Volunteering is life changing

My volunteer experience with The Cridge Centre for the Family Dovetail Program and The Cridge Transition House for Women has been a life changing and fulfilling experience. I decided last year, later in life, that I wanted to make a career change into the social work field. I search extensively to pick an organization that I wanted to volunteer with and I decided The Cridge Centre was a perfect fit for me.

From the moment I contacted Karen about volunteer opportunities, she has been nothing short of wonderful. She has made sure throughout the process that the volunteer work I am doing is both meaningful to me as a social work student, the clients I am privileged to work with and the organization as a whole.

I started my volunteer role at The Cridge Transition House helping with a variety of tasks that span from driving residents to appointments to cooking, cleaning and child care. This original opportunity has blossomed into working with Karen at the Dovetail Program, assisting her with accompanying clients to Vancouver for Immigration and Refugee hearings, attending court with clients and preparing briefings for lawyers to assist in ongoing client court cases. This experience has been invaluable to my training to be a social worker. I have enjoyed my volunteer experience so immensely that I will be doing my first practicum at The Cridge Transition House this Fall.

From Abuse to Respect

by Marlene Goley

Amber tried for years to leave her abusive husband.  It was so hard. There was never enough money and she needed help with the children.  She returned to her abusive husband again and again.  Child protection workers said Amber could not protect her children from witnessing the abuse she endured at the hands of her husband. Her children were removed and put in foster care.

When child protection told Amber that she would likely never have her children returned to her, Amber decided to fight.  She told her husband she was choosing her children over him and got the legal help she needed to get him to leave and stay away from her.  Then she focused on her children’s needs.  She set up family counselling, individual counselling, and accessed all the support she could to put the pieces of her life back together.  It was all too much for her adolescent son who couldn’t believe that he had seen the end of his mother’s bruised and swollen arms and face.  He repeatedly said that he wanted to stay in foster care.  Amber persevered. Visits increased. Amber set firm expectations about how everyone in their family were to behave and treat each other.  There was a lot of testing.  Amber stayed firm in her resolve.  The result? Last month, Amber and her son went to court, together, to request that the care order be removed.  The judge agreed it was time.  Her son returned home happily.  Amber has her family back and they are all proud of their safe, respectful new life.

For more information about our Cridge Transition House for Women

Canada 150: Seniors and Student Story Quilt

by Vicki Melville Bathurst

It was a Canada 150 Celebration, a project to join the generations, the young and the old, to make something that reminded them of being a Canadian. With The Cridge Seniors’ Centre Activity Coordinator,  Alison at the helm, and Nancy as the official quilter, twenty-five grade 4 and 5 students from George Jay Elementary School walked up the hill to The Cridge Centre once a week  this spring  to meet with a group of seniors living at the Centre. Their project was to discover what being a Canadian meant to them. Each was tasked with coming up with their own idea which they would ultimately paint onto a square, to become a part of a quilt.

On their first meetings, the seniors and children poured over books of Canada and spoke about their history. The children were fascinated to hear that many of the seniors were born or came from the Prairies. After pouring over the different books of Canada, they began sketching something that reminded them of what it meant to be Canadian. This was a culturally diverse group of children, some were not born in Canada and a class tally discovered there were 7 different languages spoken in their homes.

For some of these students it would be the first time they had met anyone of the seniors’ generation. I was touched to hear the words “grandma” and “grandpa” being used at the encouragement of the seniors. One student, Mary, independently teamed up with a gentleman for some serious talking. He told me that when he first met her he asked about her parents. When she said that she didn’t have a father, he told her that he lost his own mother when he was 4 years old. That sharing of such an intimate fact made for many long conversations for the two of them as the project continued. Walter, with the gruff voice and “old school” demeanor, worked with the largest group of rambunctious children. It was heartening to watch them all band together around him for farewell pictures at the end of the project.

The final project unveiling included a visit from a camera crew from CTV News and baked goodies from George Jay School. The final 25 quilt squares, one drawn and painted by each student, had been sewn into a quilt and bound with a border of Canadian maple leaves. The students were excited and very proud of their work, and some of them posed by the quilt and were interviewed by the CTV camera crew. “What reminds you of being Canadian?”  the CTV commentator asked. Their answers were varied, only a few the same: A beaver, an orca, the Rocky Mountains, the Pacific Ocean. One child had painted the official flower of Newfoundland where her family came from, another a dream-catcher medicine wheel as recognition of Canada’s First Nations. The words First Nations, Peace and Leadership were painted by another. All of the children received a Certificate of Thank You with their name on it, and everyone sat in front of the quilt for a group photo. The certificate read, “In recognition of your willingness and openness to engage, play and connect with new people!  Your creative energy and kindness will always be remembered.”

This project not only opened up opportunities for inter-generational fun, but it also created a wonderful opportunity for children and seniors alike to catch a glimpse of what it means to be Canadian from the opposite end of the age spectrum. We are so grateful for the teachers and students who joined us in this wonderful project!


Young Parent Outreach Program

Alison was 18 when she connected with Nicole and The Cridge Young Parent Outreach Program. She was pregnant and felt isolated and hopeless. Nicole helped her connect to a midwife and other community supports. Alison had stable housing and was managing all right by the time baby Krista was born. Alison stayed connected to Nicole for support for the next year and then launched onto her own path.

