Three decades of caring

To spend 30 years dedicated to one particular cause today is remarkable. But to spend that length of time working in the non-profit sector — and loving every minute of it — is truly cause for celebration.

Last week, Big Brothers Big Sisters of Pictou County marked a milestone when the organization celebrated 30 years of leadership by executive director Margie Grant-Walsh.

Born and raised in Pictou County, Grant-Walsh grew up knowing the value of hard work and determination. Her father was a coal miner, so there was certainly no extra money. Her desire for a university education was a distant dream, unless she could make it happen on her own.

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So she did.

“I always knew I wanted to work with under-privileged or handicapped children, children who were challenged, in some way,” Grant-Walsh said.

She worked hard in school. “There were not a lot of scholarships or bursaries to help me continue with my education. But I earned a few at graduation from West Pictou District High School.”

She took a year off and worked, earning the money she needed to complete her education at Mount St. Vincent University.

When she finished, she took a job as program co-ordinator with what was then the Kinsmen Opportunity Centre and is now Summer Street in New Glasgow. She thoroughly enjoyed her time there, but became a victim of government funding cutbacks. She also worked as a teacher’s aid as well as for Highland Community Residential Services before finally taking the job with Big Brothers Big Sisters of Pictou County.

Interestingly enough, she points out, when she interviewed for the job, current New Glasgow Mayor Nancy Dicks sat on the board. “Now, wherever I go, I can look around the room and there is always someone there who I can associate as having served on the Big Brothers Board or who was a Big Brother or Sister.”

Looking back and shaking her head she laughed, “I thought I bombed that interview.”

But she did not and the rest is history.

A lot has changed with the organization over the years. When Grant-Walsh first started with the agency she did the frontline work but everything in between as well. It went from being a one-woman operation located above the old TD bank in downtown New Glasgow where her only equipment was a telephone and an old, manual typewriter, to the current location on Stellarton Road which is bursting at the seams with several staff members caring for more than 345 ‘littles’ and organizing fundraisers to try to keep up with the ever-increasing demand.

Through three decades, Grant-Walsh has worked hard to shine a light on the organization and the Pictou County children who depend on the services and supports it supplies.

The organization has continued to grow over the years. Standards for it have strengthened (with police checks and probation checks, etc.), parameters for making matches have changed from strictly traditional matches to couples matches and more, and new programs like In-School Mentoring, Peer Mentoring, Kids ‘n Kops, Game On and Go Girls have been added to allow the organization to continue to provide mentoring to children and youth. Fundraisers have also increased, due to need, to include an annual dinner theatre and silent auction event, production of a calendar and the addition of popular the Big Bucks lottery to complement the perennial favourite Bowl for Kids Sake fundraiser coming up April 8.

Still, the same challenges exist for the organization, as they do for other non-profit groups: the constant need for fundraising and dedicated volunteers.

Grant-Walsh is quick to credit others with the success of the organization she manages.

“I like to brag that I surround myself with competent people,” Grant-Walsh praises her colleagues and her board. “It truly takes a village.”

Today, Grant-Walsh is married to Vernon and they will celebrate a milestone in their lives in August — 30 years of marriage. “I was in the middle of planning my wedding when I took the job,” she smiled.

She has two grown stepsons who live away and more than 345 children. “Maybe more when you consider the children on our waiting list,” she laughed.

She is proud of the fact that she and her family were able to make a life here.

There is no slowing down for this dynamo.

“There are still some things I want to accomplish for the kids before I retire,” she said. “I have some dreams for those kids, they have dreams of their own, and I want to help with them.”

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Jackie Jardine
Jackie is a Pictou County native and proud graduate of St. Francis Xavier University. She is a writer, editor and fledgling home cook. She has been in the newspaper business for almost three decades and jokes that she started when she was in her teens! She enjoys traveling, socializing and volunteering in her community.