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Impact with Adam Campbell

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I have had several dozen guests on our IMPACT radio show on KAOS 91.1 since we began the program in February.  Among them have been social profit leaders, volunteers, and front-line life changers.  More recently, I was joined by Adem Campbell, a grade 7 teacher at Father Mercredi Community High School and a coach in multiple sports.  I had put out a call for guests the month previous, and at the urging of his friend Kelli, he reached out to volunteer his time and his story.  I’m so grateful he did.

Adem grew up in the small community of Douglastown, New Brunswick.  His mother had a 37-year career as a nurse, his dad spent 40 years in the police service.  Both were deeply committed to community and gave back in multiple ways including coaching and public service.  His dad was a long-time councillor and mayor before Douglastown amalgamated with neighbouring Miramichi in 1995.

Both parents have influenced him in significant ways.  His mom, Kathy, worked full-time as a nurse while going back to university in the evenings through distance learning and correspondence to attain her degree.  However, she still managed to earn her degree and learn a second language, an important asset in Canada’s only bilingual province.

“She showed a tremendous amount of resiliency and selflessness,” said Adem.  “When I’m having a tough day I think of my mom, her work ethic, drive, and faith.”

His father, Earl, was also an important mentor and stressed the importance of integrity.

“Your word needs to matter,” said Adem, recalling his father’s words. “What he thought, what he said, what he did, all matched up.”

Arriving in Fort McMurray three and a half years ago, Adem began working at École McTavish, where he did supply teaching for one year before accepting a position in Anzac with the Northland School Division.  He was thrilled to accept his current position at Father Mercredi last year.  Adem was on duty the day the wildfire went out of control. 

He had a bag all packed and ready at his house and could have easily grabbed it when he was home for lunch, but it never even entered his mind; at that point, it was still a clear blue sky day. As the situation escalated in the afternoon, his focus was on getting the students reconnected with their parents.  He stayed right to the end when the last of the students had been picked up.

“Being at the school with those kids for those last moments was a heck of a lot more valuable to me than rushing home to get a suitcase.”

He got into his truck and ended up in the long line of traffic trying to get down Thickwood Boulevard and onto Highway 63.

“It was around 6:30 when the RCMP drove up the median,” he said.  “The radio stations were still reporting to evacuate north, but the RCMP officer said the fire had just jumped and if you want to go south you can go.  It was like the good Lord parting the Red Sea.  There was no one on the road in front of me and I was able to make a clear escape.”

Adem escaped the flames with nothing but his vehicle and baseball gear. 

“I took it as a sign,” he said.  “There is a greater purpose here.”

He got down to Edmonton and was able to maintain the competitive program with Fort McMurray Minor Baseball.  Eventually, he landed in Calgary with his great uncle, his late grandfather’s younger brother, who was diagnosed with lung cancer around the same time.  He died just a few weeks ago.  Adem is incredibly grateful as the fire gave him the opportunity to spend eight to 10 days with his great uncle.

“He helped me get to know my grandfather, who died when my mom was 16, at a level that even his own daughters, my aunts, or my grandmother couldn’t give me.”

On May 5th or 6th, Adem got confirmation from a neighbour that his rental unit was gone.  Unfortunately, he was among the uninsured.

“When I got my new rental it never even dawned on me to get it,” he said.  “It was a complete brain cramp on my behalf; lesson learned.”

He made the commitment to come back to the community, as operations with Minor Baseball were beginning again.  As he was sitting in the airport, getting ready to fly back to Fort McMurray he got a call from his minister asking if he could make use of a 1994 RV that had been donated.

“Holy jumpins, sure!” he replied,  “Why not!”

The RV wasn’t perfect, but it gave Adem the independence he needed, and the jumping off point for recovery.  His enthusiasm is infectious, which he punctuates with a quote from former General Rick Hillier:  “Perpetual optimism is a force multiplier; it costs us nothing to have but its value to an organization is priceless.”

Adem took the opportunity on the radio program to announce his intention to run for municipal council in the fall of 2017. 

“George Vanier, our 19th Governor General said there’s no greater service to people than that of public service,” he said.  “I’ve really searched my heart deep and it’s something I want to put my name forward.”


IMPACT is a weekly radio program, a collaboration of The United Way of Fort McMurray, FuseSocial and KAOS 91.1.


Russell is a 19 year resident of Wood Buffalo, a community builder, facilitator, social media practitioner, actor, director and artist. He began his Middle Age Bulge blog as a way of capturing his journey to wellness. It has morphed into a daily journal about all aspects of life in the north. Russell works with The United Way of Fort McMurray and co-owns Birdsong Connections with his wife Heather.