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Marie Marcy-Smids continues to help improve quality of life for those who need our help the most

It’s not everyone who can effectively manage a fundraising program or put together an event designed to raise the profile of an organization, especially one that requires the sustainable funding if it is to provide services intended to raise the quality of life for members of our community.

But Marcy-Smids is one of those folks and her story about how she “evolved” in her career (she’s now fund development and communications coordinator at the Alzheimer’s Society of Sarnia-Lambton) is one worth telling.

The beginning of that story starts in Halifax, where Marcy-Smids was born, her mother being from Saint John, N.B., and her father, then in the Canadian Navy but from Sarnia, which is the primary reason the family moved here when she was just four years old.

“He was a Sarnia guy,” said Marcy-Smids of her father, the late Joe Marcy, an iconic fundraiser and supporter himself for years before his passing in 1998.

So Sarnia became home.

Graduating from high school, Marcy-Smids did what many of her generation would do: look for work in or around Chemical Valley.

Her landing spot was Dow Chemical Canada Inc., with not only its sprawling plant infrastructure still in place, but the company’s corporate headquarters located in space now occupied by the Western Sarnia-Lambton Research Park on Modeland Road.

Her first job was in the Dow Rec Centre, a building that still exists to the south of the corporate offices, where she quietly did her good work on behalf of employees who took time to stay or keep fit.

Not long afterwards, Marcy-Smids began a family and her daughter Meggie (see sidebar story) was born.

Marcy-Smids, returning from maternity leave, really wanted to job share, but those were days when that sort of flexibility wasn’t as commonplace as it might be today.

What she did next was engage in what today we might call the “gig economy”—taking on contract work, first for the Heart and Stroke Foundation and its Rubber Ducky race, as well as similar fundraising and event coordination for the Sarnia Organ Donor Awareness group (SODA).

Her job there? To encourage people to sign their donor cards.

The better question might be where this passion and perhaps even the skill level came from and Marcy-Smids points to her Dad’s legacy as the likely source.

“He was a huge fundraiser, raising thousands of dollars for the Heart and Stroke Foundation, the Canadian Cancer Society and others,” she said.

The next phase in her life came when she was taking something of a break, John DeGroot, who was chair of the Inn of the Good Shepherd, showed up at her door.

“They’d received a small grant from Vision 74, the nursing home, to hire a fund development person, a job that was supposed to be 16 hours a week but which turned into full time,” said Marcy-Smids.

In fact, it evolved into a 13-year stint as the Inn’s operations manager.

And still the change came coming.

Her husband, a security consultant, was then presented with an opportunity to work on a long-term basis in Bermuda.

During their three years on the island, Marcy-Smids was able to volunteer for a long-term home among other projects, essentially keeping her hand in doing something useful.

“It’s a beautiful island but it can be a little boring at times,” she said of Bermuda, located some 1,300 kilometres off the coast of North Carolina.

Two years ago, the family decided to leave this little slice of paradise, one reason being her own family coming into their own—two of her three children were in university—and her mother was aging.

Marcy-Smids also found herself, for the first nine months post-Bermuda, caring for a sister who was facing health issues.

Then the Alzheimer Society opportunity presented itself, a role that Marcy-Smids has settled into as much as someone with such a varied background and roots in Sarnia can do so.

Ask her “what’s next?” and the response is classic Marcy-Smids.

“I pretty much take things as they come,” she said. “I thought for a while that we might have stayed in Bermuda but it just wasn’t the right time.”

She also has found Sarnia (again) to be a pretty good place to call home.

“I love this area. A lot of people don’t realize how beautiful it is here, with the water, the beaches and the proximity to the U.S. right on our doorstep. And it’s just a little drive from anywhere you want to go.”

The money Marcy-Smids helps to raise for the Alzheimer Society is put to good use, one recent initiative being a charity walk that raised $40,000 (the expectation was closer to $30,000), which will help with services directed to caregivers and social supports.

There’s little question that the work being done is making the kind of difference in the quality of life for those who find themselves living with Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia.

“The people who need the services of the Alzheimer Society are the ones who built this community,” she notes. “They need our support as much as all the youth-oriented programs in the community. We need to make sure they’re taken care of, and with all the supports that are in place to help them live as long as they can in the community.”

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