Charitable Choices: Laura Dickson, E.D. of Epilepsy Association of Calgary

Epilepsy Association of Calgary is a charitable organization that aims to educate people and their families and support networks about epilepsy and how to recognize and respond to seizures. We spoke with Laura Dickson, the Executive Director of the Epilepsy Association of Calgary, to learn more about their organization and what we can do to support them.

Epilepsy Association

Describe your charity/non-profit in a few sentences.

Epilepsy Association of Calgary supports people living with or impacted by epilepsy. We offer support groups, epilepsy education and programs demonstrated through research to contribute to better outcomes in living with epilepsy.

What problem does it aim to solve?

When a person receives a diagnosis of epilepsy their life changes. By working to educate people – along with their families and support networks – about epilepsy and how to recognize and respond to seizures, people are better equipped to manage the disease and feel more confident in sharing their diagnosis with others who can support them.

When did you start/join it?

Epilepsy Association of Calgary was founded in 1955. I joined the Association in 2019.

What made you want to get involved?

Knowing that people with epilepsy face stigma and fear discrimination made me think about how society could respond differently – to promote understanding and inclusion. About 1% of the population in Alberta has epilepsy which means that each of us probably knows someone who has epilepsy although they may not disclose it for fear of how others will react.

What was the situation like when you started?

I joined at a pivotal time for the Association. Under the leadership of Board Chair Evan Legate, the Association was in the process of rebuilding its Board of Directors, re-establishing connections with Calgary’s epilepsy clinics, the non-profit community and other epilepsy associations across Canada and the US and looking toward developing a strategy for the future. I knew that my skills in policy, operations and team building would be an asset to the Association as it worked to better meet the needs of people with epilepsy.

How has it changed since?

Our small team has made incredible progress over the two years since I joined. We completed a needs assessment in 2021, investigated and implemented new programs to support adults and parents of children with epilepsy, partnered with the Edmonton Epilepsy Association to offer a high-value monthly webinar series featuring experts in the field of epilepsy, and reconnected with the Canadian Epilepsy Alliance to help amplify the voices of local Associations across Canada. We have engaged a community of committed volunteers wanting to become involved in helping us reimagine the Association’s future. We also look forward to re-engaging our community of donors and funders by communicating the impact of our programs.

What more needs to be done?

The financial sustainability of the Association is an immediate priority. The impact of the global pandemic and its restrictions on our donors and our ability to raise funds through social events and other channels of development has created challenges for the Association. This came at a time when we were focused on the launch of new programs and services, and on engaging a team of qualified and trained staff to deliver them. We hope that the community will see the value in the educational and support programming that we deliver and choose to contribute toward a brighter and more connected future for people with epilepsy.

How can our readers help?

Readers can help in a number of ways. Readers can subscribe to our monthly newsletter “Brain Buzz” to learn more about epilepsy and the impacts it has on the lives of people and families – becoming part of our network of people who understand epilepsy. Readers can support us by volunteering or by making one-time or monthly donations to ensure that the Association will continue to exist to support people who feel isolated and alone because of epilepsy. Visit our website to find out more.

Do you have any events coming up?

On Saturday, June 11th the Association will host its inaugural gala “Purple Day by Night” – an evening of art, entertainment and mingling. The event will take place at the Pioneer – a premier event space in the heart of downtown Calgary. Space is limited to 150 guests and tickets are available here.

Where can we follow you?

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PAY IT FORWARD: What is an awesome local charity that you love?

We love the Parkinson Association of Alberta. They enhance the quality of life for an estimated 10,000 Albertans living with Parkinson’s disease through programs and services, by supporting research efforts and advocacy.