Life for Florence Rita Rickards has always been a struggle.
She grew up as one of six children in a family where abuse was common and poverty was a way of life.
But despite her hardships, Rickards, 54, has managed to educate herself at night school while working full-time and raising a son by herself, earning her the Courage to Come Back award in the social and economic adversity category.
She and five other recipients in various categories will receive their awards at a gala dinner on April 29 hosted by the Coast Mental Health Foundation.
Rickards said life began hard. She suffered from a chronic lung disease for the first six years of her life while growing up in Winnipeg.
“They told me I was dying and I almost did,” she said. “I wasn’t supposed to be here.”
She said her sickness came before medicare was created and the doctor’s bills put a strain on her labourer father’s ability to make ends meet.
“It took him until I was 12 to pay that off,” she said.
She recalls her young life at home as “living in a war zone.” When Rickards was 16, her father moved the family to B.C., where they lived in a chicken coop for three months and the whole family picked berries all day. Her goal of becoming a psychologist ended when her father forced her to get a job.
Continually facing abuse, she left home in the middle of the night by jumping from a third-storey window. She ran to the only other person she really knew, the cook at the restaurant where she was a waitress. Soon she was pregnant, and he left her when she was three months along despite earlier promises of marriage. Determined to raise her son by herself and get out of poverty, she got a job at a fish stand. “I wanted to give him a better life than I had,” she said. “I didn’t want him to be poor and not to have an education.” Her son, now 36, is enrolling in a teachers’ college this fall.
While she worked full-time, she enrolled in evening courses and earned her welfare aid certificate, the first of many certificates that she would earn over the years.
She eventually earned her masters in business administration and became a life coach and teacher of several different courses, as well as founder of a foundation that helps disadvantaged people.
She has also produced a book, CD and cassette tape outlining her inspirational ideas.
But seven years ago, her career was interrupted by three different car accidents in less than a year in which she injured her foot, back and shoulder.
“They also think I may have hit my head,” she said.
She said the setbacks she had survived gave a colleague the idea to nominate her.
“He says, ‘You’re constantly being knocked down and keep getting up again and again.’ I want people to hear my story and say, ‘If she can come back from all that, I can, too,’” she said.
She encouraged anyone living in poverty to “never, never give up and to always have hope. If you believe, anything is possible.”
Tickets for the Courage to Come Back Awards dinner next Thursday are available by calling the Coast Mental Health Foundation at 604-872-3502 or on the web at: www.coastfoundation.com.
The awards celebrate people from B.C. who seek to achieve their human potential despite experiencing mental or physical illness, adversity or injury.
Courage is nothing new to a Coquitlam woman who will be honoured this month for her strength in overcoming adversity.
Florence Rita Rickards, who was featured in The NOW in November 2003 for her work in laughter therapy, will receive the 2004 Courage to Come Back Award in the social/economic adversity category at an April 29 dinner hosted by the Coast Mental Health Foundation.
The awards recognize British Columbians who have demonstrated extraordinary courage in recovering from injury, accident, illness and personal trauma.
Born in Winnipeg, Rickards was one of six children and grew up in extreme poverty. When she was 16, the family moved to B.C. and lived in a chicken coop for three months.
Rickards finally ran away with a man who promised to protect her. But when she got pregnant several months later at 17, he abandoned her.
Deciding not to give up her son for adoption, Rickards became a single mother at a time, she says, when society viewed her as an outcast.
For years, Rickards lived from hand-to-mouth. But despite the obstacles, she was determined to create a better life for herself and her son.
Attending night school while working full-time, Rickards eventually earned her high school graduation credits.
She earned a masters degree in business administration from Simon Fraser University in 1996, and has worked as a social worker, a vocational rehabilitation counsellor and a director of human resources.
She has also worked as a business and personal coach and founded Lighthouse Coaching and Consulting, an organization dedicated to inspiring people to realize their passions.
Earlier this year, she was honoured by the Tri–Cities Soroptomist International as a Woman of Distinction.
At the peak of her success, Rickards had to struggle to come back once again, this time from physical injuries she sustained when a truck slammed into her car in 1997, followed by two more collisions the following year.
Rather than sending her down a path of bitterness, vengeance and cynicism, the 54-year-old said she turned her difficult experiences into love, forgiveness and a compassion and empathy for other people.
“I’m not about crying about my past, and I’m not about reliving my past to wallow in it,” Rickards says. “But will I relive it in the hopes that it will help someone else? You bet, because that’s what I’m about — sharing my experiences, strengths and hopes so that it will help other people, give them hope, help them to let their light shine.”
Photo Credit: Paul vanPeenen/NOW
Florence Rita Rickards, a certified laughter leader, teaches workshop participants the benefits of a good chuckle.
Laughter really is the best medicine, says Coquitlam resident Florence Rita Rickards. Rickards is one of eight certified laughter leaders in B.C., and is trained in the laughter therapy techniques developed by Dr. Madan Kataria, the “guru of giggling.”
