Unique friendship supports journey to graduation

The following story is courtesy of the University of Calgary

What happens when two longtime friends decide to return to university to pursue social work degrees? Support, dedication and a sense of calling.

Tanya Gill is the mother of two children, ages seven and 10, and recipient of the Faculty of Social Work’s Recognition of Excellence Award for Student Leadership. Photo by Rob Olson

Tanya Gill (BA/BEd '00) and Tina Shingoose Fancy (BA '96) met 20 years ago while they were students at the University of Lethbridge. Gill was completing her Bachelor of Education degree, while Shingoose Fancy was working toward her English degree. They became fast friends and have shared an incredible journey, including weddings and the births of four children. In fact, they became so close that they often finish one another’s sentences.

Fast forward 20 years and they each decided independently of the other to pursue a social work degree. They note, “Coming to the decision separately, but being able to pursue this next degree together has been an incredible gift.”

Gill and Shingoose Fancy have many ties in their adopted hometown of Lethbridge, so the ability to take their bachelor of social work right in their home community was an important factor. They wanted to pursue more education with the least disruption to their family lives. Thus began a whirlwind of applications to the University of Calgary and Faculty of Social Work’s southern Alberta region in Lethbridge.

The best friends say that they couldn’t have completed the applications or finished their degree without the other. “Social work makes you take a really hard look at yourself and figure out where you fit in the world and in practice,” Gill explains.” Having someone to process experiences with, and have hard conversations with, is invaluable. You can’t put a price tag on that kind of support.” 

Gill and Shingoose Fancy believe that their life experiences have taught them about inspiring hope in others, an important part of their social work journey. And personal journeys of challenge and resilience are a part of their friendship.

Tina Shingoose Fancy has two children, ages 13 and 15, and is married to her wonderful husband, Grant. Photo by Rob Olson

For Shingoose Fancy, Gill’s friendship was invaluable when she was faced with serious health issues. While she appreciated the support of her husband and family, she was so thankful to have Gill by her side. Shingoose Fancy remembers, “There was never really a need to explain with each other. She just knew what I needed.” 

Gill appreciated Shingoose Fancy’s love and unwavering dedication in her own times of challenge. Gill’s husband died tragically while on vacation, leaving her to raise two small children on her own. “There’s a real element of beauty that develops in a friendship when you know that person is there in the hardest moments,” Gill says.

Life experiences lead to social work

After these difficult experiences, Gill and Shingoose Fancy realized they were ready to grow and tackle new challenges.

For Shingoose Fancy, her experience working at Womanspace Resource Centre, a Lethbridge non-profit agency, was eye-opening. There she piloted a financial literacy course for low-income women who needed additional support and empowerment to navigate the bureaucratic maze of social assistance programming. As she worked with these women, she realized that there was only so much a person could do to change the system from the outside. “I was seeing women come out the other side broken, bruised and used up by the system. They absolutely felt like their voices weren’t being heard,” recalls Shingoose Fancy. “I wanted to be able to step in before that point, which is why social work is such a great fit.”

For Gill, after her husband died and she stopped teaching, she became a certified grief recovery practitioner and pursued a certificate in thanatology (the study of death and bereavement). She thought it might lead to a masters degree in counseling, but after taking a few prerequisites, she knew it wasn’t for her. “I realized that while there’s an element of science to people’s wellness and well-being, it really is about relationships,” Gill explains. “With social work, you meet people where they’re at. What they see as wellness is their reality and it’s not my place to judge that. It’s my place to make sure they’re achieving what they see as their optimal level of wellness.”

Social workers with bright futures

While they worked toward their degrees, Gill and Shingoose Fancy contributed substantially to student life on the Lethbridge campus. “Both brought significant insight and experiences, as well as passion and enthusiasm,” says Lorraine Letkemann, an instructor in the Faculty of Social Work’s southern Alberta region. “They were both actively involved in the Lethbridge community before coming into the program. It was clear from the beginning that they were determined to learn and contribute as much as possible during their time with us, and then go back out and continue to serve their community.”

Letkemann was right. Gill and Shingoose Fancy have already started working with Child and Family Services, South Region. “The agency is very lucky to have them,” adds Letkemann. “Tina and Tanya will, without a doubt, enhance the lives of their clients and co-workers.”