Who is your role model? For Nancy McPhee, it's her mother. Growing up, McPhee recalls her mother's involvement in the community and has to give her credit for the Stephen's Backpacks Organization, which has gained great popularity in Airdrie and the surrounding area.
“She was a single mom with three kids on her own in Toronto. I only saw her volunteering and getting involved. That was my whole life; seeing her help out.”
McPhee, who is the Executive Director for Stephen's Backpacks, says they started the non-profit organization alongside her late husband, to help those in need.
“We’ve been going for about 15 years now; started by our son Stephen when he was five. He was very concerned about children not having their own homes when he overheard a conversation between my husband and me.”
She underlines that her son had made the decision of becoming president of the organization six years ago when her husband had passed.
“He stepped into the president's shoes and as Stephen said, they were big shoes to fill.”
McPhee has always looked onto those around and feels they are so fortunate for the things they do have. Her mother’s involvement in the community especially gave her this mindset.
“I just grew up knowing that we are so blessed with everything that we have. I think, in spite of the darkness around us, each one of us can bring light. My mom always taught me that no matter how tough things were and no matter what storms you face, personally, there are other people out there facing much worse storms.”
This year especially, McPhee has seen an increase in the homeless population all over the country.
Statistics Canada reports more than 235,000 people in Canada experience homelessness in any given year. This year specifically, there is an influx in youth homelessness with about 35,000 to 40,000 youth experiencing homelessness in Canada.
McPhee wants to be able to help as much as she can. Whether that be making backpacks for those in need, or refurbishing a home for a low-income family.
“We hope to do two homes this year. The last one we did was in September of 2021 and it totally made a difference in this family's life.”
McPhee says the most important thing is to get to know the families and take into account they need some light in their life.
“We really personalize each and every room. Because that is what truly makes a home a haven.”
One thing McPhee cannot wait to start up again is the school program they have. Soon she will be going back into schools to advocate for youth to get involved in their community and make it a better place.
“It's really important to educate children of all ages. I try to tell the kids about Stephen's story, it helps get the kids to think about our world outside of their world and how they can really contribute and make the world a better place.”
McPhee had lost her fiancé in the past month and says it’s been very difficult but she just reverts back to her inspiration to stay strong.
“For my mom, it was really difficult for her to come to Toronto with a great education and re-educate herself and have three kids to support, but she did it. I watched her pound that typewriter and get advanced education and then get a really good job and buy a car. I just watched her, marvelled at her strain. Even though I'm going through a very grieving period right now, that's not going to stop me in my storm by trying to spread some light to someone else.”
The community in Airdrie is one McPhee says is unlike any other. She urges people to search their hearts to find the will to help others and bring some of their own light to people who are surrounded by darkness.
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