Big boost for campaign

To Mary Bea Quinn, who has made a $1-million donation to the Red Deer Ronald McDonald House project.

Bouquet…

To Mary Bea Quinn, who has made a $1-million donation to the Red Deer Ronald McDonald House project.

Quinn made the donation in memory of her late husband Bernard. The Rocky Mountain House-area family operates a number of businesses in the region.

The donation is a huge leg up for the project, which will serve the families of district children who are in care at Red Deer Regional Hospital Centre. When complete, the McDonald House will house 11 families at any one time and is expected to serve 400 families a year.

It is a major undertaking, but one long overdue in this community. The regional hospital serves a far-reaching area and families of sick children have been under major duress as they travel constantly, and make huge financial sacrifices, to be near their children. It will provide support, solace and services for families in crisis, and it will help speed the healing process for many youngsters in Central Alberta.

But at $12 million for construction, this is not an inexpensive project. Add in $500,000 in annual operating costs for the house, to be built adjacent to the hospital, and the community challenge becomes even greater — particularly at a time of year when a number of worthy charities are in need of help.

But when people like the Quinn family step up in such a major way, others are inspired.

Some will be inspired to give small or large cash gifts. Others will wish to offer their time — as many as 150 volunteers a year will be needed to help operate the facility. Others will want to join any of a variety of fundraising efforts being organized in the community.

That growing inspiration is a critical element, because organizers want the house built as quickly as possible. Construction won’t start on the house until 80 per cent of the capital funding is in place. Still, officials hope to begin construction in March and be welcoming families by the summer of 2011. Larry Mathieson, executive director for the Southern Alberta region of Ronald McDonald House, says that about $4.5 million has been raised so far. About $4 million more is needed to start construction.

So the race is on to build Canada’s 13th Ronald McDonald House — and the first in a new community in more than 20 years. It will take every bit of effort the community can muster, from remarkable donations like that from the Quinn family to elementary school penny fundraisers.

Bouquet…

To local tourism officials, whose aggressive marketing should be a lesson to everyone who understands that Alberta’s economic future rests on more than just oil and gas.

Tourism is Alberta’s fourth largest industry and in some markets — like Red Deer — it is still growing, despite the economic downturn.

Hanging on to dwindling tourism dollars has become a big enough issue that Parks Canada is pushing to reverse a downslide by implementing a strategy that will increase traffic by two per cent a year in Banff National Park.

That strategy, which is still being reviewed, is raising red flags about the environmental limits of Alberta’s most-popular mountain playground.

Given the three-pronged mandate of parks management — ecological preservation, tourism and education — national parks are in constant conflict.

That conflict is not so limiting in places like Central Alberta, which offers a range of services and experiences, from wilderness on the edge of the mountains to the west to the historic train rides of the East Country.

Last year, a record 77,749 visitors stopped at the Visitor Information Centre on the western edge of Red Deer. What they learn when the arrive there is critical: local events, features and character will entice them to stay and spend money.

Tourism Red Deer officials understand this. They are part of broad marketing plans for the region and are intent on selling Central Alberta as a year-round destination.

But they can’t do it alone. The more we become aware of the potential of visitors to diversify our economy, and learn to cater to their interests, the more stable our economy will be.

John Stewart is the Advocate’s managing editor.