When you meet Kelly White, it’s like being struck with a lightning bolt of positivity.
The executive director for the Coalition of Persons with Disabilities Newfoundland and Labrador (COD-NL), she exudes optimism and enthusiasm even when faced with challenging situations of people who struggle with obstacles every day.
White has been front and centre this year in the battle to raise government’s awareness about the importance of snowclearing and emergency preparedness for people with disabilities.
“This winter has been incredibly long and harsh, and that means for people who have mobility issues, they are often bound in their houses, because their ability to move around is so difficult,” said the 45-year-old community activist.
“What can we do? We can advocate for more — for better snowclearing, sidewalks, accessible housing. The things that people should have,” said White.
Growing up in small-town rural Newfoundland as one of 11 children, White soon learned the importance of inclusion and equality.
She said her family instilled a sense of community and belonging, and when she was a child, everyone worked together for the betterment of the people who lived in St. Mary’s Bay .
“I believe in rights for everyone. I don’t believe people should be segregated by disability or religion or gender,” said White, the 10th child in her family.
“Segregation causes everyone to lose out. We have so much to offer in diversity, and only through diversity can we learn about others and open our minds to a more accepting community,” she said.
White thrives on making a difference in people’s lives. She left her small town at 17 to attend Memorial University, where she obtained degrees in sociology and business.
During the early ’90s, she began running the Student Volunteer Bureau at MUN and eventually ended up doing committee work for the provincial Community Sector Council. She has also worked with the Hard of Hearing Association, the Alberta Lung Association, Habitat for Humanity and Daffodil Place.
She’s been with COD-NL for three years.
“Every time I think about leaving or going somewhere else, it draws me back. It’s not the money or the benefits, so it must be the fulfilment,” White said, laughing.
The big project she’s been wrapped up with lately is the task force on emergency preparedness for people with disabilities.
COD-NL submitted a proposal to the province to establish a protocol for first responders, community leaders and people with disabilities for situations where they may have to be evacuated from their homes.
White cited the blackouts in January and hurricanes Igor and Sandy as examples where people had to leave their homes without the necessary equipment accompanying them.
She said the importance of inclusion has to be made clear when setting up warming centres or disaster sites in the event of an emergency.
“Oxygen tanks, service animals, wheelchairs, medications — these things people can’t be without, and we need to make our emergency responders aware of that, as well as our people with disabilities,” she said.
“They need to be prepared and educated as to what they need to be responsible for. … We need to be proactive rather than reactive. That’s what training is all about.”
The task force will be headed up by COD-NL’s Kim Gillard and will include organizations such as the Canadian Red Cross, Fire and Emergency Services and Municipalities Newfoundland and Labrador.
“People are really interested and excited about it,” White said. “I think people realize it is long overdue and we have to work together to make this happen.”
What is your full name?
Kelly Ann White
Where and when were you born?
My home is the beautiful St. Mary’s, St. Mary’s Bay. I was born in September 1969.
Where is home today?
I live in East Meadows in St. John’s with a walking trail behind my house and a beautiful waterfalls just outside my backyard.
What was one act of rebellion you committed as a youth?
There is nothing I can think of. I was the second youngest of 11 so my parents were a bit more relaxed by the time I was entering my teens. As no one had “bought home trouble” prior to me, I guess the trail had been blazed by the older siblings.
What is your favourite food?
Barbecued steak or turkey dinner — cooked by anyone but me.
What are five CDs in your musiccollection?
Adele’s “21,” “The Essential Barbra Streisand,” Il Divo’s “A Musical Affair,” The Fureys’ “The Fureys Finest” and the Moody Blues’ “Greatest Hits.”
What is your greatest indulgence?
I love purses, especially when friends find beautiful ones in their travels.
What was the most vivid dream you’ve ever had?
I think after my mom passed away, I remember one night dreaming about sitting in our kitchen and having the longest talk with her.
What do you like to do when you’re not working?
Everything. I have a fantastic walking group (Sole Sisters) and an incredible book club — We Don’t Bake Muffins (www.wedontbakemuffinsbookclub.com) — and of course gatherings with my siblings, in-laws, nieces and nephews, uncles, aunts and cousins, especially when the guitars and accordions are taken out. Oh, and maybe the wine.
What is your greatest regret?
That I have not started my master’s. I always thought it would be in adult education or social work.
What bugs you?
People who abuse blue zone parking spaces really annoy me.
What are your best and worst qualities?
Best: I think my communication skills are good; also, I thrive on making a difference in someone’s life; Worst: waiting. I hate waiting.
Who inspires you?
So many: Nelson Mandela, Oprah, Martin Luther King, Dr. Norah Browne (deceased), Sheila Lee (Grade 1 teacher).
Do you have any hidden talents?
Yes — playing 120s; going 60 on the nine of diamonds and winning the game.
What is your personal motto?
“Shoot for the moon. Even if you miss, you’ll land among the stars,” by Norman Vincent Peale.
Who would you least, or most, like to be stuck in an elevator with?
I would most like to be stuck in an elevator with Danny Williams. I would like to talk with him about his new housing development, his community philanthropy and so many other things that he has done and will do in his life.
Who is one person, living or deceased, you’d love to have lunch with?
Living: Oprah. I want to talk about her book club and the schools she has built in Africa. Also I would invite her to Newfoundland so she could attend Gulch Days in July. Deceased: Helen Keller, to find out what she would think of disability rights today and what has changed or what remains to be changed in her view.
What motivates you?
Positive thinking, positive people and, of course, coffee! The pleasure of seeing a project through to its completion and making an impact on someone else’s life in a positive way.
What is your biggest fear?
I think fear of change is big for me. I do try to embrace it as much as I can. Susan Jeffers’ book “Feel The Fear and Do It Anyhow” had a huge impact on me and I have read it many times. Falling down is also a huge fear of mine, especially when I am hiking the East Coast Trail as depth perception is an issue for me.
If you were premier of the province, what is one thing you would try to do?
I would ensure that I placed value on the incredible work that is being done within our community organizations and ensure that they had the resources to continue this incredible work. Newfoundland and Labrador has an incredible, energetic social sector that adds great benefit to the people living within our communities throughout our province. It is only through open partnerships between government and community that we will see real change happen.