Special Moments

“Volunteers don’t get paid, not because they’re worthless, but because they’re priceless.”

Sherry Anderson

We are proud to recognize Osler, Hoskin & Harcourt LLP, a community partner, and sponsor that has made a big difference in the lives of our clients over the past year. The firm has been a key supporter of Wings of Hope for many years, including acting as the title sponsor at our principal fundraising event. This year, as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, this important fundraising event was canceled, leaving Wings of Hope to pivot our fundraising strategies as quickly as possible to ensure our clients could continue to receive support. 

When Wings of Hope reached out to Osler during this challenging time, it was without hesitation that Osler agreed to provide financial support, even without an event to sponsor. Its generosity and unwavering assistance came at a time when the volunteers at Wings of Hope were truly unsure how to best ensure clients remained supported. Osler’s response deeply moved and encouraged members of our organization to recognize just how helpful our community and supporters can be in a time of need; and we are happy to report that in 2020, thanks to supporters like Osler, no client has been turned away.

We spoke with Brian Thiessen, the Managing Partner of Osler’s Calgary office, and Osler partner Craig Spurn, about the firm’s decision to get involved and its longstanding commitment to giving back. They explained that even from the early days of the firm, Osler has been dedicated to making a difference to support and improve the quality of life in the communities in which its members live and work.  

This support includes providing pro bono legal advice, volunteering, or giving financially, both at an individual and firm-level. Many of its partners, associates, and staff are personally involved in efforts that extend well beyond advisory and advocacy roles, serving on boards, actively promoting causes, contributing to fundraising efforts, and much more. Fostering a firm-wide culture of “giving back” and equal opportunity, the firm also sponsors and participates in numerous initiatives and programs to empower the diverse members of our communities and to help to create real and lasting change.

When asked what inspired Osler to become involved with Wings of Hope in the first place, Craig and Brian stated that it was the organization’s “emphasis on helping individual lives in real-time.” 

“We are extremely proud to assist Wings of Hope in its mission to support cancer patients on their road to recovery and to help enable its volunteers to continue the important work they do in our community,” said Brian. 

For Brian and Craig, there was nothing more powerful than the personal testimonials of clients heard at our annual luncheons — especially in hearing that “a grant from Wings of Hope literally changes a life.” 

They both hope that more individuals and firms are willing to share their stories of support so that more people can understand the complexities of cancer treatment and the importance of Wings of Hope to those in need. They also hope others will consider how much of a relief financial assistance can provide to those dealing with an illness that knows no boundaries — and that we never have to turn a client away. 

With supporters like Osler, we will do our best to fulfill that hope and never turn away someone in need who qualifies for our programming. We thank Osler for its generosity and unwavering commitment to its community — and for making a difference in our clients’ lives. 

Lori Colwell is a retired grandmother of one baby boy. She sings in a choir, volunteers at Rockyview Hospital, and enjoys keeping active through yoga, walking, and golf.

Lori chose to become involved with Wings of Hope because it is 100% volunteer-run and it directly supports patients who are struggling with paying rent, putting food on the table, and getting to their appointments. Lori served as a board member of Wings of Hope as the Director of Programs and worked with the Augmented Financial Assistance Program committee for three years.

Lori wishes more people understood how financially strapped patients can become as they go through cancer treatments. Not being able to work, not having health coverage or employment insurance can be devastating to families as they navigate the cancer journey. Lori fondly remembers how appreciative all of the clients she assisted were that Wings of Hope helped them pay their bills and put groceries on the table for their families.

After Lori left Wings of Hope, she felt it was important to continue to bring awareness to new segments of the population about the good work of Wings of Hope so she started Warriors of Hope. Warriors of Hope tries to do that by holding an annual yoga event (Yogis R Warriors) to raise awareness of the Wings of Hope charity to yoga enthusiasts who know the importance of yoga to physical and mental health and how yoga can play such an important part of healing from cancer.

Warriors of Hope has raised over $26,000 for Wings of Hope over the past two years through their annual yoga event. This year the annual yoga event had to be canceled due to the Covid-19 crisis. However, Lori encouraged her sponsors, SunLife Financial and Susan Rust Realtor, to donate their sponsorship money to Wings of Hope, which they generously did. Warriors of Hope is also encouraging all of their friends and supporters who are financially able to please consider making a donation directly to Wings of Hope.

Angie Cameron and her dog, Gizmo, have a bond unlike any other, “he’s my little lifesaver”. Angie explained that Gizmo detected her tumour by aggressively pawing at her chest for over a month, prompting her to move up her yearly scheduled mammogram. In April of 2019, Angie was diagnosed with invasive ductal carcinoma stage 2 grade C, an aggressive type of breast cancer. Angie had surgery and began treatment at the end of May 2019, leaving her and her family with little time to prepare for the challenging road ahead. 

To make matters worse, Angie’s family had recently experienced a series of unfortunate setbacks, including two car accidents and multiple injuries (resulting in periodic unemployment).  Angie explained that when you live paycheque to paycheque, it’s hard to build a nest egg: “every time we were able to put something extra away, it seemed something bad would happen; erasing our savings”.

