Morinville – For the past 18 years the St. Albert Bahá’í community has sponsored an annual celebration of United Nations International Women’s Day by recognizing the contributions women make to society. Those contributions include generosity of spirit, courage, creativity, determination, steadfastness, leadership, enthusiasm, love, caring, and other attributes that enrich the communities in which they live. This year, three Morinville women will receive applause for their efforts towards those aims. Brandi Robertson, Rebecca Balanko and Kaileen Chisholm are among six women to be honoured in St. Albert at a special ceremony Mar. 8.
The recognition, in addition to covering women of all ages, also covers a wide variety of categories. This year the committee sought entrants in multiple categories: health, education, multicultural, Aboriginal initiatives, unsung heroine, science, the arts and youth empowerment. Nominators also had an opportunity to identify exceptional women who did not fall into one of the identified categories.
Morinville resident Rebecca Balanko was selected as the recipient in the Youth Empowerment category. She was nominated by Dayna Hryhirchuk, Nicholas Valcourt and former Women’s Day award recipient Sarah Hall.
Balanko is the creator of the G.I.R.L.S. (Girls in Real Life Situations) program, which she has run successfully in Morinville and other communities in Sturgeon County. Balanko’s program provides self-awareness and coping strategies for daily life to girls from Grades 5 to 12. The program also deals with social and positive peer relationships. The GIRLS program encompasses a variety of activities, including guest speakers presenting information about eating disorders, sibling rivalry, struggles at school, body image, self-care and random acts of kindness, all provided in a safe and trusting environment for the girls involved.
The program came as a result of Balanko’s work as a Community Resource program coordinator for Sturgeon School Division. Through her job she realized some girls were struggling and that bullying is a common occurrence. Seeing a lack of emotional and social support among young women, she approached the Town of Morinville about running the workshop. Her nominators say the program has been well received and that 500 young girls between the ages of 6 to 18 have been helped in Morinville and Sturgeon County alone.
In addition to her work with the G.I.R.L.S. program, Balanko has volunteered as a board member with the Jessica Martel Memorial Foundation.
Balanko said she was surprised to be nominated but pleased to have been honoured by women she respects and admires. Last year, she nominated two women because many had felt their impact. “Finding out I was indeed the chosen recipient of such an award left me thankful and humble,” she said. “There is no greater feeling then making your mark on so many young people, building them up, allowing their voices to be heard, and seeing their social and emotional skills develop in a powerful way.
“I am in the business of humanizing people and situations, I am still in awe of the nominations, but so humbled by the beautiful recognition.”
Balanko said passion has been the driving force behind her G.I.R.L.S. classes. As the child of two social workers she said she feels like she was born to advocate. “I have an older sister with severe disabilities and I felt like her advocate from a very early age,” Baanko said. “Advocacy is who I am and, thankfully, what I do. I believe when we treat people with respect and allow them to have a voice – they become who they are meant to be.”
The educator and empowerment advocate said she is not certain winning the award will change her future work, but it will be a part of her future groups. One of the sessions in the G.I.R.L.S. program is called Women Who Rock. Balanko feels the award will give her additional confidence in teaching that session as someone others consider to be a Woman Who Rocks.
Other local winners included Brandi Robertson and Kaileen Chisholm. Other International Women’s Day award recipients include Eryl Jones of St. Albert, a woman who was nominated in both the Education and Senior categories, and Corissa Tymafichuk and Andrea Payne, two young women who were nominated in the Human Rights category for their work with the Paul Kane Social Justice League in raising awareness of human trafficking.
Opportunity to attend celebration
The celebration event will be held Mar. 8 at 7:30 p.m. at the Cornerstone Hall in St. Albert. Admission is by donation with a suggested donation of $10 at the door. Proceeds from the event will be donated to “Because I am a Girl”, a global initiative of Plan Canada to end gender inequality, promote girls’ rights and lift millions of girls – and everyone around them. To reserve a seat please call Mitra at 780-458-5214 or Elaine at 780-460-2151.