User Tools (skip):
For most of us, compassion is a powerful sentiment to be sure, but one that rarely touches the people who've inspired it. Yes, we are saddened by the images of faraway starving children that flit uninvited across our TV screens, but we are just as apt to change the channel as we are to reach for our wallet. And while we pay great lip service to the necessity of helping our fellow beings, we still stride past the itinerant on the sidewalk as we bustle through our day.
And then there's Catherine Stace, chair of McGill's 2006 Centraide campaign.
When a call comes in for volunteers, be it to hand out pizza slices to new students during orientation week or to help recent immigrants find jobs, Stace is usually the first one to step forward. "To tell you the truth, I can't tell you how many things I volunteer for," laughs the Career and Placement Service advisor. "I think it's better that way."
One reason it is so hard to keep tabs on Stace's good deeds is that, while much of her volunteer work is with organizations like Girl Guides of Canada and the Canadian Association of Career Educators and Employers, she sometimes works outside official channels.
Years ago, Stace began doing solo work with drug addicts living on the street. Every week, she would do the rounds, checking with her "clientele" in the various abandoned buildings they claimed as home, cleaning them up, feeding them and making sure they had the proper winter clothes to survive. Stace developed a 20-year relationship with one junkie who, with her support, managed to turn his life around. This past summer, she helped the man, now in his 60s, reunite with his family, who believed he had been dead for the past two decades.
Stace comes by her generous spirit naturally. When she was growing up, her mother founded a placement agency and frequently met women who had been abandoned by their husbands, left to fend for themselves while trying to raise a young family. "More often than not, my mother would tell us 'So-and-so is moving in here with her five children just until she can get on her feet,'" remembers Stace.
Not surprisingly, Centraide is an organization particularly dear to Stace's heart. She volunteered to help with the campaign as soon as she started her career at McGill some six years ago. As the new chair, Stace has a pretty good idea of what she brings to the table. "I like to shake things up a bit," she says from her CAPS office. "One of the things I've tackled this year is how we manage donations as they come in." Stace enlisted the help of Trevor Garland, manger of e-business systems at Information Systems Resources. The resulting automated bookkeeping system will significantly reduce human error.
Stace has had the opportunity to meet with many of the community organizations that are gathered beneath the Centraide umbrella. More often than not, she comes away with an even greater desire to help out. "The other week, I was speaking with people who run a lunch program in a Montreal school," says Stace. "They noticed that a seven-year-old girl would only eat the apple and then take the rest of the lunch with her. When they asked her about it, she told them that her mother was sick at home and her baby sister didn't have a lot to eat so she was bringing the food back for them. How can you not be moved by that?"
Her many hours on the frontlines have balanced Stace's optimism with a healthy dose of pragmatism. Clearly she believes that the work done by her and others like her can have a lasting impact on people's lives. But she also understands the cold reality that she is part of a small minority of people committed enough to take action. Although she is proud that McGill raised a record $284,000 for Centraide last year, she is also acutely aware of the discrepancies found within that total. "McGill has a huge employee base — between 9,000 and 12,000 depending on whether you take into account part-time staff," she says. "But only something like 700 people actually donated last year. If people gave just two dollars per pay cheque we'd easily raise $500,000. It really isn't a lot to ask."