To add to the stress, following Angie’s diagnosis, her father underwent triple bypass surgery and two of her four beloved pooches passed away (not Gizmo).  To help manage their finances, Angie and her husband moved to a smaller apartment, but Angie explains they still risked homelessness, as bills piled up.

Although Angie worked to connect low-income and homeless people with resources in the community for over 15 years; it never occurred to Angie to ask for help for herself.  Then one day, she was put in touch with the social workers at Tom Baker Cancer Centre, who in turn connected her with Wings of Hope.  Angie describes the financial assistance from Wings of Hope as “a saviour”.

Wings of Hope allowed Angie to keep her home by paying her rent for 3.5 months; it also allowed Angie to purchase healthier foods from the grocery store – which tend to be more expensive than the less healthy processed items.  Angie explained, “if you don’t have the emotional and financial help during your treatment, you’re out of luck, and I don’t know how I would have done it without all of the support” from organizations like Wings of Hope. 

Angie wants to share her story so that more people can understand that extreme financial stress caused by an illness can happen to anyone – and that the assistance Wings of Hope provides is critical to helping people through. 

Angie returned to work in March and will find out in June of this year how well the surgery and treatment have worked. Gizmo remains her faithful companion and hasn’t pawed at her chest since the surgery.

Honored and humbled, Diana Kalef began our interview with emotion and pride “I never could have imagined Wings of Hope being where it is today”. 25 years ago, Diana recognized that breast cancer patients needed help dealing with day to day financial stresses. Today her legacy lives on and continues to flourish.

Diana considers herself lucky, she has never had breast cancer. However, 25 years ago a close family friend received a diagnosis and the impact the illness had on her friend and family got her thinking – “Breast Cancer can turn your world upside down. You do not need to have Breast Cancer to empathize with how stressful any illness can be”.

Her kindness and concern for others led her to the psychosocial department of the Tom Baker Cancer Centre where she asked – “what do patients need?” She quickly learned that patients were in dire need of support for necessities beyond treatment. Patients undergoing treatment are exhausted, and it is hard for them to focus on anything other than treatment. Everyday finances – like maintaining the expenses of a house, or purchasing medication not covered by healthcare, was impossible for some patients. Once she became aware of the need, she couldn’t turn a blind eye – “What can we do right now? Research is important, but what can we do to step in right now to help those going through it.” And with this, the idea of Wings of Hope was born.

Diana hopes that people reading this understand that you never know what people are going through. The impact of financial relief can be extreme, and we can’t ignore the fact that there is a need for assistance. She has been so moved by stories highlighting the impact of Wings of Hope, most recently from one client who said that they would not have had milk in the fridge without Wings of Hope. “You never know what someone is going through – the extra stresses. We must continue to provide support to those that are struggling”.

Diana is no longer involved in the day to day management of Wings of Hope, but she continues to assist where she can from the sidelines. She is so moved that people care enough to carry on helping even without her at the helm. It demonstrates the importance of the work, that it wasn’t just her that cared, but that once other people understood the cause, they too became committed to paying it forward.

Wings of Hope is Diana’s legacy. It is her hope that Wings of Hope carries on into perpetuity, and that it continues to attract impactful sponsors and committed volunteers allowing it to help as many people as possible.

Shawn and Judy Denstedt have lived in Calgary for the past 32 years, and are ardent supporters of the community.  They have two grown children, a daughter and a son. 

Shawn serves as the Vice Chair of Western Canada for Osler, Hoskin & Harcourt LLP, a leading business law firm practising internationally from offices across Canada and in New York.  Shawn and Judy are well-known in Calgary for their philanthropic efforts, and as part of those efforts, have supported Wings of Hope for over a decade. 

In addition to Shawn and Judy’s personal commitment to Wings of Hope, Osler (Shawn’s firm) has been an incredible support to the organization, having been the Title Sponsor of the signature Wings of Hope luncheon from 2017-2019. 

As a result of the Covid-19 pandemic, Wings of Hope indefinitely postponed this year’s 2020 luncheon, our marquee fundraising event and key means of how we raise funds to support clients.  Knowing that our clients would need Wings of Hope more than ever, Shawn and Judy put their heart on their sleeve and made a very generous personal donation of $10,000 to help Wings of Hope weather the storm.  Wings of Hope remains in awe and gratitude at this donation. 

$10,000 will have an incredible and immediate impact; this amount will fully fund two patients’ grants – which means two individuals undergoing (or who have recently undergone) breast cancer treatment and who are simultaneously battling poverty will have the financial burden lifted in respect of their basic necessities; something no one should have to worry about amidst a health crisis. 

Although Shawn and Judy also appreciate the great work of many cancer research charities, the immediate and significant impact of Wings of Hope is one of the reasons Shawn and Judy chose to support it; another reason is that the cause touches close to home.  

Wings of Hope’s strong relationship and established process with the social workers at Tom Baker Cancer Centre; which ensures that those who need Wings of Hope most, receive that help; combined with the fact that Wings of Hope is 100% volunteer-run further motivated Shawn and Judy to donate.  Wings of Hope is proud of the fact that over 95% of all donations make their way straight into the hands of those who need it most.

