Brookman: Angels walk among us, making life better every day

In the years since McTighe began with Renfrew Educational Services, more than 100,000 children have gone through its programs, giving hope to parents and allowing the children to grow to their full potential

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We walk with angels every day. Not those angels that give you butterflies and make you stammer when you see them, but rather those who spend their lives making such a difference that it leaves the rest of us in awe, often wondering how we could have done so little to change the world.

Amid a cacophony of conversations and anger about zoning, carbon taxes, road closures and gasoline prices, I want to talk about an amazing woman and the incredible facility we have in Calgary that should give us all hope for the future.

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Forty years ago, our Rotary Club gave $150,000 to what was then the Renfrew School and it allowed me to meet Janice McTighe. She had created a community kindergarten to help children born with severe physical and mental challenges ranging from autism to severe disabilities. Before McTighe stepped in, the burden of helping these children fell entirely on their parents and teachers who were underequipped and undertrained. McTighe identified the need and began working with these children in the most innovative and unique ways possible. She was their lifesaver and what she was doing 40 years ago was amazing.

This past week, I had a chance to tour the school again, now called Renfrew Educational Services, which has grown to four facilities in Calgary. In the years since McTighe began, more than 100,000 children have gone through its programs, giving hope to parents and allowing the children to grow to their full potential.

To quote some parents: “Walking into Renfrew is like walking into a dream come true.”

I cannot overstate the emotion I felt as I saw children working, learning, playing and using the most advanced equipment to allow them to walk, to see, to listen and to understand. This school provides educational support that allows these children to overcome their disabilities and confidently move forward. This school allows parents, facing dilemmas in child care and worries about the future of their children, to find a new level of hope.

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As I write this, there are 550 children enrolled and a staff of 300 at Renfrew. It is impossible not to see and be touched by what McTighe and the schools have accomplished almost entirely on their own; with a vision and belief that every child is worth helping to have a better future.

I had tears in my eyes.

I was invited to visit to see how much has been accomplished in 40 years and for the leaders to show the need to expand the program. Currently, when a child finishes Grade 6, they have to enter the public school system. The transition is very difficult for both the students and the teachers they rely on.

The new goal for McTighe and her colleagues is to create a high school that will allow these young people to remain where they’re comfortable, and continue to grow and develop in a positive and beneficial way. Beneficial not only to themselves but also to society. They are halfway to their fundraising goal of $30 million and this dynamo McTighe, whom I call an angel, at 84 years old is still driving this campaign with all of the energy of a teenager. She is an inspiration in all possible ways.

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It is unusual for me to use this bit of newspaper space to talk about a specific project, but it seems there is so much controversy in our world that it is sometimes easy to forget what amazing accomplishments are made every day.

No doubt everyone reading this can identify their own “angel” who affects their life, but I could not resist using this moment to remind us all that we live in a wonderful place and that wonderful people are doing great things every day.

George Brookman is the chair and company ambassador of West Canadian Digital.

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