An engineering professor finds meaning in putting his skills to use for vulnerable Calgarians

Dr. Geoff Messier wasn’t looking for a project. A professor of electrical and computer engineering at UCalgary, Messier had recently lost his wife to breast cancer and was occupied with navigating the world without her for himself and his young son. Late last winter, however, he was startled by an interview he heard on the radio.

“It was about end-of-life care for vulnerable Calgarians, and how agency funding was running out,” says Messier, MSc’98, PhD. “I’d been through the recent palliative experience with my wife, and I’d never thought about what that would be like for someone with no home.” 

Indeed, for most Calgarians, it’s impossible to comprehend the prospect of being discharged from hospital following therapy or surgery relating to cancer or another serious illness, without the comfort of a quiet bed in which to recover. Moved to help, Messier was put in touch with Street CCRED (Community Capacity in: Research, Education and Development), a grassroots collaborative in partnership with the O’Brien Institute for Public Health at UCalgary’s Cumming School of Medicine. That conversation shifted Messier’s landscape in the months that followed.

“I was able to make a donation, but I got actively engaged by putting my professional skills to work,” he says. “Street CCRED is a catalyst for building volunteer capacity in the community to support initiatives that promote health equity — certainly, any volunteer can serve lunch, but Street CCRED matches people with agencies who really need their specific skills.”

I’d been through the recent palliative experience with my wife, and I’d never thought about what that would be like for someone with no home.

— Dr. Geoff Messier

In partnership with UCalgary, Street CCRED informs research that strives to improve health care for Calgary’s vulnerable populations. Dr. Bonnie Larson, BA’96, MA’99, MD, is a clinical assistant professor at the Cumming School of Medicine and director of Street CCRED. She says the partnership provides rich opportunities on both sides in that “the university provides great teaching and research support for Street CCRED who, in turn, provide critical experience for medical students who will be serving the community.”

Messier is currently volunteering as a project manager for a new initiative at the Calgary Drop-In Centre (DI) that will create space for respite beds. “Currently, when a person gets discharged from hospital to a shelter, they’re often sleeping on a mat on the floor and are required to leave the building during the day,” says Messier. “They frequently end up going back into hospital.” Respite space at the DI will enable these recovering individuals to receive home care.

That project is just one of many health-equity initiatives that Street CCRED and UCalgary support; Messier is already looking forward to putting his skills to use in whatever his next volunteer role might be. “Volunteering in your professional capacity is a gift that no one else can give,” he says.

Dr. Geoff Messier’s philanthropic gift to Street CCRED Collaborative at the O’Brien Institute in the Cumming School of Medicine supports grassroots initiatives that promote health equity. Comprised of community members, front-line service providers, academics, programs and agencies, Street CCRED is supported by UCalgary to catalyze initiatives that fill a gap in the current landscape of care for vulnerable individuals and populations. 

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