Q&A with our Virtual Program Coordinator, Margaret MacKenzie

What a month here at PEI MFRC for changes! Last week, we announced that our Executive Director (Donna) is retiring at the end of the month, and we’re getting set to welcome Leona Conrick to the job.

But also, sadly, we are saying goodbye to our Virtual Program Coordinator, Margaret Mackenize. Margaret has brought an abundance of energy, enthusiasm, and warmth to our team, and she’s done so working from first Winnipeg and now Germany. She’s been such a dedicated team member, and her drive to connect military families across the country is nothing short of inspiring. We’re really going to miss her.

But before she bids us adieu (or Auf Wiedersehen?), we sat down (virtually, of course) for a little chat with our friend, Margaret.

Margaret MacKenzie

PEI MFRC: When did you start work with PEI MFRC?

MM: January 18, 2015

PEI MFRC: You remember the exact date—impressive! Where were you working before becoming PEI MFRC virtual coordinator?

MM: I was the MFRC National Capital Region Virtual Coordinator.

PEI MFRC: Can you tell us a little bit about your connection with the military?

MM: I’m a military spouse with more than 25 years of experience, 12 postings, and more than 200 weeks of family separation.

PEI MFRC: Wow. So, is it because of this lifestyle that led you to discover virtual programming?

MM: Yes. I so value the interactive virtual meeting room to maintain connections, to bring phenomenal skills to the staff and volunteers, to bring consistent programming to all CAF, veteran, and reservist families regardless of their posted location. Virtual outreach brings quality information, workshops, meetings, and programs to all of our CAF, veteran, and reservist families regardless of our posted location. As a military spouse, I am passionate about sharing virtual outreach.

PEI MFRC: Where all have you lived?

MM: Montreal, Calgary, Antigonish, Cold Lake, Halifax, Kingston, Shearwater, Trenton, Colorado Springs, Winnipeg, Greenwood, Ottawa, Germany (Geilenkirchen), Winnipeg again, and now I’m back in Germany in a small town called Kalkar.

PEI MFRC: So, you’re no stranger to the cardboard box then?

MM (laughing): No, no I’m not.


PEI MFRC: Tell us a place you’ve never been to that you’d love to visit one day.

MM: Canberra, Australia I have a friend who lives there and it just seems so far and I would love to explore that country.

PEI MFRC: What was your favourite thing about working with PEI MFRC?

MM: Working and learning from a dynamic team of staff and volunteers who are as passionate as I am about reaching our CAF, veteran, and reservist Families with quality programs, services, and information to build resiliency and mission readiness. It takes a village!

PEI MFRC: And how about the most challenging?

MM: I have to say, working virtually and not being available to attend all of the great events that are planned by the dynamic MFRC PEI team. I would help promote them, and I saw the photos showing how much fun everyone was having—but I’m here in Germany, so …

PEI MFRC: Yes, virtual can only do so much! I know this can be a hard question for a lot of military families, but where do you consider home Margaret?

MM: Home is where the military sends us. Joy comes from being near our immediate family unit of Paul, Ian, Angela and Sadie.

PEI MFRC: And what’s next for you?

MM: Oh, great question! Life is full of surprises, corners, and changes. I’ll be working part time as the Military Family Services Europe Family Separation & Reunion Coordinator bringing programs through a European outreach team to all of our CAF families living in the more than 16 countries spread across Europe. The other time will be spent with family, travel, learning to play guitar, laughter, joy, and continue following my passion of building connections and continuing to sharing virtual outreach where I can so that all organizations can connect with their CAF, Veteran, reservist and all first responder clients regardless of their posted location. I guess I still have a one-track mind! 🙂

PEI MFRC: What’s been your biggest accomplishment during your time at PEI MFRC?

MM: I’m going to name three here because I can’t pick just one …

Scholarship series: Since the virtual outreach program started, we’ve saved tens of thousands of dollars for students attending post-secondary education for our CAF families by teaching them how to find and secure scholarships and how to write a winning scholarship essay. This series is in its sixth year and has been accessed more than 723 times through live sessions and recordings. The scholarship series has given military families the power and knowledge to successfully apply for scholarships, and I love being able to share that.

[Click here to listen to this workshop]

Journey to the South of the Sudan: Capt Terry Hunter shared with us a two-hour presentation of his journey to the South of the Sudan. At this session, a CAF spouse joined in. She was mesmerized and thankful because it gave her a glimpse of the life that her spouse who has just left on deployment would experience. It was an eye-opening photographic journey from “Boots on the Ground” to being piped home. This session was given to CAF families from Germany to British Columbia from ages 10 to 87 and each person learned and was mesmerized by the presentation. An entire Air Cadet Troop joined in the session from PEI in a conference room. The Cadet Troops throughout PEI are working with our virtual program to set up an annual virtual educational session.

First Annual Virtual Ceilidh:  Last June, I had the privilege of hearing JP Cormier sing “Hometown Battlefield.” When I heard it, I thought, this would be a great virtual workshop. So, in November, PEI MFRC hosted (in partnership with Guitars for Vets Canada) the first ever virtual ceilidh with guest hosts MP Karen McCrimmon, the Honorary Colonel of 14 Wing Greenwood Terry Kelly, Ryan Carey (Veteran of Operation Medusa), Emerald Junction (a band from PEI), Nicole Blanch and Ali Davies (two military spouses who shared their stories through music), and the Canadian Military Wives Choir.

