Meg Bernard – We All Need A Place Where Hope Finds Help

Every day at Bissell Centre, we are grateful for the inspiring support we receive from volunteers. Meg Bernard became acquainted with Bissell Centre while volunteering for the Grade 9 Leadership Class at Riverbend Junior High – with whom we have formed a long standing and successful partnership.

What makes Meg’s story so compelling is the dedication that she shows to her family and her community.  She creates the space to volunteer despite the time demands of a young family affected by autism, spinal complications, tourette’s, OCD and herself – Parkinson’s disease.  It is her drive and enthusiasm for a better future that motivates her to volunteer.

“When I see ‘Where Hope Finds Help’ it brings to mind the difficult times in my life when I have been clinging to hope and needed the help of others to come out on the other side.  I have lived a comfortable life, but there are many times when I have needed help, kindness, forgiveness, love, and someone to lean on.  When I look at the participants at Bissell Centre, I can see myself in them.  We all need a place where our hope finds help.

I believe in Bissell Centre’s mission to ‘empower people to move from poverty to prosperity’.  If I can use the gifts and talents that I have been blessed with to help empower the participants of Bissell Centre then I feel that I have made a worthwhile contribution to the community and have made a genuine difference in the world.”

Meg has made a remarkable difference in her community.  In addition to her work with Riverbend Junior High, she provides entertainment at Bissell Centre events and plays a key role in the fundraising efforts for our upcoming Bissellebration Gala on May 5.

“I have been blessed with a great life and God gave me gifts and talents that I can use to help others.  My goal is to use these gifts to help others find the same joy, safety, security and happiness that I am fortunate enough to have.  I am grateful to have a place like Bissell Centre to help me on my journey to achieve these goals.  I look forward to a long relationship with Bissell Centre.”

CEO Appointment


Message from Bissell Centre’s Board of Governors

Dear Staff, Colleagues and Friends of Bissell Centre:

It is with great pleasure that we announce the selection of Mark Holmgren, Bissell Centre’s current Interim CEO, as the new permanent, full time CEO – effective March 15, 2012.  After an extensive search, selection process and valuable input from the Bissell Centre staff, Mark was chosen for his experience in the non-profit sector and proven leadership success.

Mark stepped into the role of Interim CEO only nine months ago and has been successfully leading Bissell Centre through a time of transition with our new vision and mission, as well as a number of organizational changes.  Transitions in organizations can be difficult, especially when it involves a change in leadership. We believe that it is because of Mark’s skills and expertise that we were able to make this transition occur smoothly.  Mark has proven to be an inclusive and transparent leader who values input from every individual at Bissell Centre and we are confident he will continue to do so in his new role of Chief Executive Officer.

Mark’s experience includes serving as a consultant to many local non-profit organizations as well as governments, holding senior positions with United Way of Alberta Capital Region, and serving as the Executive Director of Operation Friendship.  In Mark’s own words, “I am excited and humbled to be given the opportunity to continue to lead the caring and talented group at Bissell Centre.  I am passionate about our vision to eliminate poverty in our community and confident in our ability to be innovative as well as provide high quality services to our community members.”

On behalf of the Board of Governors, we feel very fortunate to have Mark as Bissell Centre’s leader and we thank the staff for their important role in helping to select our new CEO.

Best Regards,

Phil O’Hara
Board Chair, Bissell Centre

Homeless People Aren’t Lazy Bums

Guest Blogger:  Karen Lee, photojournalist
It’s a common stereotype: Homeless people are too lazy to work and live off of handouts from the government. Yes, there are people like that, but it’s rarely the case. It’s not often we hear about the people who actually want to make an honest living, and perhaps even change their lives.

There is often a long line of people at Bissell Centre’s Employment Services’ Casual Labour office. It’s so popular that they have a Bingo Ball system in place so that everyone gets a fair chance for the day’s jobs.  Jobs are in high demand. There are usually more people than jobs available. And they are more than willing to work for a lower-than-industry standard wage.  They are willing to travel an hour or more by transit to get to these jobs. They are prepared to sweat and get their hands dirty.

