He attributes this to the “brotherhood of firefighters,” and says Fort McMurray would do the same for Airdrie.
Several days after Fort McMurray was evacuated, Airdrie sent Fire Engine 88 with a four-person team, followed by three more personnel rotations. McDiarmid’s crew was the third, and was tasked with suppressing brush fires and flare-ups.
“I’d do it again tomorrow, if I had to.”
Andrew Melissen, a Queen’s Venturer Scout
Andrew Melissen looks like a typical Grade 12 W.H. Croxford High School student, but lurking behind his engaging smile is a Venturer Scout.
“I like camping, and being able to meet people who have similar interests,” says this 17-year-old.
He’s a member of the Airdrie Venturer Scout Group, which offers 14- to 17-year-olds the opportunity to development important life skills.
Melissen was recently awarded the Queen’s Venturer Award, which is the highest honour a Scout can earn.
It took three years to complete the long list of requirements, some of which involved 50 hours of community service (Melissen did 300), environment work (he planted 200 trees with his Scout group), spirituality (he taught lessons at his church) and demonstrating leadership (he leads a Scouts Beaver group).
How does he feel about it?
“Not many people do this, and I did it. I have a great sense of accomplishment.”
Melanie Prebble, pulling together for Fort Mac
When Airdrie’s Melanie Prebble saw multiple Facebook postings offering essentials to the evacuees arriving from the devastating fire in Fort McMurray this summer, she had an idea.
“Why not create one Facebook page that connects the two,” says this stay-at-home mother of three daughters.
Airdrie Supports Fort Mac was created, but the page suddenly became the nexus for Fort McMurray families to connect with support groups.
“It was crazy. Originally I thought, ‘Maybe we can make some sandwiches,’ and help that way.”
The page took off and Prebble found herself in the role of organizer, but when Skyline Living opened up 50 apartment units, she had to form a committee to stay on top of the influx of volunteers and donations.
“(The committee) just grew, and people started taking on roles. Chaos eventually turned into order,” says Prebble.
Fort McMurray’s Lisa Kozovski, who fled the city with her family, was moved by the generosity.
“We’re not the people who need help, we’re the people who help other people. This community is amazing. It was very humbling,” says Kozovski, who returned home in the fall.
Prebble has the same opinion: “Airdrie’s just that pull-together community. We did a good thing here.”
Alex Sharpe, para-swimmer, dreams of Tokyo Olympics
Airdrie’s para-athlete Alex Sharpe says he wasn’t into competitive swimming until he was about 10.
“When I was little, I hated water,” says this Grade 10 St. Martin de Porres High School student, who has never had full use of his left side due to a stroke he had in his mother’s womb.
But now, this member of the Nose Creek Swim Association, who recently started coaching with the club, likes “going fast, and I love the travelling part.”
A sixth-place finish in April at the Rio Olympics’ qualifiers in Scarborough, Ont., and four gold medals in July at the 2016 Speedo Can Am Para-swimming Championships in Gatineau, Que., have inspired him to aim for the 2020 Tokyo Paralympics.
“It was pretty cool,” says Sharpe of the cheering crowds in Gatineau.
“The Olympics are my dream right now, but I’d like to see how far I could go with coaching.”
Kim Titus, two thumbs up for change
When Braden Titus ended his life by suicide, his mother questioned the way health organizations worked together.
“If mental health professionals are not talking to each other about services, then what hope do we have for our loved ones?” says Kim Titus, president of the Thumbs Up Foundation.
The foundation was started in memory of her son Braden, who battled with depression and suicidal thoughts, but was known for giving the thumbs-up sign in family photos. Shortly before his death, he was put on an antidepressant, and given a specialist appointment for three weeks later.
“He didn’t make the three weeks. It was senseless,” says Titus.
The foundation’s goal is to advocate for change in how mental health care is accessed by people in need, and for Airdrie to be the healthiest community in Alberta.
“Braden said the one thing he was good at, was helping people. He still is.”
Kristen Wallace and her merry band of volunteers
Last December, when Kristen Wallace heard that the Airdrie Festival of Lights (AFOL) was in desperate need of volunteers, something “switched” in her, she says.
“We’d gone down to the Lights before, we’d lived here for 13 years, and I felt maybe we’d taken advantage of it, so we just showed up.”
Wallace and her five young children, Coben, Callie, Ashlyn, Averie and Shiloh, volunteered throughout December, including Christmas Eve. They sold train tickets, served hot chocolate and spread holiday cheer.
“I’m super proud of them. They totally took the initiative,” Wallace says.
“Every decision was the kids. (Michelle Pirzek, AFOL coordinator) supervised, but they stepped up and this became important to them.”
The family, including husband Shane, has been busy rebuilding displays for this year’s festival.
“It’s important for the kids to realize it’s not always about the money in the stuff that you do.”