Skip to content



The Sarnia Journal has partnered with local photographer Art Connolly to feature his captivating “Humans of Sarnia” series as he delves into the lives and experiences of everyday people in Sarnia. Follow his series on Instagram and Facebook

Meeting Helen Cole was a truly uplifting experience. From the moment you meet her, her warm, genuine smile lights up the room, and in conversation, you quickly realize that she's a superb listener. It's surprising to learn that Helen wasn't always as outgoing as she is today.

Like many who can effortlessly connect with others, Helen's childhood had its share of challenges, and she came from what some might consider an underprivileged background. Helen shared that this upbringing affected her confidence, but her journey took a remarkable turn when she started working as a clerk in municipal government. It became evident that she was far more intelligent and capable than she had ever given herself credit for.

Helen's confidence flourished to the point where she ran for public office in St. Thomas and won, serving as a councillor for an impressive nine years. After her time as a councillor, she transitioned into the role of Community Manager for The Canadian Cancer Society in Sarnia. Her dedication to this role was unwavering, however, all good things come to end. She retired at the end of 2013.

Helen's experiences led her to establish Jean's Collective, a powerful initiative that has transformed her into a passionate advocate for women's leadership and empowerment, especially in politics. Named after her mentor and dear friend, Jean MacDougall, the Jean Collective aims to inspire women to take on more active roles in municipal politics and leadership positions.

Helen pointed out a crucial disparity - women constitute over 50 percent of the population, yet they hold only about 28 percent of council seats. It's evident that achieving a more diverse range of solutions requires equal representation from both genders. The Jean Collective plays a pivotal role in this endeavor by offering training, mentoring, leadership conferences, and workshops to support and encourage women who are contemplating a foray into the world of politics.

As I sat with Helen, her enthusiasm for her work was palpable. Her ability to connect on a personal level in such a short time was striking. Our conversation extended well beyond our scheduled time together, but she had another meeting to attend. Before parting ways, she kindly suggested that we meet regularly to exchange ideas, and as we said our goodbyes, she asked if she could give me a hug - a gesture that felt like that of a dear friend.

Helen encourages people to visit The Jean Collective website at for more information.

Her story is a testament to the transformation that can occur when confidence, determination, and a passion for empowerment unite in the pursuit of a more inclusive and diverse world of politics.

“Humans of Sarnia” founder Art Connolly is a man fuelled by curiosity and a passion for connecting with people in Sarnia. Inspired by the renowned “Humans of New York” series, with a camera in hand, he captures the very essence of the individuals he encounters, preserving their stories through his lens.

Join the Community: Receive Our Daily News Email for Free