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Investing in the community a lifelong goal for Tracy Davis

'It’s amazing to be part of a community where all are treated equally and to be able to honestly say we offer safe space to all'

“Rooted” is all about the people and places that make us proud to call our community home.

As the Minister of St. Andrews United Church in North Bay, Tracy Davis tries to be a leader not only for her congregation but for the community of North Bay as a whole.  

“I grew up in North Bay, born and raised and my parents were always very involved in volunteer efforts,” says Davis.

“They wanted me and my sisters to understand the importance of giving back. And I’ve been trying hard to bring that into my own community of faith and into North Bay. I try to find all those opportunities where I can serve and give because I see the value in it. It’s also about what I get back. The opportunities to meet people and become close to so many amazing people in the community and pass that forward.”

Davis has been at St. Andrews for 17 years and is now the sole Minister.

“I went to school to be a social worker and I was born and raised in the church. St. Andrews was going through the process of seeking a minister and I had taken a lot of religious studies in my educational path. They had an opening for a staff associate, basically assisting the Minister and I got that and worked alongside Jane Howe for 17 years. She retired and I became the sole Minister.”

Davis says Howe was an instrumental mentor to her and she says she not only wants to build upon the work Howe accomplished, but to also move it forward and be a real hub for the community.

She says, “Aside from the North Bay Food Bank we are the next biggest provider to the community. We are feeding upwards of 130 people every week. People come into St. Andrews because they are grieving, or they need bedsheets. It’s a place where people land all the time, and we work hard to be the church with the open doors and the place where we bury the poor. It’s a place that brings people together all the time.”

And she truly means bringing people together from every facet of the community. If you drive past St. Andrews on Algonquin, you will see on their message board a rainbow or the words “All are Welcome.” St. Andrews brought that message to the forefront in June of 2016 after a horrible shooting incident that occurred in Orlando, Florida. Forty-nine people were killed, and 53 others wounded when a gunman starting shooting inside Pulse, a gay nightclub. It was an incident that made international headlines and affected people in North Bay.

“We immediately hung a large rainbow flag on the wall outside the church. We had numerous phone calls and messages wanting to know what St. Andrews would be doing in response,” says Davis.

“Within 24 hours, 450 people gathered at city hall and then were escorted by city police down McIntyre street to the church. The building was full, and the energy was quite incredible. We had a few speakers and then people lit candles and just gathered together and cried and prayed and supported one another. We had a book for folks to sign that we were sending off to the people of Orlando and our North Bay people waited well over an hour in a line up to sign.”

“It was just an amazing time for people to be together and grieve together as a community,” Davis continues. “I was so very proud to organize and stand with friends and strangers. St. Andrews is the only affirming congregation in North Bay. This means we are inclusive of all people and the process took us about two years to work through. It’s amazing to be part of a community where all are treated equally and to be able to honestly say we offer safe space to all.”

Being that beacon of light and source of comfort is something Davis continually tries to achieve.

“I recently went to school and became a certified death doula as well."

A death doula, is a person who assists in the dying process, much like a midwife or doula does with the birthing process.

With an aging congregation and my work at Cassellholme it’s amazing to walk with folks and their families through this part of their journey. I’ve been involved with over 20 medically assisted deaths and feel very honoured to be with people when they take their last breath as well as help support them as they do the very important end of life work that they have the opportunity to do.”

Davis is also the chair of the Relay for Life Committee in North Bay and says that is something she is very proud of.

“It is a ton of work for North Bay and we’ve raised well over $100,000 for the Canadian Cancer Society through that event and every year we have so much fun. That’s another thing where you are investing in your community and bringing attention to things that people can be a part of. That’s something that is close to my heart and its such a great event and fundraiser and people work so hard to pull that together.”

She says, “I never would have thought I would be so heavily involved with that organization until my sister was diagnosed with breast cancer and that became a new connection.”

Davis says it is the community connections that drive her to sit on different boards and committees and help wherever she can lend a hand.

“When I was younger, I would walk dogs for the Humane Society and while I don’t do that anymore, I still give to them, but my focus has changed because of where my life is at. When my child was younger it was important for me to volunteer at her school because it kept me connected. My daughter went to King George which was an amazing experience. Living in that area and meeting people and watching people constantly care for one another. I volunteered with TOROS for several years because my daughter was in it, and to see people pull together to pull off these productions is just the best. Being a parent and watching that summer unfold while your sewing costumes and watching that group of kids just shine.”

Davis says one of her main messages is that people need to be proud of investing their time in the community, but they also have to find something that suits them. She says, “I think it really depends where you’re at in your life in what you’re able to do and how you can give back. It's tough to say to someone who might be a young single mom with a couple of kids working minimum wage and asking them to give up extra time to volunteer. That can all come at different stages of your life, and it must be something that is a real match for people. For me, I love networking and I love connections and I love to be with people. So, if I can do something like standing outside a store for a few hours and raise money for the Cancer Society I’m going to do that because I really enjoy it.”

In a city of 50,000 people, North Bay can feel like a small town that has big needs and Davis says there are both advantages and disadvantages to that. She says “North Bay really is a special place and through my work of meeting people and gaining understating of what makes this place special and it really comes down to the people that create this community we live in. We have great leaders here. Al McDonald is a great guy, he helps at our food bank whenever he can. I call him and say we’re having a turkey dinner and that we need a hand and he’s there helping serve food.

The physical space is incredible. There are not too many places where you can walk for five minutes and get to a beautiful choice of lake. Although it is changing, the world is changing, the downtown is changing and it does worry me a little bit, but I have a belief that people are good and are willing to help each other. I see that in my food bank on Thursday mornings. It’s a totally different community with that gang of folks. We have all the advantages of a big city, but the luxury and beauty of a small city.”

And despite the current pandemic that has gripped our world for the past six months, St. Andrews continued to be a place that people could seek refuge for their hungry stomachs.

Davis says, “COVID has been very tough on us, just like it has on everyone. I’m so proud of our volunteers though because we stayed open during the pandemic. We were smart, we kept people safe and we have strong volunteers who believe in feeding people who are hungry, so we had to keep changing it as everything unfolded. But this group came together because they just understood what needed to be done.”

She says that’s always a moment of pride for her when she can connect people to volunteer their time with something, they can take ownership of. Davis says, “Finding common ground with people. Doing something they love together and learning new skills and just being together. I think that’s the piece we were missing so desperately because of COVID, the opportunities to gather together in whatever we do. You know its so disappointing to travel past Lee Park and not see little kids playing baseball or soccer games. We’ll get there but it is going to take some time.”

If you have a story suggestion for the “Rooted” series, send Matt an email at [email protected]

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Matt Sookram

About the Author: Matt Sookram

Matthew Sookram is a Canadore College graduate. He has lived and worked in North Bay since 2009 covering different beats; everything from City Council to North Bay Battalion.
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