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Units team up to tell rich story

Stella's Circle: The Legacy of Stella Burry


By Laura Woodford and Heidi Wicks

Sitting on the cusp of midtown and downtown, the Stella Burry Community Centre is more meaningful than just a stop on the itinerary of Charles and Camilla two years ago.

Thanks to a new video produced by Memorial's Distance Education, Learning and Teaching Support (DELTS) unit, in conjunction with the School of Social Work, students and viewers are able to learn the rich history behind Stella's Circle and social work in Newfoundland and Labrador.

Stella Burry, a deaconess with the United Church Community Service League, brought her social work training in Toronto to downtown St. John's.

"I always wanted to do good," she explains in the video, sharing her turmoil over the choice to marry and settle, or to live a life with the church. From 1938 until the end of her life, she developed many of the social support programs that we know today, such as Emmanuel House, skills upgrading, and Meals on Wheels.
"There's no unemployment in God's service," she says, at the age of 87.

The idea for the 30-minute long video started when School of Social Work faculty member Dr. Donna Hardy Cox wanted to update a 1984 video interview with Stella Burry for use in a distance course aimed at first year students.
Writer and director Debbie McGee, an award-winning filmmaker with DELTS, thoroughly enjoyed the production of this video.

"Donna and I both agreed that the way to approach this was to tie in the extraordinary work that Stella Burry Community Services does today, and their executive director, Jocelyn Greene, plays a key role in the video by helping us see the link between the past and present," said Ms. McGee.

"You can't ever underestimate the importance of food, clothing and a decent place to live as basic human needs," said Ms. Greene. "Those are core services that need to be provided."

Helping people find work and become contributing members of the community is another central aim of social work today. These goals are achieved through many Stella Burry Community Services programs today such as Emmanuel House, Community Support Program, the Just Us Women's Centre and employment programs like HOPEworks and New Beginnings, as well as the organization's social enterprise, the Hungry Heart Café, all of which help people believe in their ability to grow and develop and have hope for brighter futures.
Dr. Donna Hardy Cox said the video brings to life the relevance of a social work pioneer in this province.

"The collaboration with the community at large, interested citizens, alumni and community leaders, service providers and service users, university partners, students and faculty exemplifies the multifaceted nature of social work in Newfoundland and Labrador. The exciting partnership with DELTS and the school of social work has created an excellent learning resource for students and the community," said Dr. Hardy Cox.

Ann Marie Vaughan, director of DELTS, said it's a pleasure to be able to help bring such valuable archived footage to a modern and young audience.
"Stella Burry was an inspiration to many, whether you are studying social work or not," she said. "It is through partnerships like this one, where community engagement and development, paired with other schools, faculties and departments across the university, results in a product that is a glimpse into the past and how it affects our future, for both students and the community."

Stella's Circle: The Legacy of Stella Burry officially launched on May 13 at the St. John's Chapel at Memorial University.

The film captivated attendees with archival footage of Newfoundland and clips of Stella Burry, at times funny and poignant.