After spending a period of time with some of the workers, I have gained a new form of respect for the clients that apply to work in Casual Labour. The work they do isn’t easy.  These aren’t cushy office jobs. The available jobs are often physically laborious and repetitive. The work environment isn’t always pretty. One of the places I visited was a scrap metal yard. It was understandably dirty and muddy.  It was a brisk winter day, yet the workers

did not complain once or ask to go inside to warm up.   The work is tedious and tiresome, but they don’t seem to mind. It is evident that they are hardworking and dedicated. Mario, a worker in his 60s, was impressive. He could barely speak English and didn’t have the same energy or stamina as his co-worker in his 20s, but he did his best to earn his wage for the day.  And he does it with a smile.  I can tell he is grateful to have a job, even if it’s just temporary.

I also spent time at a lumber mill. Bissell Centre has partnered with this company for over 10 years and they have had quite a few success stories.  There are many great things about this company. One being that Bissell’s clients have the opportunity to train and work as permanent staff.  For the highly motivated and determined, this is life changing! With a permanent job, they can get better housing and not worry about their next meal. They can support themselves and their family.  They can have a sense of dignity and self-respect. 

There are lots of able-bodied, hardworking individuals in the Bissell community looking for work. Will you give them a chance?  Bissell Centre is always looking for employers to partner with their Casual Labour program.  Please contact Employment Services at 780.424.4385.

Thanks Karen for volunteering your time and talent to Bissell Centre. It is only through working together that we will be able to fulfill our vision of eliminating poverty in our community. 

If you or anyone you know are interested in being a Guest Blogger on topics such as homelessness, poverty, unemployment, change, human services, food services, mental health, Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder, or any other relevant topic, please feel free to contact Kristen Clark, Marketing & Communications Manager at kclark@bissellcentre.org.

Poverty Costs in Alberta

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Alberta is one of three provinces without a poverty reduction strategy. We already know the human costs of living in poverty. A recent report outlines the economic costs as well: Poverty Costs: An Economic Case for a Preventative Poverty Reduction Strategy in Alberta.

If you are interested in learning more or wish to get involved in how to end poverty in Alberta, visit Action to End Poverty in Alberta.

Consider Joining the Call for an Alberta Poverty Reduction Strategy; there is a petition there for individuals as well as organizations.

If you are interested in working with us here at Bissell to address poverty and homelessness, please contact us.  We welcome you!

Teens Against Poverty Put on an Unforgettable Concert

March 1st was a night that many students, volunteers, and Edmontonians will never forget.  Grade Nine Leadership Students at Riverbend Junior High School, along with help from Grade Eight Leadership Students and all other class rooms, as well as volunteers, organized and hosted an impressive concert and silent auction – Benefit for Bissell 2012, presented by Lexus of Edmonton – at the beautiful Citadel Theatre. 
As guests arrived they were escorted upstairs to the silent auction tables where 65 items were on display for bidding.  Among the most notable were a signed Ryan Nugent-Hopkins jersey, a signed Taylor Hall jersey, a hot air balloon ride, numerous gift baskets and other fabulous items donated by local businesses.

Local performers (listed below) donated their time and talent to ensure the students reached their goal of raising $15,000 for Bissell Centre and in support of our vision to eliminate poverty in our community. 

Maren Ord – Juno nominee
– Livy Jeanne – award winning country singer/songwriter
– Madi AmyotteThe Next Star finalist
Martin KerrCanadian Idol contestant
Jeff Ramsey – local musician

The night’s host, Ryan Jespersen from Citytv’s Breakfast Television, was entertaining as always.  Also in attendance was Mayor Stephen Mandel who delivered an inspirational message about youth leadership and ending poverty in Edmonton, and Honourable Dave Hancock, Minister of Human Services who gave a speech about addressing the issues of homelessness as a community.

Year after year Riverbend Jr. High continues to raise money for Bissell Centre by organizing coin drives, hot lunches, dances, and much more.  This year they were able to exceed their fundraising goal for the Benefit for Bissell Concert by securing sponsorships, numerous donations, selling tickets to the event, and through a well organized silent auction.  Their hard work paid off and they raised approximately $23,000 for Bissell Centre!

We are extremely grateful and continuously impressed by the kind hearts and leadership skills of the students at Riverbend Jr. High School.  Keep up the great work class, these skills will take you very far in your life!