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  • Further Education Society of Alberta

Recognizing Excellence: A Closer Look at Elaine Cairns, Recipient of the 2024 Grant McEwan Lifetime Achievement Award

“Elaine's approach to leadership is characterized by her adaptability and openness to change. In a world where organizations are constantly evolving, her ability to not only embrace but also drive transformation is commendable.” Jenna Truong, the Board President of the Further Education Society of Alberta (FESA), wrote this about Elaine in her letter of support for nominating Elaine for the 2024 Community Achievement Award: Grant MacEwan Lifetime Achievement. “This agility and foresight have been crucial in steering FESA through various phases of growth and change, always with a clear vision for the betterment of the community.” 

Co-founding FESA in 1996, and with over 30 years of experience in education and the field of literacy, Elaine is a literacy specialist, workplace learning specialist, facilitator, and trainer. Along with developing programs and curricula and leading large projects, Elaine has successfully run the organization for over 25 years. Her dedication to the mission and vision of FESA has ensured its success in enhancing the lives of Calgarians and those across Canada.

She has also cultivated a workplace culture where employees and volunteers feel valued and an engaged and supportive Board of Directors.

Elaine's impact on the community and her advocacy for vulnerable individuals with low literacy has been transformative. From founding our organization to developing award-winning curricula tailored to the needs of learners with low literacy, and helping communities in and around Calgary build capacity, Elaine's professional achievements are nothing short of remarkable. — Teal Dratowany, FESA Co-Executive Director

Elaine has led FESA to develop an approach that is highly successful in assisting low-literate learners and the organizations that work with them through FESA’s arms of work: delivering literacy and essential skills programs, delivering training workshops to equip community stakeholders to deliver their own programs, research and curriculum development, and community development.

Over the years, Elaine has developed expertise in working with grassroots Indigenous-serving agencies and working with isolated communities to offer facilitator training and mentoring of Indigenous trainers and community workers. The programs developed reflect and honour Indigenous approaches to learning, and are guided by Elders, the Indigenous communities, and learners.

FESA's biggest achievement under Elaine's tutelage is having learners advance through the ranks and become staff, including trainers. — Ningwakwe George

People posing in front of tipi

She also received Literacy Alberta’s Lifetime Achievement award for her outstanding contributions to literacy and the 2017 Chief David Crowchild Memorial Award from the City of Calgary. The award recognized and celebrated her work with Indigenous communities.

After three decades of dedication to literacy and learning, Elaine is retiring this year and leaving an immense legacy.

All these reasons, and so much more, are why Elaine Cairns is the recipient of the 2024 Calgary Awards Community Achievement Award: Grant MacEwan Lifetime Achievement. Congratulations, Elaine! From everyone at FESA, you deserve the recognition!


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