A call for compassion
After decades of addiction, Christina Whyte knew she hit rock bottom on the night she cooked the skin on her arm.
Stoned, drunk and depressed, the Brockville single mother of three used her lighter and cigarettes to slowly burn her arm over a period of three hours.
She was so numbed by the drugs, booze and her mental state that she felt nothing at the time, Whyte told the United Way of Leeds and Grenville’s annual campaign kickoff event on Thursday.
In a dramatic gesture during her speech at the breakfast kickoff, Whyte rolled back the sleeve of her jacket to reveal the scars from the burns.
It was a remarkably candid speech that recounted her addiction-fuelled life of bad choices, abusive relationships, blackouts, depression, wasted days, self-mutilation and suicide attempts.
The burning incident was, she said, a turning point on her long road to recovery.
Now sober for 28 months, Whyte holds down a job at the United Way, prides herself in being a good mom to her kids and she is in a good personal space.
But she doubted that she would be alive today if not for the help of United Way-supported agencies such as Lanark, Leeds and Grenville Addictions and Mental Health.
Those agencies are essential for the many people in Leeds and Grenville like her who are struggling with addiction and mental heath issues, she told the campaign kickoff. Amid the opioid crisis sweeping the United Counties, the United Way dollars are needed as much as ever, she said.
Whyte’s personal testimonial came as an emotional prelude to the United Way’s announcement of this year’s goal of raising $825,000, the same as last year.
Trish Buote, the United Way executive director, said the organization managed to reach its target last year because of a lot of hard work, and she was confident that it would meet the challenge this year, too.
Tammy Sokolowski, president of the United Way board, said that “2017 was a tough campaign but we made it.”
She noted that Brockville has been hit with “job losses and challenges” in recent years but that the charity is determined to find the silver lining.
“I know that together we will find the way,” Sokolowski said.
Mayor David Henderson said the city has seen tough times before, particularly during the 1990s when it lost 5,000 jobs over three years.
But throughout the difficulties, the United Way always has been there to help those who slip through the cracks, he said.
Henderson called Brockville a “city in transition” as it deals with the job losses from the eventual closing of Procter & Gamble but he added that other employers are expanding to fill the void.
Augusta Mayor Doug Malanka also mentioned P&G in a brief address, saying the company’s winding down makes it important that others step up to help the United Way meet its target.
But while Procter & Gamble is winding down, it is not out of the giving game. A company manager stepped up to the microphone to pledge $61,000 to the United Way from P&G employees.
He said the P&G employees have “not lost their focus on the community” despite the impending closing of the Brockville plant.
Jeff Brown of Gananoque, brother of the late MP Gord Brown, said a committee that is raising money for an outdoor ice surface in that town would team up with the United Way.
For many years, Gord Brown organized a charity hockey game called Hockey Night in Leeds and Grenville to raise money for the United Way. Jeff Brown said the rink committee decided to resurrect the game to benefit the building of the rink, which is now at $250,000 of its $1-million goal.
Brown said the committee has decided to pool resources with the United Way to sponsor the game, and the proceeds would be split between the charities.
Brown said the game is planned for Nov. 28 at the Lou Jeffries Arena in Gananoque.
Christina Whyte shows the scars on her arm to the United Way audience.
The United Way reveals its campaign goal for 2018.