Soaring with Families First
At 18, Jodie Pilkington hesitantly attended a young parents group meeting at Families First. Her mother had heard about the centre and encouraged her to attend. As is quite often the case with other parents, experience in one program led to getting involved in other programs—and eventually, new friendships.
Families First “changed things for me,” says the married, mother of two boys. “I used to really be shy, now I am better at talking with people, making friends. I’ve met so many people.”
I used to really be shy, now I am better at talking with people, making friends. — Jodie Pilkington
With six-year-old Malachy and 18-month-old Ruari, this stay-at-home mom visits the centre almost daily to check in with staff and fellow parents, and attend programs. While her husband Ryan works in Fort McMurray for two-week stretches, support from Families First is important to her everyday— and notably a source of pride. “They have known Malachy since he was six-months-old, and they have always known Ruari—they are like family,” she says of staff and other regular attendees.
Over the years, she has attended several of the programs such as Books for Babies, Park Attack, ABC Camp and also uses the toy lending library regularly. When in town, Ryan attends too. “It is really fun. I have learnt a lot. I really like the young parents group, community kitchens. We all like going there.”
Jodie came here from England with family when she was sixteen. While her brother lives in town, her parents and two other siblings moved back. She is presently working towards her Canadian Citizenship. She hopes to stay home until Ruari attends kindergarten.
With her husband Steve away on two tours in Afghanistan, Allison Smith found herself connecting with staff and other parents at Families First. Their three children were still quite young. They were all new to Fort Saskatchewan—having moved from Mantioba when Steve was stationed at CFB Edmonton.
“It was nice to know there was always someone to call—even if I wasn’t asking for help,” she says. “I know Families First was always there to do anything for anyone, they still are. I am grateful and I just want to give back.”
For the past six years, this professional photographer and Mix107 newscaster has done just that—using her communication know-how to get the word out about Families First; managing the website, producing the newsletter and taking photographs. She has also secured space for programs within the community.
Her inspiration? “Being part of a solution,” she says. “I choose to give my time.” Whether one gives time or funds, she believes being involved in community is vital. That it makes a difference for everyone.
Her commitment to service is at her core— despite a busy family and work life. She is also the president of Fort Gymnastics, and a regular contributor to several other organizations such as the Fort Saskatchewan Canada Day Celebrations. Her son Alex is now 17, her daughters Meigen and Emily are 15-years-old and 11-years-old; and her husband commutes from Saskatoon where he is currently stationed.
In South Africa, there exists this idea, this way of thinking, called Ubuntu. It means that in a collective society, we realize that we are all connected. We need each other.
Today you might need my help, and then tomorrow, I might be asking you for help. And that’s ok. It’s ok to ask for help because we are all here for each other, and because of each other.
But asking for help, can be hard. And over the past months, Families First has asked a lot of you, our village.
You hung in there with us when there was no room to move, you supported us in our search and ultimate success in finding a new home, and you’re with us today. A building is just a building without friends and family in – because of you, our new Families First building has become our Families First home.
And then there was our $500,000 fundraising goal! Our first official fundraiser was July 1st, Canada Day, and since then – in just 9 months, we exceeded our goal by raising more than $551, 000! That’s not including the hundreds of volunteer hours contributed or materials donated in kind.
Look around you! This place is full of strength and wisdom, resiliency and love. It’s full of people who believe in their community. People who believe in giving back. People who believe, in us.
And in the spirit of Ubuntu, we are, and will continue to be here for you, as we have been for the past 18 years.
Thank you for believing that Families First was the right organization to get behind at the right time.
Thank you for believing in yourselves and in each other.
And Thank you for helping us grow.
This is our village! UBUNTU!
– Heather Boonstra, Executive Director