Photo of blonde woman smiling in front of a lakeEleanor Westwood, Threads of Life’s longest-serving board member will retire from the board this summer, after 15 years of service to the organization. Occupational health and safety has been very important to Eleanor, who worked at the Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety (CCOHS) for more than 25 years.

“I first met Shirley Hickman through our mutual involvement in the creation of the LifeQuilt. From there at a meeting with Friends of the LifeQuilt, Shirley and Paul Kells (founding members of Threads of Life)  discussed their interest in creating an organization to support families impacted by workplace tragedy.

For Eleanor, meeting Shirley and Paul, and hearing the stories of those whose loved ones didn’t come home, helped balance and provide context to the work and information that she was exposed to at CCOHS.

“The stories of those who didn’t come home safely from work impacted me right away. Their stories needed to be shared”, she said.

When work was underway to convene the first Board of Directors, Eleanor applied for a position and was welcomed to the board in 2006.

“Deciding to join the board was an easy decision,” she recalls. “There weren’t a lot of other ways to contribute to the organization at that time, and I definitely knew I wanted to be involved as a volunteer.”

When asked what some of those early board meetings were like, Eleanor says “the first board was a great mix of health and safety professionals and family members. We were all very respectful of each other and there was such great energy to help Threads of Life succeed, which was helpful in getting off the ground.”

After volunteering for so many years, Eleanor has many memories of her experiences with Threads of Life as the organization grew, but there are three that particularly stand out.

“The unveiling of the LifeQuilt after having been involved with the creation, seeing all the individual fabric squares, and the impact of meeting and working with the families. It’s so important to get the message out and it is still a very emotional memory for me.”

Eleanor also recalls efforts to launch the Hamilton Steps for Life walk. “It was so exhilarating to get it going. There was such a sense of accomplishment and achievement to see the sea of yellow t-shirts at the park.”

Lastly, Eleanor reflected on attending the first ever Atlantic Family Forum as a board member, and then returning for the second Atlantic Family Forum the next year. “It was so powerful to see how far the families had come from the first year to the next and the level of healing … the way they found each other and established connections and support.”

And what is in the future for Threads of Life? Eleanor is optimistic. “I feel confident in knowing  the foundation is really solid, which is evidenced in how well Threads of Life has weathered the storm of COVID-19.”

Eleanor also recognizes that the pandemic has resulted in an increased awareness of occupational health and safety. “Everyone knows what PPE is now,” she says. “This is an opportunity for Threads of Life to increase awareness and importance of health and safety, increase sensitivity to work-life balance and awareness of mental health issues.”

“Threads of Life will continue to grow in different ways,” she predicts. “The pandemic has resulted in the increased use of, and comfort with technology. Virtual sessions, such as FamiliesConnect, offer good ways to reach many more families in a timely manner. There are exciting opportunities to connect families online. Technology can’t replace in-person events, but in-person may not be viable for all, or is something they can transition to when the time is right for them.”

Dedicated volunteers like Eleanor, contribute to the success and sustainability of Threads of Life.  We are grateful to Eleanor for her thoughtful leadership and unwavering support.

Lorna Catrambone
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