Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of June 21, 1999
From single mom to senator
CSS honours Metis advocate Thelma Chalifoux
By ANH HOANG
WCR Staff Writer
When Thelma Chalifoux was a young single mother, scraping by to put food on the table for her seven children, she took to heart the words of her parents who said "If you keep the faith, you'll make it."
"And we made it," said Chalifoux, 70, to a crowd of 300 at the June 11 annual meeting of Catholic Social Services.
Chalifoux is the winner of this year's Msgr. Bill Irwin Award of Excellence. The award is named after CSS's founder.
Chalifoux has made it as the first Metis woman in Canada's Senate.
She has made it as the first Metis to chair the National Metis Senate and the Senate Constitution Commission.
"When I look at this award, I must not forget where I come from and who I'm working for," Chalifoux said.
The people she's working for are those in low-income communities where she herself walked as a resident.
In his presentation remarks, Father James Holland of Sacred Heart Church of the First Peoples, recalls Chalifoux's life-long work in the community.
"She looked after her own family. Then she moved on to look after her family, the Metis people. She has moved on to look after her family, which is this province. Then she moved to look after this nation."
When asked why she has spent years lobbying for funding and an increased social services program, Chalifoux says, "How can you ask such a question? It's something we all should do.
"It's a humbling experience to do things for others. That's part of life. If you don't help others, you die."
Chalifoux is recognized as one of Canada's most ardent advocates of Metis culture and identity.
"She walks the talk," said Chalifoux's son, Robert Coulter. "There are no skeletons in her closet. All the things she said she wanted to do, she's done.
"This is an award of excellence and integrity. It's really true for her. She's helped every person that's come in contact with her."
At 25, Chalifoux was abandoned by an abusive husband. She had a Grade 9 education and seven young children. But living by her belief that "the good Lord will look after us," she completed her schooling and raised her family.
"She's been through it all," Coulter said. "She's been there and knows what it's like to be a single mother. There wasn't Catholic Social Services back then. That's why she thinks it's so important now."
With a $29-million budget, CSS is the largest agency of its kind in Canada. Founded in 1961, the agency offers a variety of services and programs including residential and foster care for youths, language and employment programs for new immigrants, counselling for families, support for the disabled and training programs for young offenders.
CSS president Al Pierog said the past year has seen a slew of new programs, bringing the total of CSS programs to 112.
They include expansion of the Diversion Program, which supports families experiencing problems in the home, support for Kosovar refugees, academic programs for immigrant youth in the inner city and Millwoods, and working with local agencies to develop Protective Safe House, a refuge for teen prostitutes.
While the agency has well-rooted programs for children and families, Pierog said it is increasing its seniors' programs.
"Our agency has identified needs with the elderly as an emerging challenge and we have begun to respond," Pierog said.
Last year, the agency, in collaboration with Edmonton City Police and the city's community service department developed the Elder Abuse Intervention Team to prevent elder abuse and intervene when it does occur.
The annual meeting also honoured six CSS volunteers. They are:
. Yvette Boisvert, a volunteer with the Host Program, offering support to immigrants, for the past six years.
. Michael Boyd who promotes programs and activities for the developmentally disabled.
. Jean Mucha, a volunteer for 10 years and a driving force behind the Elderly Adult Resources Service program, which looks at elder abuse.
. Kevin Murphy, principal of Archbishop O'Leary High School and a nine-year volunteer who chaired the 1998 Sign of Hope Campaign which raised $1.34 million.
. Margaret Roche, the former CSS social worker has volunteered with the agency for the past 13 years and is also a member of the Advisory Committee.
. Chantal Roy who volunteers as a human resources clerk 18 hours a week.
The meeting also recognized retiring board members Dan Gau, Bish Chrzanowski and Father Michael Toner as well as new members Randy Abele, Tony Balace and Sister Germaine Hetu.