Using yoga principles, Kataria gave birth to the global laughter movement in Mumbai (Bombay), India, more than 15 years ago to help his patients overcome stress.
Since then, thousands of laughter clubs have popped up in the United States, Australia, Switzerland,
Italy, Sweden, Denmark, Singapore and Malaysia.
During a typical workshop, Rickards says participants engage in laughter exercises — no jokes — that help to “reduce stress, increase respiration, increase heart rate (three to five minutes of hearty laughter is equivalent to three minutes of strenuous activity on a rowing machine), decrease high blood pressure, boost the
immune system, reduce hardening of the attitudes” and make them feel and look younger.
“People leave the workshop feeling they’ve had a workout,” Rickards says.
Demonstrating the aloha laugh, Rickards reaches for the person’s hand and says, “Aloha-ha-ha-ha.” Giggles are inevitable.
“It’s contagious,” Rickards says. “It’s kind of like enthusiasm – when someone is enthusiastic, it makes others enthusiastic.”
According to Rickards, there are four different types of laughter: the quiet laugh in someone’s head, or the “hee, hee, hee” behind the hand; the laugh that comes from the throat; the “ha, ha, ha” chest laugh; and of course, the full-out, “ho, ho, ho” belly laugh.
Laughter, Rickards says, is also the key to longevity.
“I’m going to laugh my way out of this world,” says Rickards, who has dubbed herself the Laffter Lady.
A personal and business coach, Rickards uses laughter therapy in her work to bring a smile to the faces of a broad range of age groups, from older teens to seniors.
Laughter therapy is just one way in which Rickards tries to inspire others to realize their full potential.
She recently recorded a CD, “Ignite Your Passion! Realize Your Dreams!,” on which she shares her struggles toward success in the hope they will inspire others to overcome their own obstacles.
When Rickards was a young girl, her father told her women didn’t need an education: “You’re a woman and Grade 10 is plenty for you. You’re just going to get married and have a bunch of kids anyway.”
Rickards had to set aside her dream of becoming a psychologist, and got a job as a waitress at a Greek restaurant instead.
But she would face even greater obstacles. She finally ran away from her impoverished and abusive home life, and ended up pregnant at the age of 17, standing at the door of a Salvation Army shelter.
The father of her child had deserted her, and she had no money and nowhere else to go. It was the 1960s, and pregnant, unwed teenage girls, Rickards says, were considered social outcasts. Refusing to listen to advice that she give her baby up for adoption, Rickards rented a small housekeeping room furnished with only a bed, a dresser and a hot plate.
She added a tiny crib to the room to prepare for her baby’s arrival.
“Probably one of the darkest, loneliest nights of my life came the night that I got the labour pains and went all by myself to Grace Hospital,” Rickards says.
“I still remember walking through the doors of that hospital at 3 a.m. I felt so alone, so afraid and so ashamed.”
After spending a few days in a separate maternity ward for unwed mothers, Rickards was sent home with her healthy son.
When he was three weeks old, she started work at a fish stand at the PNE, but the money she earned wasn’t enough to support them both.
After upgrading her education to a Grade 12 level, Rickards received job training through a government-sponsored program. She had a better job, but struggled to find adequate childcare, and eventually quit working to take care of her son.
On welfare, Rickards says she lived from hand-to-mouth with no food banks to help. Depressed and frustrated by her life, Rickards says she finally turned her anger at the world into resolve.
“I became determined to make a better life for my son so that he would have opportunities that I never had.”
Rickards now has more initials after her name than will fit on any business card. She holds a master’s degree in business administration from Simon Fraser University, and is a certified human resources professional, a certified vocational rehabilitation counsellor and a registered social worker.
“I’ve cried enough in my lifetime,” Rickards says. “I want to laugh.”
Florence’s volunteer experience includes being an editor and writer for the B.C. Human Resource Management Association’s People Talk Magazine. In 2000 she was awarded her own Small Business Solutions column.
Articles By Title:
- Succession Planning at Lifescan, Vol.1, #4, Summer 1998
- Off the Shelf, (review of two handbooks on Recruiting), Vol.2, #2, Winter 1998
- Coaching: a Burgeoning New Profession, Vol. 2, #3, Spring 1999
- Changing Corporate Culture: the Invisible Force, Vol. 4, #1, Fall 2000
- How One Small Business Weathered the Storm of Change, Vol. 4, #1, Fall 2000
- Find and Keep: How Small Businesses Recruit and Retain Staff, Vol. 3, #3, Spring 2000
- Small Business Leadership in Difficult Times, Vol. 5, #2, Winter 2001
Interested in a copy of the articles written for People Talk Magazine? Email Florence.
If you are ready to become fully alive, inspired and energized, contact Florence NOW at 250-868-1101 or email and find out if you qualify for a complementary session!