By Mary Shakespeare
When Shelagh Gourlay moved to Cedar in the 1980’s, she could see that Cedar was a community where young families often struggled. Many moved here because it was affordable, but those with limited means found the area lacked supportive resources. Single parent families, for example, couldn’t just jump in the car and drive to town – bus service to Nanaimo, 10 km away, was very limited. So these young families felt isolated. The area did have two churches, many interest groups, and three schools, but the school population was transient – many children shuffled from school to school as families moved in and out of Cedar. There were no preschools, no adult education, health, teen or seniors’ programs. Cedar not only lacked services and activities which would bring people together and encourage a sense of community and direction, it also lacked the leadership to help the community establish these services.
With a vision for something better, Shelagh helped to found the Cedar School & Community Enhancement Society (CSCES) in 1997 “to assist in meeting the needs of the Cedar community, particularly children and families”. With her leadership and her innate ability to involve others, a wide range of services were initiated for children, families and other residents of Cedar.
As Chairperson of CSCES for seven years, Shelagh was a driving force for many new community initiatives, including the new Cedar Community Secondary School, a public internet access site, Youth Summer programs/Activity Day Camp, and a Teen Youth Centre. When talking about CSCES projects her enthusiasm was so contagious that others wanted to become involved. She has a knack for reaching out to diverse people, sharing the vision and involving them. She spots and mobilizes the talents of others and involves them as volunteers, and effectively shares and delegates responsibilities. As she involves others, she mentors and supports people so they grow in their capacities. She keeps the momentum of the group, always with a project on the go. She sustains the momentum by being strategic and imaginative in the use of community energy.
Shelagh’s visionary leadership and hard work benefited our community…the Cedar Heritage Centre, Employment for Youth and Adults, Community Police Station, a playground for young children and programs for seniors.
To achieve these extraordinary accomplishments, Shelagh has attended innumerable meetings to develop and evaluate programs, to speak up for community needs, to research information, write funding applications and involve others. She has been steadfast, and continues to work behind the scenes for the community benefit. Her hard work and caring dedication have helped to meet the needs of Cedar residents and, as a result, our community has benefited enormously from Shelagh’s outstanding service and leadership.
Shelagh Gourlay is also the recipient of the BC Community Citizen of the Year award in 2006.
After decades of dedicated community activism she is moving to Steveston, on ‘the mainland’. She was honoured by a farewell tea (complete with Cedar Women’s Institute’s array of home-baked delights) at the beautiful Cedar Heritage Centre on August 17.