Shawn and Judy believe that other people should support Wings of Hope because it is an easy way to make a difference.  They note “when you have lots of friends that are suffering from cancer, you start to notice that it would be a very tough road to go down if you needed to worry about paying for medication, rent, etc.”.  Their dreams for Wings of Hope are big – they hope Wings of Hope is able to gain increased awareness in Calgary, but they also dream that other cities will recognize that this need for immediate financial support in times of health crisis exists.   While Wings of Hope does not have any current plans to create chapters in other cities – we love Shawn and Judy’s grand vision of spreading the goodwill to as many people as possible.  

We are all in this together, and we at Wings of Hope could not be more thankful that we have Shawn and Judy in our corner! 


Robin Matrai and a very generous group of local Calgary Artists

In 2019 Wings of Hope was the recipient of proceeds for an Art Sale / Silent Auction. The event was hosted by an informal collective group of artists who are passionate about creating art for themselves, and for others. They believe that if their art can help someone else, then it should do just that – help! They have varying skill sets, media, are of various ages and in a variety of stages in their lives. What binds them all together is their appreciation for making beautiful art.

They wanted to host an event that promoted them as artists but also supported a cause close to their hearts. One of their artists, Robin Matrai, has Stage IV Inflammatory Breast Cancer and was keen on contributing to the Calgary Cancer Community. With research and a nudge from the universe, Wings Of Hope was selected. It was the perfect fit for how Robin views her cancer journey – always having hope and helping those that do not have as many resources as she does – it made perfect sense!

As a group, they are aware that Breast Cancer affects both women and men, and that they would all be touched by it at some point in their lives, either directly or indirectly. “Wings of Hope is a local charity that is taking care of its directly affected community in a way that matters most, meeting the direct needs of cancer thrivers undergoing and recovering from intensive and wearing treatments. It’s more than just covering the bills, it alleviates the anxiety for that person or family, which translates into focusing on supporting and healing that thriver”. They also admit that they had just such a great time hosting a Wine and Cheese & Art Night!

They believe that the benefit of supporting Wings of Hope is that the funds go directly to the needs of the cancer patients. This is a direct cause and effect relationship. What they donate has an immediate impact on the person – how beautiful is that they thought!

They hope that people continue to volunteer and support the background needs of Wings of Hope, and as a group, they are excited to continue hosting their event annually to contribute to the cause.

Five years ago, Leanne Campbell, former Chair of the Board for Wings of Hope mentioned an opportunity to her good friend Roxanne to become involved with Wings of Hope; and Roxanne hasn’t looked back since.

As the lead for the Gift of Hope Program, Roxanne puts the ‘Hope’ in Wings of Hope, working to provide gifts to individuals during the holiday season who are receiving breast cancer treatment at the Tom Baker Centre. Roxanne’s role is to procure and organize items within the board-approved budget that will be meaningful and useful to our clients. Roxanne needs no accolades for her work, but Wings of Hope respectfully (but persistently) requested she is featured as a special moment in hopes of being able to brighten others’ day with her story of giving (as Roxanne certainly brightens our day with her behind the scenes work!).

For Roxanne, her volunteer role during the holiday season is a time to focus on those around her who may need their spirits lifted.

A time to be the light in someone’s darkness, spreading the holiday spirit through her work with Wings of Hope, Roxanne recounts the impact it has had on both her community and family, “I love that they see the work I am doing and ask questions about who the gifts are for. It has led us to have many conversations about those who may need a helping hand in their life.”

Roxanne’s work has touched those around her in unimaginable ways. Inspired by her mother’s work, Roxanne’s 10-year-old daughter is one of those carrying forward the giving spirit, “It’s inspiring to watch her be a light to those around her – donating her own money to causes that are meaningful to her or making crafts to cheer up those who need a little sunshine,” Roxanne shares.

One hundred percent volunteer-run and with every dollar donated going directly to assisting those who need it most during a difficult time in their lives, Roxanne expressed her admiration for Wings of Hope sharing some advice for those who may be thinking about getting involved in a non-profit in their city, “find a cause that is meaningful to you and where you can see the direct impact you have.”

For Roxanne, meeting with clients to provide them their “Gift of Hope” is one of the most important days of her holiday season, “seeing the joy the Gifts of Hope bring to clients is really hard to describe.” Roxanne emotionally closes off our interview with the reality many families face during the holiday season when a loved one is going through treatment, “Gifts of Hope may actually be the difference between them being able to provide a holiday meal and gifts for their family or not.” For Roxanne, it’s a reminder to not take anything in life for granted and to be grateful for the things we have… family, our health, a warm home, and a stocked pantry.

Roxanne hopes that people realize the financial burden of cancer for both those undergoing treatment and their loved ones. Volunteering with Wings of Hope, Roxanne has recognized the importance of financial assistance for breast cancer patients. “We all know someone that has had breast cancer touch their lives,” Roxanne hopes that people continue to support Wings of Hope, realizing the value of every donation in the lives of those affected.

Roxanne’s commitment, compassion, and desire to help others exemplifies the characteristics of a great volunteer. We cannot express how thankful we are to have Roxanne on our side!