In the Spring of 1994, a tragic event occurred just blocks from the school where Colleen was then teaching. A well-known young mother and community leader, Barb Danelesko, was stabbed to death in her own home in the middle of the night by a trio of teenagers engaged in the process of a break and enter. This woman’s violent death left the community and the young students Colleen was teaching reeling and traumatized.
In attempting to assist her students to find some positive way of responding to this tragedy, Colleen developed a school program called Kids for Kindness which sought to reinforce the importance and need for more kindness in our world. She received a Provincial Hilroy Fellowship in recognition of this project.
Colleen subsequently learned of the Random Acts of Kindness Week movement which was just being launched in the United States in February of 1995. Thinking this would be a great initiative for Edmonton as well, she contacted the organizers for more information and subsequently became the first Canadian to promote this week. At this point, her sister, Debbie Riopel, also a teacher, became involved and together these two ladies helped to establish Random Acts of Kindness Week as a fairly well recognized event throughout Edmonton, throughout Alberta, and throughout Canada.
This kindness connection led to an invitation to become one of the founding members and Canadian representatives of the World Kindness Movement which has its inaugural meeting in Tokyo, Japan in November of 1998. To commemorate the formalizing of this global movement, November 13 was established as World Kindness Day. Colleen was honoured to attend a number of World Kindness Movement Conferences in Japan and Singapore and in 1999 was named a recipient of Global Television’s Woman of Vision Award.
Colleen was once again inspired to create a values-based school proram when, in the Spring of 2008, a colleague and friend, Ed Carson passed away. Ed had devoted in life to peace and social justice, touching the lives of thousands of people locally and internationally. As a tribute to all that he had accomplished and in an effort to in some way continue his mission, Colleen created The School Peace Project. She has had the opportunity to share information and inspiration about this project at a number of educational conferences including the Global Youth Assembly, Greater Edmonton Teachers Convention, the Gandhi Youth Conference and the Educators’ Peace Conference at McMaster University.
In recognition of her work in this area, Colleen was the 2010 recipient of the YMCA Peace Medal. That same year she was recognized by the ATA’s Religious and Moral Education Specialist Council with an Award of Merit.
Colleen was drawn to the Mahatma Gandhi Summer Institute, Building Peaceful Communities, and in 2009 enrolled in her first session with Dr. Jean Clandinin. Following this she went on to become one of the Board members of the Mahatma Gandhi Canadian Foundation for World Peace and has taken two more of the courses in the Summer Institute, those offered by Dr. Reva Joshee and Dr. Forence Glanfield.