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Women supporting women

COLD LAKE – Women came together to celebrate each other and everything they do.

The eighth Cold Lake Women of Influence (WOI) Awards on Friday, March 6 reminded the over 60 nominees that they’re all forces to be reckoned with.

Candice Sutterfield, WOI committee member, noted the evening was “to acknowledge the trailblazers in our community.”

“I think it’s important to recognize the women who lead the way and go above and beyond for the people in our community,” she continued.

The annual event marks International Women’s Day, and has women from across the region nominated in one of seven categories.

“We wanted an awards celebration that looked not only at women’s contributions to business but across the spectrum,” expressed committee member Stephanie Oleksyn. “Women play such a huge role in enriching our community, and we wanted a platform to recognize some of those often unsung heroes.”

Those that were recognized took home trophies designed by local artist Melodie Baskerville. Each year, the hosting committee selects a local female artist who is tasked with designing and creating the awards.

The arts and culture accolade was presented to Lynda Minoose, and the business and professional category was awarded to Viola McNeil.

The honour of the community and volunteerism award went to Melanie Smith, while Elaine Wall walked away with the health and wellness trophy.

Chelsea Clarke was this year's science and technology award recipient, and Mary Anne Penner was recognized as the most influential older woman.

Every year, the WOI judging committee chooses an overall Woman of Influence from all of the nominees. The 2020 honour went to Holy Cross Elementary School's vice-principal, Val Hanson.

“It was shocking,” exclaimed Hanson. “It was very unexpected and it's still very surreal to me.”

Hanson has taken the lead in the school’s food recovery program and has trained volunteers to bring near-expiring food to the school to be shared with students and their families.

She was also instrumental in bringing Headstrong Mental Health Summits to the area and to the development of the Moral Intelligence Program, which promotes a universal approach to supporting wellness in schools at Lakeland Catholic School Division (LCSD) facilities.

“It’s easy when it's kids because you look at them and what they need and you try to do something creative and fun to fill that need,” Hanson explained.

Keynote speaker for the evening, Lynn Dargis, shared her story of launching her business Farmbucks, an agriculture app that allows farmers to find the best prices for grain in one spot.

While doing research on the WOI awards, the St. Vincent entrepreneur came across the Forum for Women Entrepreneurs (FWE) Pitch for the Purse program and decided to apply. Dargis’ journey brought her to the finals in Vancouver, BC on Feb. 20, where she came in first and won $25,000.

“What an amazing experience,” she exclaimed. “The point of the story was the more that I get myself out into the world, the more I get back.”

When she pondered what brought her to where she is today, Dargis realized it was thanks to her roots and growing up on her family farm between Glendon and Mallaig with four sisters.

“Our dad taught us that if there was a job to do on the farm, as long as you had a heartbeat, he didn’t care who you are, you do it. Female, male, or whatever. There was no discrimination, so we were taught to do everything there was,” Dargis recalled.

After the untimely death of her parents when she was 20-years-old, Dargis found herself in charge of the family business and fully embraced it.

“I was going to take over that farm. I didn’t care what it took, and I didn’t care what anyone thought. I was going to do it and I did.”

She added, “Life throws you curveballs and you don’t always see them coming, but if you just believe in yourself and push through your fears, you can do anything.”

She wrapped up the evening with some words of advice for everyone in the audience.

“If you don’t go after what you want, you’ll never have it. If you don’t ask, the answer will always be no and if you don’t step forward, you’ll always be in the same place.”

With another successful event behind them, the organizing committee is already looking forward to next year and what it could bring.

Robynne Henry, Bonnyville Nouvelle