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Vital to the Community: GPRC and Carmen Haakstad

By Jessica Sanderson

GPRC is in the last year of their ambitious Vital Campaign to raise $20 million by 2020. In approximately four years, they have raised more than $18 million thanks to the hard work of the Vital Campaign Cabinet, and, of course, the generous support of the community and region. During the silent part of the Vital Campaign phase GPRC celebrated their 50th anniversary and during that time the Government of Alberta granted GPRC, university status.

The comprehensive campaign is raising funds for a programs in three categories: Vital Growth, Vital Improvements, and Vital Experience.

Under the Vital Growth category are the subcategories of Health Education, Trades and Technology, and Research and Innovation. Vital Improvements include classroom and lab transformations, restoration of common spaces, a Power Engineering lab, and an Animal Health Centre. The Vital Experience category includes increasing scholarship and student supports, enhancing teaching and learning, advancing athletics, and expanding creative and performing arts.

Doug Morris and Bridget Hennigar, Co-Chairs of the Vital Campaign, and Haakstad.

Among these categories is a Centre for Palliative Care Education and Research which has received donations towards the first phase of the 2.5 million palliative care program which will help the Centre to become a reality. Funding is also going towards Simulation Labs with state-of-the-art technology and equipment, a Regional Sports Performance Centre, increasing student support with attention to Indigenous Students, upgrading the Douglas J. Cardinal Performing Arts Centre, and advancing the class 1 Professional Driver Training Program.

Prior to starting the campaign, the community was surveyed, not only about the projects but also about the vision for GPRC’s future. One of the community members surveyed said that the campaign should be a community dream, not just a dream for the College.

“I agree,” said Carmen Haakstad, the vice-president external relations for GPRC, “It is for the community, the College just has to lead it. We’re fulfilling our dream for our community.”

It is for the community, the College just has to lead it. We’re fulfilling our dream for our community.

Government funding can’t cover everything GPRC wants to do, so they must look to outside sources to help better the education they can provide, both in the delivery of programs and the equipment they use.

“We feel we need to provide that to our students,” said Haakstad. “We need the best technology and the best environment to teach and to learn. And that sometimes takes money.”

Helping the College doesn’t just help the students who attend it. There is a huge economic spinoff for the region at large. GPRC trains and educates students in the region so they are more likely to remain here once they are skilled professionals. Also, having great facilities, programs, and educators allows the College to attract students from this region and from other areas throughout Canada.

“We see that investing in the College is not just investing in our students and our people, but we are investing in the economy,” said Haakstad. “I think it has a lot to do with our location; we are four and a half hours from a major university. We have to provide as much as we can here.”

We see that investing in the College is not just investing in our students and our people, but we are investing in the economy.

An independent study of GPRC for 2015–16, when Vital was just starting, put the College’s total annual economic impact at $249.9 million and 2,416 jobs are supported. With the Vital campaign expanding multiple different levels of GPRC’s programs and facilities, the impact the College has on the region will become even larger.

The live phase of the campaign was only launched in November 2018 and GPRC was able to start recognizing its major donors. One of the donors in the Vital Leaders category–those who have pledged a million dollars–is Seven Generations. RBC also came forward at the beginning of the campaign and donated $250,000 towards student wellness. The generosity of both companies and the many other donors have brought the College’s goal within reach.

“Being in the not-for-profit sector for 40 years in GP, I have found that we have a very generous community and it’s a community that believes in getting things done,” said Haakstad. “I think it’s a pioneer spirit that maybe some older cities don’t have, but we certainly have it here. It’s been a joy for me to be part of that.”

Marty Proctor, President and CEO of Seven Generations; Doug Morris; Bridget Hennigar; Don Gnatuik, President and CEO of GPRC; and Carmen Haakstad.

Haakstad has been working on the Vital Campaign since it began, and it will be his last public fundraising campaign before he retires from GPRC at the end of the year.

His fundraising in the community started at the Art Gallery of Grande Prairie when he was only 25 years of age. He went on to raise funds for the Hospital Foundation, then had a contract with the Grande Prairie Chamber to raise money for the tourist centre, Centre 2000. Then he had a two-year contract with Evergreen Park to raise money for their Convention Centre and he has now worked off and on with GPRC for over 20 years.

“I’ve been involved in many projects throughout my career and the Vital Campaign is probably one of the most exciting ones. The support of the campaign cabinet, working with the volunteer leaders, and our president Don Gnatchuk, and being able to put forward a vision that our community has supported, has been exhilarating and exciting.”


Newspaper clipping of Then MLA Elmer Borstad and former Mayor of GP giving Haakstad a $1,200 operating Grant for the Prairie Gallery.

Other than Vital, Haakstad’s other legacy was the work he did at the beginning of his career with the Gallery “because where it is today is a long way from where we started.” Haakstad began with the Gallery when it was in the chemistry building loaned to them by the College. Now he will leave GPRC and become a full-time artist, with a show booked in October 2020 at the Art Gallery of Grande Prairie.

“I have such a feeling of gratitude for all the support I have had from my family and my fellow employees throughout my career and campaigns,” concluded Haakstad. “And the support from the community has been tremendous for all the different events that I’ve had the pleasure of being a part of. It really has been a community effort to be able to raise that kind of money over a five-year period.”

It’s very easy to support the Vital Campaign and every donation helps them reach closer to their goal. You can attend one of their events or you can visit GPRC.me/vital and donate online.


Bob Normando, Swan City Rotary President, giving Elmer and Haakstad $100,000 towards the Restoration of the Douglas Cardinal Theatre. 

Campaigns that are annual or span multiple years benefit greatly from having unique branding. We’re proud to have worked with GPRC to create a logo that represents Vital! Come in to imageDESIGN to discuss your campaign logo and design materials that will help your campaign make an impact.

Contributor: Jessica Sanderson

Jessica Sanderson studied as an English major, minoring in Publishing, and graduated from Simon Fraser University in British Columbia. As she has written for various publications, Jessica loves the written word and has been writing for years.