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Retired teacher takes the road less traveled

By Amielle Christopherson

[1]Doing something different is how Marianne Chapelle sums up everything she’s done.

Something different is an accurate description to place on 80-year-old Chapelle. Starting with a job teaching hearing impaired students at Belleville’s Sir James Whitney School for the Deaf in 1950 and continuing with trips around the world to bring aid to those who need it, Chapelle certainly does things that are different.

Her job at Sir James Whitney began after she visited a friend who worked at the school. That’s when she decided that’s what she wanted to do. At the time, sign language wasn’t the main form of communication at the school. As an oral communicator teacher she would write on the boards rather than use her hands. The idea was to try and help the students learn to speak, she said.

She spent 10 years at the school before quitting in order to raise her children. She’s a proud mother and it’s evident by the way pictures are displayed around her home.

Chapelle went back to teaching, but this time she worked at William R. Kirk as an aide to children with physical and mental handicaps. Looking back, she talked about the advances society has made with understanding and accepting people with handicaps, giving them more chances.

“We’ve come a long way. Not completely far enough, however,” said Chapelle.

Her work at the school prepared her for volunteer work down the road. For over 25 years Chapelle helped out with QuintRA, a therapeutic riding group based in Stirling. First, she was a side walker; someone who walked beside the horse with the children. And then she served on the board for several years.

As a self-described human rights activist, there are not many issues Chapelle hasn’t helped out with and there isn’t a part of the world she hasn’t seen.

She’s part of the Quinte Grannies for Africa. The group led to a trip to Africa last summer for two weeks. The organization supports grandmothers in Africa who are raising their grandchildren who have been orphaned by HIV/AIDS. The grannies try to bring relief to these families.

Chapelle found herself in Mexico a number to times, providing bed kits through Sleeping Children Around the World. With trips starting in 1997, she’s helped deliver several thousand bed kits to children who would otherwise sleep on the floor or on the street.

Amnesty International is an organization whose members write letters to politicians and people of influence, asking for change and promoting human rights across the world. From Nepal and asking to allow their people the right to freedom of speech to Alberta where the Lubicon Cree’s way of life has been destroyed by oil development, there’s no issue too small for them.

Local Amnesty members meet at Chapelle’s house once a month to write letters for whichever cause they have chosen.

She doesn’t just support global international aid. The Quinte Alzheimer’s Society held a fundraiser ‘Shaken not Stirred’ on Wednesday, March 30, organized by Chapelle. It was a ladies night out, with dinner, a cash bar, pampering and an auction. She couldn’t give a total for how much was raised, but she said it went very well.

Another local organization Chapelle supports is the Gleaners Food Bank. She has devoted 25 years collecting food and raising money. She’s even worked at the cafe, serving food to those who need it.

Chapelle doesn’t want to be labeled as boring. She likes to play bridge on Thursdays at a friend’s house. Not wanting to just be friends with ‘old people’, she likes the variety of ages, races, and genders in her social circle.

Asked by a friend if she collects anything, she paused for a moment and answered, “Yes, I collect friends.” That’s no surprise when you consider everything she’s done and the smile on her face whenever she talks about it.

“It’s nice to do something different, sometimes,” she said. At the age of 81, being different is something Chapelle has almost perfected.

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