Submitted by Andrea Patrick.
I tried my best to shield my young sons from the terrible news of the Fort McMurray fire, which seemed to get worse on an hourly basis. I knew that my seven-year-old son would have a lot of questions and concerns. He had recently started to pay attention to the world around him; I saw his sad glances towards homeless people we passed on the street. During the holidays, he had started asking to donate his toys to other children, and he recently experienced the loss of two family members to chronic disease.
My efforts to protect him from the Fort McMurray tragedy failed. He noticed the smoke in the skies. He wanted to know where the fires were coming from. This series of questions, much like an effective cross-examination, soon led him to the truth: A major community of our province was on fire. Families were displaced. These families were coming to Edmonton looking for respite and assistance. The situation was bleak. People were homeless. They had lost everything.
Before I could even finish telling him that we could volunteer to help evacuees at Lister Centre at the University of Alberta, he instructed me to sign him up. His little brother, four-year-old Marlowe, chimed in that he wanted to help as well.
On Saturday, May 15, 2016, at 6 a.m., we arrived at Lister Centre and took our places in the Dining Hall, greeting tired and hungry evacuees as they arrived to eat breakfast.
Beck and Marlowe said hello to everyone who came through the line, shaking hands and eliciting genuine smiles from everyone who passed them.
It soon became apparent that there were many new children to play with at Lister!
Beck and Marlowe made friends immediately and the group soon disappeared to the gym.
After completing my shift, I set out to find them.
In the gym, there was a lively game of soccer going on.
The spark of volunteerism was obviously lit within these young boys on that day.
They walked taller in their knowledge that even young kids could help when needed. And there was an additional silver lining in the smoky clouds: One of the friends Beck had made at Lister was placed in his class at McKernan School.
I commend my children for their willing commitment to help, and their early acknowledgement that even a game of soccer can bring joy to those who may have lost hope. They helped in their way, and it was apparent that their efforts made a tangible difference.