CORNER BROOK Long before the ALS Society of Newfoundland and Labrador was formed Cheryl Power was there helping people in need.
Tonight the Corner Brook woman will be presented with the Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Medal. The award recognizes almost two decades of volunteer work Power has done for sufferers of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis and their families.
Chatting by phone from her Toronto hotel room, where she is attending the annual general meeting of the ALS Society of Canada, Power’s voice filled with emotion as she talked about the award and her involvement with the society.
“I am both honoured and humble,” said the executive director of the ALS Society of Newfoundland and Labrador.
The tears couldn’t be held back as she talked about what she’ll say when she receives the award.
“I’m getting an award for something that happened to me 23 years ago and has happened hundreds of times since with people that I truly love.”
She said the award will be shared with all of those people, but especially with her father, Leonard Reid.
“An awesome man,” said Power.
Power said she knew nothing about ALS until her dad was diagnosed in 1989. She said there was little known about the disease and no office to turn to for support or help, and only a few families around that had been affected.
“I know how I felt back then. How isolated you feel. I just needed that to change and be one to visit with a hug.
“It just touched me. It impacts your life in such a way that you need to do something about it.”
And so she did.
Power connected with other families in the city affected by ALS and together they started a support group.
Soon they were doing much more and Power recalls paying for wheelchairs for people with her own credit cared until the group could hold a bingo or card game to cover the cost. The group would also go to Aware Home Health Care and ask to charge things like electric beds until it held a fundraiser.
Later the group became the ALS Society of Newfoundland and Labrador and started offering help to people all over the island.
By 2006-07 there were about 21 clients who connected with the society through a 1-800 line that rang on a phone in Power’s bedroom.
The group wanted to open an office, and could afford to do it, but Power resisted because she didn’t want to get paid for doing something she loved.
She was finally convinced by her local board and by the ALS Society of Canada and the office opened in 2007.
Power’s father died three years after his diagnosis and at the time it would have been easy for her to walk away, but her thought was somebody has to stay and help.
“I’m really there because of what I get back from our families. It’s just a wonderful thing to know that you’re not alone in this world and somebody else has been through what you’re going through,” said Power
“I live with the dream of seeing the doors slam on our office and on this disease. But until a cause and a cure is found I will continue to do what I do.”
The award will be presented at a dinner at the Sheraton Gateway Hotel in Toronto.
Watching Power be honoured will be the president of the ALS Society of Newfoundland and Labrador.
Wanda Gushue nominated Power for the award and couldn’t say enough good things about the woman who has become a very special friend.
She met Power 10 years ago after her husband Christopher Dennis was diagnosed with ALS.
Gushue said Power would come with homemade tarts just to visit and to check on them. And when Dennis was in palliative care before his death eight years ago, Power would spend hours quietly sitting with them.
“Cheryl operates from her heart, solely from her heart and always has,” said Gushue.
“Cheryl believes in hugs, Cheryl believes in laughter, but Cheryl still cries. She cries inside and she cries out. But she’s in it for all the right reasons and that is from the heart.”
Gushue said Power cares about the people, people who have become her ALS family.
And though her friend is softhearted and could cry at anything, when it comes to dealing with ALS clients she is the pillar of strength.
Gushue said if she had to describe Power in sentence it would be: “She’s passionate about her work with ALS clients.”
Gushue said the award recognizes Power’s years of volunteer service and that her years as a paid staff member have taken nothing away from her dedication to the group.