The virtual ceilidh touched one family in particular who was unaware of supports that were available to families struggling with PTSD. As a result of this virtual ceilidh, this spouse was connected personally to support for her and her family. The virtual ceilidh has had more than 163 hits on the recording and is the most watched program. Families learned of resources and supports and Guitars for Vets Canada the Canadian Military Wives Choir alone received more than 93 hits to their 20 minute recorded brief.


Joanna Church, MFS US Virtual Coordinator, and Margaret Mackenzie

PEI MFRC: Tell us a bit about how you came to discover virtual connections and what being able to connect virtually has done for you, personally?

Six years ago, I was the Military Family Services Director of Remote programs in Europe. My very first order of business was to call the more than 300 CAF families living in remote locations in Europe to see how they were doing. What I found out was that many CAF families were struggling without community support because they did not speak the language. Many of our families were isolated and struggling with depression and anxiety while their military members were deployed or on temporary duty. Many families living in remote communities did not know that they had an MFRC centre with programs that they could access. After making these phone calls to our families, I asked my boss, how can we reach out to more families so that they are supported? She suggested I seek out training in synchronous learning to be able to design and train in virtual outreach. That is when the CDS Distinguished Service award winning Virtual outreach program was started.

We started with 2–3 sessions/meetings per month, and by the time that our family was posted back to Canada three years later, we’d hosted more than 30 sessions per month and reached many of our families in both official languages. In two short years, the Virtual Program at MFS Europe won the CDS Distinguished Achievement Award in 2012 for reaching our CAF families in a creative way. 

We found that the European Outcan community had many points in common with families in Canada who live in remote communities. Col Mann asked that we design a training program to be delivered to Canada to bring consistency of services to add virtual outreach as an outreach tool. In the last three years, I have trained more than 65 CFMWS staff, volunteers, and board members in how to design and deliver interactive virtual workshops.

It has been documented that 10% of our CAF families actually step foot into the MFRC centres due to location, as we do not all live close to an MFRC. Wouldn’t it be great to enhance programs so that MFRC centres can offer both live and virtual information sessions giving all of 100% of our CAF families the opportunity to gain the valuable services and programs that are offered by our MFRC centers by having virtual programming available to everyone?



PEI MFRC: Can you share 1-2 memorable stories about something you didn’t expect that came about via a virtual session you organized?

MM: Virtual Outreach programs at PEI MFRC changed lives, built connections, and brought programs to CAF, Veteran, and CAF families regardless of their posted location. It’s so heart-warming and vital to know that we are not alone…that it takes a village. 

I love building positive relationships with other MFRC Centre staff who are as passionate as I am about sharing quality information, programs, and workshops to reach all CAF, veteran, and reservist families around the world. Back in 2014, Joanna Church (MFS US Virtual Coordinator) and I taught a 12-week course on how to adapt a live presentation to an interactive virtual meeting room. Over the last three years, we’ve taught more than 60 Canadian Military Family Morale and Welfare staff, and volunteers across the country. This includes staff & volunteers from MFRCs, PSP, Health Promotions, Veterans Affairs and DND Training. Here’s a bit of a breakdown:

  • MFRC Trenton – Developed and presented Nationally a training called HERC for entrepreneurs
  • MFRC PEI – Developed and Presented Nationally a training that saved CAF families tens of thousands of dollars in post secondary education by teaching them how to find scholarship dollars.
  • Partnerships with Bell Let’s Talk, Scholarships Canada, Guitars for Vets Canada, True Patriot Love, Caregivers’ Brigade, COPE, to name a few.
  • MFRC BC Mainland – Developed and presented Nationally how to set up an Emergency Family Care Plan
  • MFRC Shilo- Developed and presented Nationally how to sign for CAF families with infants & Toddlers
  • MFRC Winnipeg – Developed and presented a workshop on Deployment Readiness
  • MFRC Esquimalt – Developed R2MR for the virtual classroom
  • MFRC London – Developing & Delivering National Presentation

For me, every time a CAF spouse has attended one of our sessions and wrote in the evaluation, “thank you,” it has touched my heart. A few comments that I’ve committed to memory:

  • Thank you for this presentation, I had no idea that Guitars for Vets existed
  • Thank you for this presentation, I had no idea that there were services for me
  • Thank you for this presentation, I had no idea that I am not alone
  • I am so thankful to get this information I did not know about the Caregivers’ Brigade
  • PTSD is a Family Affair
  • Thank you, I have paid off my entire first year of university.
  • Thank you, my spouse just left for deployment and seeing this presentation gave me a clearer understanding of his upcoming journey.

I could go on about more of these success stories that underlines the point that we are not alone and that it takes a village.

PEI MFRC: Margaret, we sure are going to miss you. Even connecting virtually and not in person, your presence was always felt. We hope you check in with us from time to time!

MM: Oh, for sure I will! Many many thanks to Donna Earl and the entire MFRC Team for welcoming me with open arms with warm PEI hospitality. My door is always open to help with virtual outreach, production, troubleshooting and connecting families.



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