Volunteering for Survive-Strive-Thrive

By Vicki Melville Bathurst

An acquired brain injury is caused from a blow to the head, or a medical issue or illness. An individual does not have to lose consciousness to sustain a brain injury. The numbers and long term effects of brain injury are staggering. It is estimated that up to 1.3 million Canadians are living with an acquired brain injury. It is the number one cause of death and disability in people under the age of 45, and more common than breast cancer, HIV/AIDS, spinal cord injury and multiple sclerosis combined. Divorce rates are estimated to be as high as 90% following a brain injury, 90% of brain injury survivors do not return to work, and approximately half of homeless people in Victoria have had a brain injury.

Since 2015 The Cridge Brain Injury Services has partnered with the University of Victoria to engage with the community around the issues surrounding brain injury through a one day conference called Survive-Strive-Thrive. The woman I interviewed last week, Jessica, works at UVic and helped her boss, Dr. Catherine Mateer, organize the first conference in 2015. With Dr. Mateer’s retirement in 2016, Jessica decided to continue to support the event and has taken it on as her main volunteer project. From setting up the agenda, planning all logistics including catering and the physical set-up of the event, Jessica has become the heart of the conference. For the past two years over 100 people have participated, and as one attendee commented, “It was powerful to listen to individuals who had suffered tremendously speak about acceptance, moving on, having hope for the future and gratitude for their journey.” Past speakers at the conference have included The Honourable Judith Guichon, the Lieutenant Governor of BC who is also a patron of The Cridge Centre for the Family, and Michelle Stillwell (Minister of Social Development) who spoke about her own spinal cord injury at age 17.

When I asked Jessica why she volunteers for this project, she explained that the people she had met through The Cridge Centre for the Family were so warm and welcoming, and the stories she heard at the first event in 2015 were so moving, that she and her husband, Mike, decided that they wanted to get involved. The loss of her father from brain cancer a year later further motivated her to volunteer. In addition to the Conference, Jessica volunteers at Mary Cridge Manor which provides supportive housing for brain injury survivors. She speaks of helping out at a Hot Dog fundraising event in January, where she and Mike watched as the survivors BBQued and spoke with everyone that passed by. The two survivors shared their stories with them throughout the day and she said that she loved hearing about how far they had come with the support of The Cridge Centre for the Family and Cridge Brain Injury Services.

Jessica also tells me the inspiring story of Sara Hansen, an attendee at the conference.  A mother with a full-time job, Sara went into hospital to have surgery for malformed clusters of blood vessels in her brain stem. Expecting only to be in hospital for a few days, Sara spent four months. She is no longer able to work, she is in a wheelchair and on long-term disability. Sara was one of the speakers at the 2016 conference Survive to Thrive: Restoring Life after Brain Injury.  From her wheelchair she spoke about how alone she felt until she came to her first conference. She has now connected with so many other survivors and feels so much more supported. In working at The Cridge Brain Injury Services with staff member Janelle Breese Biagioni, Sara has learned new online technology and has just launched a blog, entitled “Making Lemonade After Brain Injury.” Sara says she wanted to start a blog to show people that life goes on after a trauma, not like it did before, but it does go on. You can find Sara’s blog at www.lemonsandliving.com. Sara said, “I am thrilled to have an outlet that gives my life purpose and meaning. I’m so thankful to Janelle and The Cridge Centre for the Family for helping and supporting me.”

Our volunteer, Jessica, is in the middle of planning for the third conference now. It will be held at UVic’s Bob Wright Centre on Wed. June 7, from 8am to 3.30pm.  It is a free one-day conference about the issues surrounding brain injury. The theme is THRIVING THROUGH FAMILY and admission is free but registration is required (sst@cridge.org).

Click here to learn more about The Cridge Brain Injury Services

With thanks to Vicki for her interviews of some of our amazing volunteers, of which she is one!

Mimi’s Happy Volunteers

By Vicki Melville Bathurst

Any discussion of the group of volunteers I spoke with this week has to start with Mimi Davis. Not only were most of the volunteers drawn to the program through the sheer passion and enthusiasm of Mimi herself, but she is also the woman who began the program seventeen years ago.

Mimi tells me Respitality is a combination of the two words respite and hospitality.  This wonderful and much needed program began in 2000, when, in cooperation with three local hotels, Mimi found a way to give a night off to parents of twenty-five families who were raising children with special needs. Over the years it has turned into a legend in its own right, and in 2008 it received the Community Living BC Association Innovation Award. Mimi has also received numerous accolades in the community for her many years of dedicated service.

