Our Lady of Victory Parish congratulates Sheila O’Kane, recipient of the 2017 Municipal and Community Affairs Award for Outstanding Volunteer in the Elder category. Each year MACA recognizes the outstanding contribution volunteers make to their communities across the Northwest Territories through the Outstanding Volunteer Awards Program. MACA presents the Outstanding Volunteer Awards to individuals and groups who have helped improve the quality of life in the NWT through volunteerism.
Sheila is originally from New Brunswick and grew up in a rural area near a little town called North Tetagouche. Here she was the second youngest in a family with 4 children, all of them girls. It was through her family and the atmosphere of a small town that Sheila came to know what it meant to be generous and caring. “In a small town you are just neighborly, Sheila remarked, “we grew up with people coming and going all the time.”
One of Sheila’s memories from her childhood was signing up for the Columbia Record Club with her sisters. One of the vinyl records that made an impression on her was a song with the chorus, “It’s fun to be generous, it’s nice to be kind, it’s fun to be generous so keep this in mind.” Those words, which have stayed in Sheila’s mind all these years, became a kind of soundtrack for her life as she made her way from the verdant east coast all the way to the forests and tundra of the frozen north.
Sheila came north as a teacher working in various communities over the course of a dozen years; places such as Hay River, Inuvik, Lutselke, Yellowknife, Whati, and Tsiigehtchic were a part of her introduction to the Northwest Territories and, for now at least, Inuvik is where she calls home.
Sheila’s paid job is as a counselor at the Aurora College where she provides a listening ear, good advice and a helping hand to students from across the western Arctic, some of who have never been outside of their small communities before. Sheila goes above and beyond and exercises great creativity and patience navigating the many interesting situations that arise in her work. One of the more recent being; where to find room and board for a grown Pitbull dog that wasn’t allowed to stay with its owner in the student residence.
Some of Sheila’s prolific volunteer work in Inuvik is in Our Lady of Victory Parish where she is a member of the parish council and one of the coordinators of the Community Kitchen which serves soup and sandwiches to the homeless member of our town. She is also a founding board member of the Inuvik Emergency Warming Centre Society which oversees the John Wayne Kiktorak Centre providing shelter during the winter months for the homeless, particularly those with alcohol addiction who have few other options.
Sheila finds that it is very important to also support other volunteers. “A volunteer is only effective if they are supported by other volunteers. The people I work with are municipal, territorial, and federal so they cover a wide range and all must work together.” She admits that she is a little embarrassed by the award, “I am aware of how many other volunteers who do a whole lot. Service groups and many others that I don’t even know about. I wanted to say thank you to all of them.”
When asked what motivates her to keep serving her community when she already has a busy life Sheila responds that her primary motivation is her faith, “St. Francis says preach the gospel using words only when necessary.” As far as words of wisdom, two quotes came to mind. “It is better to light a candle then to curse the darkness” and “Happiness is only possible when you abandon all hope of a better past”.
We are grateful to Sheila for her selfless contribution to our parish and community, she truly is light to all of us and an example of what it means to work hard for a better tomorrow.