Thursday, March 5, 2009

Bragging Rights - Karen Pincombe honoured with Woman of Excellence Award

We tend to defend vigorously things that in our deepest hearts we are not quite certain about. If we are certain of something we know, it doesn't need defending.
-Madeleine L'Engle
Let me take a moment to brag about my big sister.

While we rant and rail about what constitutes good writing,and network decisions, and the state of Canadian culture, my sister quietly puts us all to shame by managing to explore her creative muse while making the lives of the children of London, Ontario just a little bit better.

I have an innate cringe that rises in my bones whenever the subject of religion comes up. I am one of those people who have seen religion used too many times as a way to avoid open debate and squelch dissent, to put forth hurtful, judgmental opinion as fact, as an excuse for violence and a way to couch all manner of selfish behavior behind a cloak of hypocritical, righteousness. I guess you can tell how I feel just by examining the words I just chose to describe my problems with organized religion; judgmental, hypocritical, etc. But the truth is, at its heart, I still believe in the faith part of religion. I believe in faith and all the power it carries with it. I believe we're all connected. I believe in larger forces governing the universe so I guess I believe in God. I just don't believe in prosteletyzing.

But Faith is beyond organized religion and beyond prosteletyzing. Faith is a real thing. And religion based on faith rather than power is real too. Faith can make people happy, give them hope and help them endure incredible turmoil. Religion can bind people in common purpose and organize at a moment's notice to aid others when the hands of government are tied or when they're simply unwilling or too disorganized to help.

It's the quiet ones who draw me to this kind of religion. The ones who simply live their lives and aren't afraid to talk of their faith and their beliefs and of yours, whether they contradict or not. The ones who know you're all connected, even if you do things a little differently. My oldest sister and her husband are of that ilk. She's just living her life and setting an incredible example that shines for the rest of us.

Man... You know I had no idea when I started writing this that I see my sister as a kind of illuminating guide to what true faith is? That's something for me to chew on. Essentially, Karen demonstrates her faith simply by trying to be a good person, following her principles and leaving the world a better place than when she found it.

Karen's the kind of person who goes on vacation in Paris and spends a good portion of that time locating and riding along in a van that supplies warm blankets and serves hot soup to the homeless on cold nights. The kind of person who travels to Africa and comes a whisker away from meeting Desmond Tutu in the same twenty-four hour period in which she ventured into dangerous parts of the ghetto so she could know better how she could help (scaring the crap out of her worried guides). I also have a picture of her hugging a cheetah from that trip. I'm not sure hot that relates to the topic at hand but it occupies a worthy place on my wall.

She's passing on this enthusiasm for helping others to my delightful niece, whose Christmas list, from a very early age, has consisted mainly of money to aid the Sudan famine relief and her Sudanese pen pal. In addition to this, Karen is world-class percussionist and timpanist who has played with Orchestra London and some of the top performers in the world for over twenty years. She was the first female timpanist if the University of Western Ontario Orchestra and the first female percussionist with the London Salvation Army Citadel Band. And somewhere in there she finds time to raise her daughter and teach full-time with the London Board of Education. Me? I need a nap from just writing this list.

Sorry for gushing but surely a little brother is allowed some leeway to admire his sis, right? Just don't tell her I said any of this. I will deny it.

The good news is, I'm not the only one who's noticed how cool Karen is. The London YWCA has announced the 2009 recipients of its bi-annual Women of Excellence Awards, honoring women who are community leaders in a variety of fields. And this years honoree in the field of arts, culture and heritage is none other than my oldest sister, Karen Pincombe.

Karen (lower right hand corner in the green and
black shirt) joins other recipients of the
YWCA's 2009 Women of Excellence Award.

Dale Carruthers' London Free Press interview with Karen offers this summation of the award:

“The recognition is very important to the YMCA as it represents our commitment to the development of spirit, mind and body in people of all backgrounds, beliefs and abilities in our global community,” said Shaun Elliott, chief executive of the YMCA of Western Ontario.

The London Food Bank opened its doors way back in 1986. Soon after, Karen founded Arts For All Kids, a non-profit service dedicated to providing free music lessons (and later, arts lessons of all kinds) to children whose families couldn't afford them. It's been going for twenty years now and boasts a volunteer teaching force of 30 instructors under the direction of Karen and her husband, Brian Ratcliffe and over 70 students.

Two brief interviews with Karen on this auspicious occasion can be found at the London Free Press' website, here and here. In another interview regarding an Orchestra London fundraiser for the Food Bank, Karen's enthusiasm still showed through after all this time:
"...they get to work with artists of all kinds from the community," Pincombe says. "We have classes in drama, music, dance, visual art, and in the new year, we're going to have our first classes in creative writing."
More on Arts For All Kids and the Faith Tilk donation (her fund's donation was mentioned in the video above) can be found here and here. You can also find out how you can help the London Food Bank at their website, here.

Live the adventure.