This unique program has grown to now partner with close to thirty local hotels, resorts and B&B’s, offering a complimentary overnight stay at some of the best hotels in Victoria and beyond. This program now serves over five hundred local families of children with special needs. Only words from the recipients of this annual program can begin to describe its value to them:  “Thank you so much for arranging our stay at the lovely Victoria Regent Hotel. It truly is a luxury that I would have otherwise never been able to afford myself.  We were ready for a break as the last few months have been particularly stressful — just to step away from “stuff” even for a short time is so nice.”

The magnitude of the role of being a caregiver of a child with special needs truly hits home when I learn that even with the donation of this generous gift, many parents cannot partake because they simply have no one to leave their child with for even one night a year. This is where the innovation of the program comes in, because over the years Mimi has adapted it to meet the needs of these parents with what she calls “complimentary enhancements.” Teaming with another twenty or more businesses, Cridge Respitality Services might send the parents flowers, offer tickets to local entertainment venues, give them a certificate to have their car serviced, or even tickets to take their child swimming at Commonwealth Place.   “It makes me weep just to think of the love and joy that being a part of The Cridge Respitality Program has brought to my life” says a happy parent.

And the innovation of the program carries on, and that is where Mimi’s Happy Volunteers come in. I met up with five volunteers on the beautiful property of The Cridge Centre for the Family one morning to watch them creating gift baskets which have become an integral part of The Cridge Respitality Program. The volunteers meet once a month to create beautiful themed baskets that are wrapped and decorated with love and loaded with goodies. The baskets are delivered to the hotels by another volunteer so that the parents have a delightful treat waiting for them when they enter their hotel room for their overnight stay.

In speaking with the five volunteers who fill these baskets, I heard that not only was it “the spark called Mimi” that led most of them to this job, but it was the interest, camaraderie and the fun of working with this group that has drawn these people together. One volunteer has a son with autism and benefits from this program annually herself. She volunteers as her way of giving back, while another woman makes the gift cards that go into the baskets. Another woman who was a social worker is drawn to the strong and interesting women she meets along the way, women who would “throw themselves under a bus” to care for their children.

While some of the volunteers expressed concern that The Cridge Centre for the Family isn’t well known in the community, another pointed out that those who have used their services certainly know who they are. One volunteer called The Cridge “the happiest place on earth,” a place where people are loved for WHO they are, and not WHAT they are. And the lone male volunteer in the group made a profound comment about today’s society when he said “for evil to happen, good people have to do nothing.” This group of volunteers has found a unique way to pay back to their community. The caregivers of children with special needs in the Cridge Respitality Service who get their own time once a year to be spoiled, say it best themselves

I am so thankful for the Cridge Respitality Program.  In all of my journey into the intimidating and amazing world of living with a child with complex special needs, I have never felt so valued, so cared for, and so pampered!  The lovely added touch of the beautiful gift baskets are such an added treat.  Who doesn’t love chocolate!?

My goodness — thank you from  the bottom of our hearts – we had the best evening and we owe it all to you.  Thank you for the amazing respite you provide.  We got to forget all about our grueling life for a whole magical evening.

I especially appreciated the thoughtful gift basket that was waiting in the room.  As parents of a child with autism, any resources we might normally have for “extras” like this night away go towards his therapy and therapy accessories. This program is such a treat for us and so appreciated!

Click to learn more about The Cridge Centre for the Family Respite & Respitality Services

With thanks to Vicki for her interviews of some of our amazing volunteers, of which she is one!

A Volunteer Moving Team at Work!

By Vicki Melville Bathurst

I met up with The Cridge volunteer moving team at Bed, Bath and Beyond. Instead of the big moving truck and four strong men I had expected, it was Ken in his red Dodge Ram, and John and Donna with their SUV, who waved to me from the loading dock. They tell me they pick up from this store once a month. Sometimes it’s small furniture, but this time large boxes full of bedding or towels, and a box full of children’s hats and gloves was waiting for us. The boxes were all easily transported in the two vehicles. While the paperwork indicated the load came with a large price tag (a tax deduction for the store), the items are priceless to the women and families at The Cridge Transition House for Women, and they are always gratefully received.

