May 24th, 2024

Celebrating the difference makers

By Lethbridge Herald Opinion on December 24, 2020.

As I sit down to write this column, the thought that keeps running through my head is “well, we finally made it.”
There can be absolutely no doubt that 2020 has been an incredibly challenging year for our community and for our province. You’ve heard from me in this space before about the challenges facing Alberta – from the need to grow and diversify our economy and create jobs, to the challenge of providing high-quality public services to everyone. While there can be no doubt that there is much that still needs to be done on these and many other issues, I wanted to use this column this month to focus a bit more on the positive things I have seen this year, and the things that give me hope for our province and Lethbridge in particular. 
Over on my Facebook page ( my staff and I have been running an event to show our gratitude to all of the wonderful people who make this city such a remarkable place to live. We asked residents to tell us about friends, neighbours or co-workers who have gone above and beyond over the last few months to help everyone through this incredibly challenging year. We’ve received so many amazing stories, ranging from the small kindnesses between employers and employees, to remarkable feats of online community building to members of clergy going out of their way to make sure that new Canadians are feeling welcome at a time when so many of our social bonds are frayed by distance. Our office was pleased to offer a small, festive token of our gratitude to these folks by dropping off poinsettias to liven up their homes and offices (or home offices, as is often the case now) a bit for the holidays. 
I wanted to take a few column inches to express my own gratitude to these people and the work that they’ve done for our community, and to let readers of this column know a little bit more about these fantastic individuals that have been making life better in our city. Though I can’t shout out everyone who’s made a difference in the lives of their neighbours, there are some that have truly answered the call in new and innovative ways. 
First, I wanted to highlight the work of Volunteer Lethbridge, their staff and the amazing volunteers that they co-ordinate. When COVID began, Volunteer Lethbridge began a new program called “Keep in Touch,” which was designed to meet the needs of local seniors who live alone. When social distancing protocols came in the spring, it became clear that many seniors live alone, and that they didn’t have access to the same technological tools that so many of us take for granted to ask for help, or simply stay connected to friends and family. Seeing a need, Volunteer Lethbridge began this program that paired seniors with screened volunteers who committed to making at least one phone call a week to these seniors to offer social and emotional support in order to make sure seniors were able to access help to get through the feelings of isolation. 
When I heard about this program, I was incredibly touched. A phone call is such a small thing, but it has made such a difference in the lives of these seniors. In a time when so much stress and anxiety has been mounted on our most senior residents, I was so pleased that so many people – young and not-so-young – were taking time out of their day to help and learn from our seniors. If this sounds like something you’d like to help out with, I would encourage you to visit 
Our program recognized so many other great organizations and individuals, including teachers at our schools, folks who ran mutual aid Facebook groups with thousands of members, and organizations that support the survivors of sexual assault. I wanted to mention one other recipient by name, though, to drive home how important it is for all of us to support small local businesses this holiday season. 
One of our heroes was Patricia Johnson from Flair Travel, who was nominated by her employees. Throughout COVID, which has hit the travel industry particularly hard, Patricia stepped up and fought tooth and nail to keep her staff employed, navigating wage subsidies, rent subsidies and loan programs just to make sure that those families who relied on those jobs stayed afloat during the worst of the crisis. Small business owners like Patricia are such an important part of our community and our economy, and I know that there are so many others out there who have fought so hard for their employees throughout this challenging economic time. 
That’s why it’s so important that we support our local businesses this holiday season, and why we should continue to prioritize patronizing our small businesses in the new year. Not only do these folks help to improve the level and variety of services and goods in our town, but they also have strong bonds with patrons and staff that help strengthen our sense of community. I know that I have tried to do as much of my shopping at locally-owned businesses as possible this year, and hope that you’ve been able to as well. 
My staff and I know that this can be a challenging time of year for many of us, despite the festive atmosphere. While you can reach out to us by dialing 403-326-4644 or by emailing, we also wanted to let you know about three government hotlines that provide 24/7 support to Albertans, should you need assistance: 
1. Income Support Contact Centre: 1-866-644-5135
2. Family Violence Info Line: 310-1818
3. Mental Health Help Line: 1-877-303-2642
On behalf of myself and my staff, I want to wish you a very happy and restful holiday season, a Merry Christmas if you celebrate, and all the very best in 2021. 
Shannon Phillips is the NDP MLA for the Lethbridge West riding. Her column appears the fourth Friday of the month.

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