Advocating for social causes and championing the arts may seem worlds apart, but, for Naomi Schmold and Craig Corbett, their volunteer roles in those two areas are about enriching quality of life for Edmontonians.
Schmold’s pursuit for equality and justice goes beyond her career as a lawyer. Her various volunteer roles are results of her ongoing passion to empower and support women, girls and their families. She’s vice-chair of YWCA Edmonton, a Big Sisters supporter matched with a little sister for the past eight years, and she’s the co-chair of the Canadian Bar Association Women Lawyers’ Forum (Alberta North).
“My volunteerism is about enhancing community and creating a better future for others coming behind us,” says Schmold. “It’s a privilege to give back. Being involved with these organizations is enriching and inspiring.” She attributes the seeds of her community involvement to values her parents instilled in her and it’s something that she wants to pass on to her daughter. From a young age, she’s had an innate need to help people in addressing issues of inequality and justice, and that’s one reason why she went into law.
The YWCA Edmonton is especially near and dear to her heart. Its disability and counselling services, and youth development and leadership programs, serve 8,000 people each year. Counselling services alone, which include complex trauma and violence recovery, provide more than 3,300 hours of counselling to about 400 clients annually. “Demand for these services far outweighs current capacity,” says Schmold. “We continue to do our best but are always exploring how we can meet the ever growing needs of our community.”
Schmold’s husband, Craig Corbett, was a latecomer to volunteering. Trained as a lawyer and currently executive vice-president for the Delcon Group of Companies, he admits he got caught up in the work world. He credits local philanthropists Irving and Dianne Kipnes for “teaching me the importance of investing in community. And building up the arts is investing in community. It’s an important sector for maintaining a well-rounded city and you need a well-rounded city to attract business.” Seven years ago, Corbett became involved in the Edmonton Opera through Schmold, who was a chorus member. For the past year he has been board chair. “I’m in the real-estate industry, but being involved in the arts pushes me to think outside the box and allows for a different approach to life.”
One mandate of the Edmonton Opera is introducing opera to young ears through its community outreach program. “We host 2,000 students for free for a full dress rehearsal. For most, it’s the first time they’ve seen a live music performance with an orchestra and world-class singers. You can see in these kids the direct impact opera has on education and on stimulating creativity in schools.”
Wendy Dugas, a native of the Netherlands, first set eyes on her future husband in 1995 in a bar in her home country. Martin Dugas, a Canadian, was playing pro soccer in that country. It wasn’t the fact that he was a soccer player that impressed Wendy — she wasn’t a fan of the sport. She was attracted to his long mop of hair. Following a long-distance relationship, Wendy made the move to Edmonton in 1999 where Martin was then with the Edmonton Drillers. Although already committed to each other, they made it official and married in 2003.
Fifteen years later, some things haven’t changed. They are as devoted to each other as ever, and Wendy still doesn’t care much for soccer. But they now have two junior-high aged children, Martin’s hair is cropped short, and their careers in the health care field continue to evolve.
Wendy, a Top 40 Under 40 alumna, recently left her position as CEO of the Glenrose Hospital Foundation to become CEO of the Alberta College of Paramedics. Martin is CEO of Wellspring, a support centre offering programs and services for cancer patients, their families and caregivers. With demanding jobs and an active family, planning is key. Martin credits Wendy’s organizational skills for keeping everyone on task. “Wendy gets us to the start line with everything in life. I just follow through.”
They communicate daily, mostly by text, and coordinate meetings so that one of them is home for the kids or is able to pick them up from school or activities.
“Neither of us has family here, so it’s team parenting in that we also rely on neighbours,” says Wendy. “We are dependent on community.”
They also support each other professionally. “A unique part of our relationship is that we are both in the health sector,” says Wendy. “We exchange ideas, share information, offer advice and give feedback.”
“We’ve grown together in our careers and we see each other as trusted resources,” adds Martin.
They are protective of their evenings and relish their downtime. “We are hidden introverts,” Wendy acknowledges. “With our work we are always on. These days, a date is staying home and reading or talking.”
“Our central focus, whether work, marriage, or family,” says Martin, “is to be kind, be your best, listen to your teachers — everyone is a teacher — and help someone. We do it as a team, and as family.”
Music and Magic
When it comes to transforming big visions into reality, Martin Kerr and Tara Rout dive right in to make it happen. Kerr, a singer-songwriter originally from England, and Rout, a lawyer who moonlights as an events planner, met in Tianjin, China. “I knew this was the guy I wanted to marry,” recalls Rout, who wooed him from afar and eventually brought him to Edmonton. They married in 2005 and now have three children under the age of eight.
Kerr’s vision was to earn a living with his music. He built his career here by busking at farmers’ markets and on street corners. “I actually got to the point where I was making a living at it,” he says. The past two years, he’s performed to capacity crowds at the Winspear Centre.
When she’s not working at her law firm, Rout, also an author with two novels under her pen name, Melanie Kerr, indulges her nerdy side by planning Jane Austen-themed events such as the Pride and Prejudice Ball, or organizing Dungeons and Dragons retreats in European castles. And last year, what started out as a Harry Potter-themed birthday party for their son morphed into Edmonton’s first Witchcraft and Wizardry Festival. “We put it together in six weeks. It attracted 10,000 people,” says Rout.
“Edmonton is a great city for making things happen,” adds Kerr. “You come up with an idea and run with it, and the community embraces it.”
With concert schedules for Kerr and court dates and event planning for Rout, spending time together can be challenging. “We’re tolerant of the craziness and OK with spontaneity,” explains Rout. “If a window of time opens up, we take it.” That might be sneaking out to the local coffee shop, or Rout joining Kerr for the weekend if he’s performing out of town. For the most part Kerr avoids being away for long stretches, one reason he hasn’t yet toured across Canada.
Even with support structures in place with extended family coming for a month or two at a time to help with the kids, they do admit that crazy schedules and busy lives mean some things get neglected. “Have you seen the state of our front yard?” quips Rout.