As a member of one of Vancouver’s most philanthropic families, Lorne Segal has been to a lot of fundraising galas. But when he went to his first Courage to Come Back awards night, he couldn’t figure out why there was a box of Kleenex on the table.
And then he heard the recipients’ acceptance speeches.
"I quickly realized that the power of the stories told could move anyone to tears and I was witnesses the miracles of every day life," he said at the launch of this year’s award nominations. "(These) are people whose daily example makes us walk a little bit taller on our own path, and try just a bit harder to overcome our own difficulties. They demonstrate extraordinary character facing challenges most of us can’t even imagine."
He was so impressed by the stories of triumph and courage that he’s chaired the awards for the past 10 years. And Coast Mental Health, which sponsors the awards, was so impressed by Segal’s stewardship of its most important fundraiser that it nominated him for the Order of British Columbia, which he received last fall.
The Courage awards honour B.C. residents in six categories: mental health, physical rehabilitation, medical, addiction, social adversity and youth. Nominations are open until Feb. 13 and the gala, which has raised $13 million over its 17 years, is set for May 7. "Examples of inspiration and strength are all around us if we have the eyes to see. Look around you and see the person (to nominate)," Segal says.
"It really did change my life. A new world opened up to me," says Sandra Yuen McKay, a 2012 Courage recipient.
She "started from a very dark place," having to deal with periods of psychosis, hallucinations and episodes of delusions for much of her life. And while she has enjoyed many successes as an artist and author (My Schizophrenic Life: The Road to Recovery from Mental Illness), "mental illness doesn’t just disappear." It’s something she has to deal with constantly with the support of friends, family and Coast.
She said the Courage awards are a sign of hope to others that the unattainable can be attainable.
Joe Calendino, a former "full patch" Hells Angel and drug addict who now helps young people stay off the path of personal destruction, said the award gave him the courage to "keep moving forward and fight the fight every day."
Last year, as he sat listening to the other recipients’ stories, he, like Segal, was "amazed by the spirit and generosity that filled the room and the sense of hope."
Coast’s executive director Darrell Burnham says that before the awards were introduced 17 years ago, not many people in Vancouver were talking about mental illness and what can be done to help people get their lives back. "Courage has allowed us all to have these conversations."
Nomination forms are available at every Scotiabank branch in British Columbia. You can also go to CourageToComeBack. ca or phone 1-877-602-6278 for details. The deadline is Feb. 13.