"I think those were the nicest years of my life growing up."
Audrey Cawsey (Redman) has a long history with Boys and Girls Clubs of Calgary (BGCC). Not only did Audrey see members of Girls Town grow from children into youths, she also saw them grow from mothers into grandmothers. In Audrey’s words, she “got to see how the kids turned out.”
In 1944, Audrey was 17 years old and had just completed high school. That summer, Audrey’s high school sponsored her to attend six weeks of youth training at Mount Royal College, where she learned to teach physical education and gymnastics. She was one of the youngest in her class. Here, Audrey met Olive Barnes (Thompson), one of the first leaders at Girls Town. Olive suggested that Audrey come to Girls Town and teach physical education. So began Audrey’s journey as a Girls Town leader.
Audrey joined Girls Town in its inaugural year. Donna Reynolds (Tone), a social worker with the City of Calgary’s Children’s Aid Society, started Girls Town in 1944 after seeing the value and benefit of Boys Town, which started in 1939. Donna worked with a large group of volunteers who organized a girl-governed program based on a town governance model, with a wide array of recreational and personal-growth programs. Learn more about Donna Tone and the beginning of Girls Town.
Audrey taught physical education and gymnastics at Girls Town, then transitioned into teaching storytelling, drama and other activities. When asked what programs she was most passionate about, Audrey says, “I was passionate about the whole thing.”
Audrey was involved in many different Girls Town programs and activities throughout the years, including trips to Camp Kasota at Sylvan Lake and Camp Chief Hector in Kananaskis, outdoor hikes, crafts, movie nights and open houses for plays.
In 1948, Audrey ran for Calgary Stampede Queen on behalf of Girls Town. At this time, women who ran for Stampede Queen were sponsored by an organization and sold tickets to the event as a fundraiser; whoever sold the most tickets was given the title. Although she did not win the competition, a portion of the funds raised through ticket sales went to Girls Town and helped pay for 100 girls to attend camp that summer.
Audrey worked with Girls Town for almost nine years, leaving after she got married. She then volunteered on the board of directors for the YWCA, and used the skills and knowledge she gained from working at Girls Town in downtown Calgary’s east village in her work at the Victoria Family Centre, where she worked until her own children were teenagers.
Audrey says Girls Town was so valuable because of what it provided to young women: “It gave the kids a place to go, something to do, and people to look up to.” Audrey says many of the girls came from poor families who didn’t have a lot. She talks about how working with the girls helped her to develop empathy.
During her time at Girls Town, Audrey developed close relationships with the girls: “I was young enough that I got as much, or more, out of it as the kids did. I think those years were the nicest years of my life when I was growing up.”
Over the years, Audrey stayed in touch with BGCC, volunteering with fellow alumni. Until a couple of years ago, Audrey was involved in the newsletter mail out. “I loved doing the newsletters because I ran into some of the kids I knew when they were really, really young. And now they are grandmothers. I was only a few years older than them, but it was just such a treat to see how they turned out.”
Today, Audrey is 88 years old; she has three children and four grandchildren. She has kept in touch with Donna Reynolds and Olive Thompson, and speaks fondly of her time working with them at Girls Town.
When asked about BGCC today, Audrey says, “I am so amazed at what the Boys and Girls Clubs of Calgary has become.”
To see more photos from Girls Town, visit our 75th anniversary photo gallery.
If you are a Boys and Girls Clubs of Calgary alumni, we would love to hear from you! Share your story with us.