The Cridge Transition House for Women and Supportive Transitional Housing are the major benefactors of the moving team’s services. After dropping off the boxes at The Cridge Centre, we drove back out to pick up some bedroom furniture which was being donated by another member of The Cridge family. It was a complete set of bunk beds, dresser drawers and even a matching trunk, so when Irwin joined us with his small truck it was great to have the extra arms and another vehicle to transport the load. A group picture brought out the camaraderie of the four —  I could tell they had done this together many times before, and that they enjoyed each other’s’ company.

On our ride to The Cridge Centre I had time to speak with Ken. He and his core group of about six regulars and four vehicles came to The Cridge through Glad Tidings Church and it’s “Serve our City” program. Intended to be a twice a year community event, once Ken had made it to The Cridge Centre, he knew he wanted to do more. Since then, he’s spent the last few years driving his truck and organizing the moving team. Irwin, John and Donna too, all come from Glad Tidings Church, and between volunteering with the church, and helping out The Cridge, their days are always busy. John and Donna also help out with a village in Africa, and Irwin helps with a local Syrian refugee family. All four are retired but choosing to spend their days in service to others.

Recalling my first thoughts of big muscular men, I asked Donna how she had made it on the moving team. She laughed but quickly pointed out her role was often the most important. As The Cridge Transition House offers a much needed shelter for women escaping domestic violence, Donna’s job is often to comfort the women and children while the men move their belongings. These are the moves that bring out the harshness of life and the reality that women are still needing to escape violence in their homes. And sometimes, figuring out the logistics of that kind of a move are overwhelming – making the service this team provides that much more valuable. Donna pointed out that some of the women are so traumatized they at first avoid the male volunteers completely.

And thank goodness for the moving team!   After we finally figured out how to assemble the new set of bedroom furniture, there were big hugs and thanks from the young woman at the door. This bedroom was for her daughter who would soon be coming to live with her. It is The Cridge Centre for the Family, their staff and the many volunteers who have together helped this young woman leave an abusive relationship and takes steps towards a violence-free life. With the help of so many she has been moved, set up in a new residence, and is on track in getting her life back together.  “Thank goodness,” she whispered to me, “for all the volunteers do. Thank you all so much”And yes, it’s also likely that this big “thank you” was all the moving team volunteers needed for a morning well spent.

Click here for more information about The Cridge Transition House for Women or about our Supportive Transitional Housing

With thanks to Vicki for her interviews of some of our amazing volunteers, of which she is one!

Giving Back – One Relationship at a Time

By  Vicki Melville Bathurst

We met at Macdonald House – The Cridge Centre’s home for brain injury survivors. I thought I might need a special code or formal permission to get inside, so I was surprised to find the door unlocked and nobody around as I walked through the large open hallway to the back of the house. It was a quiet home this Tuesday morning, a few people here and there, working on computers and around the kitchen.

The residents were all busy with their routines except for one fellow rustling through newspapers waiting for a ride. At another table sat a young woman playing crib with one of the residents. Listening to their cheerful banter, it was easy to join in. Doug was winning, his second game, he proudly claimed, and he was working hard for another “skunk”, so he told me. The young woman – Emily – bantered back.  You could tell this was something they had done many times before, and she was enjoying herself just as much as he was.

Emily was the woman I had come to interview. She tells me she has been volunteering at Macdonald House for two years. I knew she was a student at the University of Victoria so I asked her if she was volunteering for course credits. She looked at me with surprise. Yes, she is currently completing her undergrad degree, and hoping to be accepted into medical school next fall, but this is something she does because she’s always done it, because she likes to, because it is her way of giving back. In fact, Emily has more than one volunteer job, though she said she has had to cut back this year after taking on a bigger role in a student society on campus.

After finishing her crib game with Doug, she asks Hilton if he is ready for his walk. She reminds him he has time before his ride comes. Hilton is fairly mobile with the use of a walker, so the three of us walk up the road to the park. Along the way he accepts, with thanks, Emily’s gentle reminders about his posture. They, too, have a friendly camaraderie and it is obvious he is very comfortable with her.

Emily tells me that it is these relationships — the quiet exchanges, the knowing glances — this is why she volunteers. It is what she gets back. Though still very young, Emily is already wise enough to point out that it’s only a matter of minutes that separates her – indeed, all of us — from the reality of those who live at Macdonald House, those with brain injuries. This thought reminds her to be humble, she informs me, another gift she gets from volunteering.

Click to learn more about The Cridge Centre for the Family Brain Injury Services

With thanks to Vicki for her series of interviews about some of our amazing volunteers, of which she is one!

The Cridge Celebrates Volunteers!

