“If one is lucky, a solitary fantasy can totally transform one million realities.”
We can’t think of a better descriptor for leadership than these beautiful words by Maya Angelou. At Women’s Initiative Edmonton, it’s our goal to transform our city for every woman. To create a city full of opportunities for women’s voices, intelligence, wisdom and leadership to shine. And of course, to celebrate the women who have made other people’s realities so much richer by the consequence of their outstanding vision.
So when it came time for us to choose our first Women’s Leadership Award recipient, we looked for someone who exemplified the qualities of service, vision, and commitment to improving the realities of many. And while there truly are many remarkable and deserving women leaders in our community, we couldn’t be more proud to honour Liz O’Neill – a woman who has served children, youth and families in Alberta for almost four decades.
In 1979, Liz became the Executive Director of Big Sisters of Edmonton. The agency at that time served 50 children with a budget of $60,000. Under Liz’s leadership, Big Sisters and Big Brothers merged in 1991, and created Big Brothers Big Sisters of Edmonton and Area. In 2011, Big Brothers Big Sisters went through another merger, this time with Boys and Girls Clubs of Edmonton to create Boys & Girls Clubs Big Brothers Big Sisters, the first amalgamation of its kind in North America. Today the agency has nearly 3,000 volunteers, serves more than 4500 children and youth, has a staff of 100 and a budget of just over $6 Million. The organization’s remarkable growth and impact is a result of Liz and her staff’s unwavering commitment to ensuring kids and families are supported, and have opportunities regardless of socio-economic status.
Not only has Liz spent her career in service of Alberta families, she is currently the Co-Chair of the Alberta Mentoring Partnership, a member of the Edmonton Community Foundation Board, and the TELUS Community Foundation Board. Liz was also the Chair of the Non-Profit and Voluntary Sector Citizen’s Advisory Committee, Alberta Culture and Community Spirit.
This Women’s Leadership Award is one of many honours Liz has received throughout her career. She has been named a YWCA Women of Distinction in the Social Services category, and was also one of Global TV’s Women of Vision. Liz received the Government of Canada 125th Anniversary Medal for Community Service as well as the Alberta Centennial Medal for Community Service. In 2010, she was named the Dr. Charles Allard Chair in Business from MacEwan. Liz was also awarded an Excellence in Community Service Award from Intercultural Dialogue Institute of Edmonton and was inducted into the City of Edmonton’s Community Service Hall of Fame. In 2016, Liz received an Honourary Doctor of Laws from the University of Alberta.
We’re so proud to see that a woman who has spent her career in the service of vulnerable kids and families has been recognized at the local, provincial and national level. Her work is truly transformational, and it is with great pride that we can also recognize her in this way.
Her response to our award is characteristically humble:
“I was honored to accept this amazing tribute and award on behalf of the incredible women that I work with each and every day. I have had the privilege of having great female mentors in my life and I know how important it is that each and every one of us ensures that we have such support. As I often say to people I have stood on the shoulders of giants to help me see a path forward. While we are in a very different and better place today as women than when I started my career, we still have many miles to travel, and if we travel together we can continue to make progress for all of us, women and men who respect and support and engage with each other in meaningful ways to build a vibrant community of people who look out for and support each other.”
Thank you, Liz, for living the values of service and commitment to your community. It’s an honour to celebrate you with our first Women’s Leadership Award!