The Pathway is always a Conversation: Putting Renison Resilience into practice

Monday, August 8, 2022

Charmaine Hammond headshot. When we think about Renison Resilience, and the hard work that goes alongside a degree at Renison, we might well place a photo of alum Charmaine Hammond (pictured right) beside that description. Now an accomplished speaker and trainer, Charmaine began her studies at Renison as a distance education student in Social Development Studies, with lectures arriving via cassette tape. “I couldn’t take time off of work,” she explains. “It was key that I could study remotely. I found Renison and thought it was incredible that I could graduate with a certificate, diploma, and degree – all while continuing my fulltime job.”

Charmaine describes getting boxes with cassette tapes and written materials. The work taught her to be self-reliant, focused, and accomplish goals. She got creative, even listening to lectures on repeat via her Walkman while she slept! Saying things out loud also helped her work through the materials. This experience, says Charmaine, taught her to be self-reliant and focused, which are critical to her work now.

Mental Health, Resilience, and Relationships are common threads throughout Charmaine’s work. She runs 2 businesses, Hammond International Inc. and Raise a Dream. Hammond International Inc., which has recently become WBE (Women Business Enterprise) Canada Certified (supplier diversity), has Charmaine working as a speaker and trainer going into companies to talk about conflict resolution, building healthy relationships, and resilience. Raise a Dream, on the other hand, helps entrepreneurs, changemakers and non-profit organizations to launch dream projects through collaborations.

Charmaine graduated from Renison before starting her first business, and says that the things she learned here were “building blocks” along her path. “What I do now could not have been possible without these tools and skills,” says Charmaine. “They were completely transferrable into what I do now.”

While at Renison, Charmaine had many projects happening in tandem with her studies. As she was taking a social work course that emphasized collaboration, she was also starting to look at fundraising opportunities for a drop-in centre she was operating for high-risk kids. She asked the kids to help her fill the programming calendar and talk about who to connect with, and one 10 year old’s response was “we gotta get to the mayor and his people!” Charmaine realized that she was seeing first hand the impact of bringing people together, presenting an idea, and having others give input. She now teaches people to do that and it’s how one of her most recent projects, a short film, started rolling.

“Back Home Again” is an award winning animated short film about the fires that occurred in Fort McMurray in 2016 and caused the evacuation of nearly 90,000 residents from their homes. Charmaine, a past resident of Fort McMurray, was called by a community organization the day of the evacuation and helped to pull leaders together in Edmonton to support evacuees. She also worked with school boards and parents to teach skills of resilience, an opportunity to be part of the resilience and healing process for the community. That’s when she met Michael Mankowski, a filmmaker.

Back Home Again poster.

Above: The poster for "Back Home Again", released in 2021 with a star-studded cast of 19 Canadian actors who all donated their time to the project. 

When Charmaine met Michael, he shared a script for the film, and a few of the character voices he had recently recorded. Over the next 4 years, she says that the project took some twists and turns, sometimes feeling like pushing boulders uphill (which is common with film projects and bringing projects to life). But – the more they involved people, and brought the opportunity forward for them to be involved, the more they were able to an incredible lineup of Canadian actors. “Let me ask,” became a mantra, starting from the very first actor. Michael knew Tom Green and also connected with John Schneider, producer, who had worked with Tom Green. When Michael asked John if Tom would be the first voice on the project, really put the dream out there, the response was “I don’t know, let me ask.” Tom Green became the first voice of 19 in a star-studded Canadian cast, all of whom donated their time and voices to the project.

Family of cartoon bears standing in a forest after a fire has burned most of the trees.

Above: A still image from the film, a family of bears plant a tree in the forest after the fire. Kim Basinger donated her talent for the voice of Mother Bear, and Howie Mandel donated his for Father Bear. 

Buffalo shown in a car driving through a forest fire.

Tantoo Cardinal provided the voice for Mrs. Grey Horns, shown above evacuating during the forest fire that overtook Wood Buffalo Forest. 

 

The film has resonated with audiences since its premiere in 2021. In part, says Charmaine, this is a result of the globally shared pandemic experience. The story is based on the Fort McMurray wildfire evacuation, and is told through the perspectives of the animals who live in the forest. Director and writer, Michael Mankowski created this short film to be a conversation starter about mental health. “It’s not a disaster movie,” comments Charmaine. “It’s about hope, community, resilience, and people.” The movie just won two Leo Awards for Best Animation Program and Best Screenwriting in an Animation Program.  The Leo Awards celebrate the best in film and television in BC.

Charmaine Hammond standing with Michael Mankowski at the Leo awards.

Above: Charmaine standing with Michael Mankowski (left) at the Leo Awards. "Back Home Again" won two Leo awards, one for Best Animation Program and one for Best Screenwriting of an Animation Program. 

The power of relationship and connection is something Charmaine says she learned from Renison and has helped her be courageous throughout her many projects, including “Back Home Again.” She has maintained a close connection with Renison throughout the years since graduation, and received the Distinguished Alumni Award in 2013. Did she have any idea where her path would lead when she applied to Renison all those years ago? “I had no clue! Not one.” Charmaine says with a laugh. “The pathway is always a conversation.”

This article was originally published as part of the 2022 edition of Renison Reports

Learn more about the film, Back Home Again. All images of the film are used with permission from Alien Kow, © 2021. 

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