Volunteer Recognition Week –  April 24 to 28, 2017

By Vicki Melville Bathurst

Volunteering is big business in Greater Victoria, and this is the week to give thanks for all volunteers do in our community. Volunteer Victoria’s website states that in working with over 300 local organizations in 2015 they served more than 700 volunteers, and more than 3000 new volunteers registered with them online.

The Cridge Centre for the Family is western Canada’s oldest registered non-profit society and still operates out of the same beautiful brick mansion on Hillside Avenue that was built in 1893 as an orphanage. The Cridge now has a number of locations in Greater Victoria, and it’s services include child care, supportive housing and services for families in crisis, respite care services for children with disabilities and support for their parents, a residence  for survivors of Brain Injury, as well as the Seniors’ Assisted Living Housing which is now located in the original home.

As a  volunteer  “wannabe” myself, after selling my business ten years ago, I began looking for something  to do — somewhere I could use my skills and make a difference in someone else’s life. A volunteer posting in the Times Colonist caught my eye and brought me to The Cridge Centre for the Family. I was immediately inspired by the deep and widespread roots of this organization, and the many, many people it assists and supports. The Cridge Centre for the Family has a large group of volunteers who are key to many of their programs.

My job for the past eight months has been to meet with some of these volunteers to learn about their volunteer jobs, and why they volunteer. I first met with Emily at Macdonald House, a Cridge residence for Brain Injury survivors. As Emily was a student, I assumed she was volunteering for university course credits, so was surprised to hear that volunteering is something that has always been a part of her life, not only to give back, but because of what it gives back to her.

This week you will have the opportunity to hear from some of The Cridge volunteers who offer a wide variety of services to the community. From the Moving Team, who all came to The Cridge through Glad Tidings Church, to Jessica who helps organize the annual Brain Injury Conference at the University of Victoria, and Marj who bakes weekly for the women in The Transition House, all were drawn by the desire to give back to their community – and have stayed because of the caring and compassion they found amongst the staff and volunteers at The Cridge. From the group I call “Mimi’s Happy Volunteers”, who meet monthly at The Cridge to stuff and decorate baskets for The Cridge Respitality Program, I was told that “The Cridge is the happiest place on earth, a place where people are loved for WHO they are, and not WHAT they are.”

Stay tuned for their stories – I hope they’ll make you feel good, and maybe, just maybe, they might encourage you to expand and enrich your own life by volunteering. As Marj so clearly puts it,  “maybe The Cridge isn’t the place for everyone, but I firmly believe that there is a volunteer job somewhere in this community that will make you feel good about yourself, and allow you to connect and strengthen your community at the same time.”


With thanks to Vicki for her interviews of some of our amazing volunteers, of which she is one!

Technology helps women rebuild lives

Technology is an inevitable part of our lives now. If we aren’t emailing on our laptop, then we are checking the news on our phone — or looking for information on our tablet. It has become an essential way to communicate, to gather information and to live our daily lives.  So imagine what it would be like if suddenly you didn’t have a cell phone — or your tablet or laptop was no longer yours to use. This happens on a regular basis for the women who come to our transition house — very often they cannot bring their technology with them — and even have to stop using their phones because it is unsafe. Technology can be an excellent communication tool — but it can also be a way for abusive partners to track and terrify their victims.

So often part of the rebuilding process for our women is for them to get new technology — often an expense that they simply can’t afford.  So when we receive donations of phones or laptops, we know that we will be able to find a home for them. We recently received a few laptops from Era — a company from Winnipeg that recycles technology and donates it to non-profits. We were thrilled to be able to give these laptops to women who need them in order to continue their education and engage in job searches.

If you have technology to donate that is still in excellent condition, we would gladly pass it on to a woman who will gratefully use it as she rebuilds her life.


Hanna’s Story: The Ripple Effects of Abuse

By Candace Stretch

The ripple effects of living with a violent partner are vast for women. Experiencing violence and abuse on a daily basis can lead women into drug and alcohol dependencies, cause mental health struggles, and contribute to financial challenges. These ripple effects continue for women with children, as they face the challenge of raising their children in such difficult circumstances. This can lead to Ministry of Children & Family Development (MCFD) involvement, and sometimes even removal of children from the family home.

When Hanna moved into Cridge housing and began to access the support of the Dovetail Program, she had been through years of abuse and had used alcohol to cope. Even though the abuser was no longer in her life, Hanna was still struggling through the pain of addiction. This addiction led to MCFD removing her son, and placing him in foster care. Hanna was heartbroken- she had finally found safety for herself and her son, only to have him taken away.

