Each winter, airdrielife likes to focus on people in the community who are going above and beyond. From the simplest gesture to the grandest of donations, meet some of Airdrie’s everyday heroes.
Pinning wings on a few shoulders, Matt and Michelle Carre have been helping to lift disheartened spirits since 2013.
Targeting locals who have been negatively affected by various life-changing events, the philanthropic couple dreamed up the Airdrie Angel program.
The Carres’ Angel initiative has offered spiritual, emotional and financial support to several locals, from those diagnosed with debilitating disease to single mothers escaping abusive relationships.
“The whole program is about helping people who struggle at no fault of their own,” says Matt. “We are fortunate people – we have two healthy kids, we’re financially stable – but I know there are a lot of people out there who struggle.”
The good-hearted couple recognized the challenges unexpected hardship can place on every aspect of life, not only on the pocketbook but on emotional stability and mental health, as well.
“Sometimes there’s not financial needs,” Matt says, “but sometimes you just need to know that someone cares about you to keep going and doing the right things.”
For more information on the program, visit airdrieangel.ca.
With an insight for promoting eye care in developing countries, Dr. Heather Cowie, owner/doctor at Airdrie Family Eye Doctors, has volunteered her services for more than a decade in such countries as Guatemala, Jamaica, Mexico and Nicaragua.
With a clear passion for eye care, Cowie leads eye care teams and donation initiatives for underprivileged and impoverished people.
“I just stumbled upon volunteering in Guatemala and that was really my basis of wanting to become an eye doctor,” says the founder of Volunteer Optometric Services to Humanity. “There’s nothing more spectacular than putting a pair of glasses on somebody for the first time who has never seen before.”
Covering everything from basic visual acuity to systemic disease to supplying medication, the eye care aid worker sees all ages from school children to the elderly, and Guatemala’s female family providers struggling to weave tapestries.
“These are people who will sometimes have been walking for hours to see us,” says the doctor. “There’s nothing else like it.
“You feel very fortunate to be in that position to give back in such a way,” Cowie adds.
Last Christmas, Ty Harbour found the best gift of all: giving.
While most children were making a Christmas list of what presents they wanted to see under the tree, this big-hearted youngster was stuffing stockings full of warmth and cheer for Airdrie seniors.
“When I give these stockings to them it just fills me with warmness and strength,” says Harbour, who used donations and his own birthday money to create 24 care-package stockings for residents of Cedarwood Station.
“Sometimes if you give something you get a warm feeling. This is nice, and I kind of want to do it over and over again,” he adds.
The Ralph McCall school student was inspired by his 95-year-old grandmother to hand out bags of ornaments, stuffed animals, tea-filled mugs, candy canes and other seasonal treats.
“We just wanted to make sure that the seniors can feel welcomed into the community and not left out,” Harbour says.
As for being in airdrielife this yuletide season, the young man, who was looking forward to his 11th birthday at interview time, was excited about people reading about his Ty’s Stockings for Seniors initiative and wanted everyone to know that all his birthday money (and any donations he receives) is going toward the seniors. “I hope that I can do 50 stockings again, and I want to put names on them if I can so I can make them more personal,” he says. “I also want to put together 25 gift packs with the items seniors really need the most, like toothpaste, toothbrushes, soap, tissues and maybe a candy or two.
Dogs may be man’s best friend, but Shelly Loree is putting a little twist on that saying and may just be a dog’s best friend.
As the Western Canada transport co-ordinator for Pilots N Paws Canada and the Alberta Sheltie Rescue (ASR) co-ordinator, Loree has been successfully partnering homeless dogs with families for many, many years. Through both organizations, she has been rescuing more than 40 dogs per year across Canada.
“Some dogs have been very mistreated, some have been bred and bred and were puppy mill dogs. Others are just simply dogs that need to be re-homed because something unfortunate has happened in the family,” says Loree who has fostered more than 40 shelties while running ASR out of her home.
The Shetland breed holds a special place in her home and her heart.
“Oh, they certainly do,” says Loree, who is a converted cat person. “We just fell in love with the breed. It’s been a fabulous journey. It’s a passion.”
Stephen McPhee speaks softly but carries a generous backpack.
Receiving many accolades, including the Canadian Living Me to We Award – Youth In Action honour, the 14-year old is a strong activist for the homeless in Alberta and across Canada.
“I get to help kids in need. (They feel) that there’s hope in the world for them. Every time I go down there they always get excited and revved up,” says the George McDougall high school student.
The founding force behind Stephen’s Backpacks Society for Children in Need (Delivering Hope. Changing Hearts.), the teen began his quest to help other children in 2006 with a small-donation backpack campaign.
In the past nine years, the number of Christmas backpacks, filled with toys, books, clothes, candies and other items, has climbed to more than 31,000. And with the publication of books Dream Out Loud and On Eagles’ Wings, a Footprints shoe donation project and other missions, the Stephen’s Backpacks Society has even helped transition families out of shelters.
“I could probably end just like them if I wasn’t adopted and grew up in a home [where] we were taught to help others,” says Stephen. “It’s not just Canada, I want to end world homelessness.”
A touch of legacy and a big handful of generosity, Hugh Hamilton and family have left their mark on Airdrie’s health community.
The longtime resident and businessman this fall announced a donation of a 10-acre plot of land to the Airdrie Health Foundation (AHF), which is aiming for construction of a much needed 24-hour health facility.
Owner of Airdrie Registry, Hamilton points the philanthropist finger at wife Loreen, who first suggested the estimated $1 million land donation.
“We call my wife (Loreen) … the ‘Iron Lady.’ Throughout our lifetime we don’t dispute what she recommends,” says Hamilton, who received a resounding agreement from their sons.
“Our five sons … we don’t do anything without their approval and every one of them said, ‘What a great legacy,’” he adds.
Once the Hamilton family matriarch suggested the bequest, they never looked back. Originally purchased in 1978, the commercial property – located in the city’s northeast near Hamilton Boulevard – was a gift not only to AHF but the whole community of Airdrie.
“It’s just a wonderful feeling,” says Hamilton. “The people of Airdrie have really patronized any business I’ve been in. We’ve had our ups and downs just like anybody else, but when we’ve been down there’s always been somebody around to help us up.”
Jack Hilton chuckles and turns his head in a move of hesitant denial when being called a local hero.
Despite that, the sharp-as-a-tack 96-year-old veteran has earned a lifetime of accolades for his heroic actions during the Second World War, including the French Legion of Honour Medal for his service on D-Day and 100 flying missions.
Hilton recently decided to tell his story of signing up in 1939 at age 19, becoming a fighter pilot and watching many comrades fall in battle.
“I was young and stubborn, partly Irish, and I wanted to have control of my destiny as much as I could,” says Hilton, as he clutches a copy of his autobiography, The Saga of a Canadian Typhoon Fighter Pilot. “It was the times, the momentum, the excitement, all these things for a 19-year-old.”
More than 100 missions later with the RCAF 438 Fighter Squadron – including flying over Normandy on D-Day, many runs over occupied France in the heavyweight Typhoon and diving on Japanese submarines – Hilton returned to Calgary in 1945.
But not before crashing four times and losing 20 pilots of the 28-man squadron.
“I’m fortunate – I have a four-leaf clover on my shoulder,” says Hilton, who never pondered the mission outcome. “We crashed into France after getting shot down – when your engine is on fire you know damn well there’s something wrong – but you go on operations the next day. You never thought about it – youth is young and stupid.”