With the support of her Dovetail worker, Hanna entered alcohol treatment. She returned from treatment with a deep commitment to maintaining her sobriety, and a strong desire to work toward getting her son back. Hanna set up regular meetings with her social worker and did everything she could to demonstrate that she was prepared to be a full-time parent again.

Gradually Hanna was given longer and longer visits with her son. Having to go through the heartbreak of saying goodbye after each visit was a huge test of her sobriety. Yet each time she felt the urge to drink, she sought the help of her Dovetail worker and her addiction support network. Through her patience, perseverance and her enormous love for her child, Hanna showed her MCFD social worker that she was prepared to be a full-time parent again.

Hanna was finally able to see the last ripple effect of pain fade away- she was reunited with her son in early 2017 and is now living with him in our Cridge housing. And, just this past month, she celebrated 1 year of sobriety!

Please note: names and identifying details were altered to protect confidentiality

Stay Strong

We are blessed by every woman and child that comes through the doors of The Cridge Transition House for Women. And it is no surprise that the women bless and encourage each other to be strong. Imagine arriving at the transition house feeling frightened about what you just left behind and about the uncertain future ahead of you, and seeing this note left behind by a woman who just moved out – written on the chalk board in the kitchen:

You will heal. You will be able to move on.
You are capable of EVERYTHING they said you were not.
Stay strong.

Making Lemonade after Brain Injury

After someone is blind-sided by trauma recovering a sense of self, and purpose in life, can be over-whelming.

Six years ago, a brain surgery to remove a malformed cluster of blood vessels in Sara’s brainstem, irrevocably changed the direction of her life.  Due to the disabilities the surgery caused, she could not return to her job at a local university – the difference in her physical self, abilities and self-identity turned her world upside-down.

“I dwelt on how awful this change was when I had too much idle time or felt adrift.  I didn’t want such constant negativity.  Nor just to exist.  I needed a new life purpose and direction.”

Sara enjoyed writing but never had time to devote to it when her life was divided between working and raising a young family.  She learned Simon Fraser University offers an eight-month online creative writing program which Sara just completed.

Janelle Breese Biagioni, who has been working with Sara through The Cridge Brain Injury Services, believed learning how to use social media might reduce isolation and help Sara gain confidence by interacting with others.  Through the generous funding of the Zoie Gardner fund, Janelle arranged some in-home social media tutoring sessions.  In addition to learning some basics of online communication, Sara started a blog about making life easier and more accessible through her experiences.

“I am thrilled to have an outlet that gives my life purpose and meaning. I’m so thankful to Janelle and The Cridge Centre for the Family for helping and supporting me.”

Helping a survivor find a new purpose in life can help their resiliency and recovery. Social media doesn’t replace face-to-face contact, but is a step in the right direction for Sara and finding a new place in her community.  In this case, establishing and designing a different direction after an unpredictable trauma has been paramount to rebuild self-identity and integration.

To learn more about Sara, visit her blog at www.lemonsandliving.com.

From a tent to housing… to home.

By Christine Wosilius

It was a Friday afternoon in mid summer when a gentleman appeared on the steps of the Child Care building. I was on my way up to the main building, however since he wasn’t a familiar person I stopped to talk with him (for security reasons we always speak with new adults who walk in the building).

He told me that a social worker at The Salvation Army had recommended that he come and see us and we might be able to help him with housing.  He then began to tell me a bit of his story, how he and his family had moved to Vancouver from another province with the promise of a job, how the job had quickly vanished leaving him, his wife and their 2 children without any resources.  They moved to Victoria with the help of some friends but now all 4 of them were living in a tent.

I work in Child Care and I have no idea how long the wait list for our housing is or how the application process works but I knew that I was not going to let him leave without speaking to someone in our Dovetail program.  So he and I walked up to the main building and waited in the lounge.  Karen A was the star of the day who dropped what she was working on, made time for him and began the interview with him.

On October 1 when we had our event celebrating Overcomers with the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge I saw him and his family watching and cheering and was struck by how good God is and how wonderful His timing is.  This gentleman, his wife and their 2 children waving to William and Kate had been living in a tent only a short time before this, but thanks to our Dovetail program were safely housed, their youngest child in our daycare program allowing both parents to now go to work. Home at last!

For more information about our housing: http://cridge.org/supportive-transitional-housing/