Alison has just recently reached out to Nicole again. Krista is two now and Allison has made some more big changes in her life. She has gone back to school and is planning her career path. She realized that her relationship with Krista’s father was unhealthy and needed to end. He is now out of both Alison and Krista’s lives. Alison wanted some support to help two-year old Krista adjust to this big change so she called on the support that worked for her before – Nicole and The Cridge Young Parent Outreach Program. Nicole’s door is never closed and she is always ready to weave in and out of the lives of the young moms who hang onto her number, knowing she’ll be there when they need her.

Neighbour Day at The Cridge Centre for the Family

By Candace Stretch

On May 7th, many of us who live and work in Cridge housing, gathered to celebrate Neighbour Day. Neighbour Day is a Community Action Project of Leadership Victoria which encourages folks to “meet and greet the people with whom we share our neighbourhood, fences, and walls.” What a wonderful opportunity for us to help our tenants across Cridge programs connect with each other!

At Mary Cridge Manor, the Brain Injury Program and the Cridge Dovetail Program joined forces to host a BBQ for the tenants from both programs. They also invited nearby neighbours to enjoy the festivities. There was a lovely neighbourly atmosphere as tenants enjoyed hot dogs and conversation. We are so proud of the unique community we have created at MCM and Neighbour Day was such a fitting way to celebrate that!

At Hayward Heights, the Dovetail staff joined forces with the Seniors Recreation staff to host a party for Supportive Transitional Housing tenants and Cridge Seniors Village residents. It was a fantastic event! A huge turn-out of seniors, tenants and kids came to enjoy donuts & coffee on the sunny back patio. There was beautiful music, courtesy of the fabulous Victoria Mandolin Orchestra, and tons of fun games and activities for folks of all ages. Even though our tenants live right alongside our seniors, many have not had the opportunity to reach out and get to know each other. It was so special to be able to host an event that fostered these connections- there was a buzz about the event that was truly unique.
Alison, one of the Seniors Recreation staff, shared her observations of the afternoon’s festivities: “‘I only live a few steps away’ was something I heard frequently. It was such a neat feeling of shared space! The seniors have said it was an ‘absolutely great afternoon’, ‘fun’, ‘neat to meet everyone.’ A set of kid sisters that had to go home early said, they ‘wish they could come again next time’. It was truly a heartwarming afternoon.”

Indeed, it was a very special Neighbour Day at The Cridge Centre for the Family. This is a tradition that we would like to continue each year. We are so thankful to the Leadership Victoria team for inviting us to participate in this wonderful initiative!

Building Bridges Builds Connections

By Marlene Goley

Cridge Young Parent Outreach Program received a grant from Coast Capital to provide a monthly group we’ve called Building Bridges.  Here is a story about one of the young moms who has been attending.

Laura is a young mom with two young daughters.

Laura had a very fractured relationship with her parents in her adolescence. She moved out before finishing high school and ended up couch-surfing and hanging out with a few friends on the street.  When she got pregnant with her first daughter, she wanted to create a stable life for herself and her baby but it was hard to leave her street friends. She struggled to find housing and live on meager social assistance benefits.  That was when she first connected with the Cridge Young Parent Outreach Program (YPOP).  The Cridge Young Parent Outreach Worker helped Laura work with her social worker to address child protection concerns and finish high school.  This was a lengthy process that included her daughter going into foster care for a time.  By the time her second daughter was born, Laura was able to provide more safety and stability for her young family, but she was overwhelmed by the stresses of caring for two small children, she was isolated at home, and she was slipping into a depression.

The Cridge Young Parent Outreach Worker was one of Laura’s only connections.  When the Building Bridges Group started, Laura was encouraged to come and just check it out.  She found that there were other young moms with the same struggles and that it felt good to get out and talk about their common challenges and triumphs.  Having dinner and child care made all the difference to her being able to attend.  She could come, relax, and enjoy a nice meal with her children and the other moms and kids.  Then the kids were cared for in another room to give the moms a break and allow them to talk about the topics such as taking care of yourself over the holidays, what are your goals for the new year, what do you need to let go of.

Attending the Building Bridges Group has helped Laura break her isolation, connect with other moms in her community, given her confidence in herself, and helped her to find her own voice.  In fact, she has asked to facilitate one of the group discussions about breaking the cycle of poverty in their lives.  Laura is well on her way to being the adult and parent that she wants to be.


Courtenay and Ben and Autism

By Courtenay Meridew

When I accepted a position at The Cridge Centre for the Family as a Support Worker, I had no idea the amount of compassion, community and diversity I would encounter. My first day was filled with friendly coworkers and warm welcomes. My favorite of course being from my supported child, Ben. Ben waved his hand an inch from my face and shouted “hello Courtney!” seconds before giving me a great big hug. This greeting was so enthusiastic and loving, but it also displayed Ben’s delay in social skills, as his diagnosis is Autism.

Key characteristics for Autistic Disorder are “the presence of markedly abnormally or impaired development in social interaction and communication, and a markedly restricted repertoire of activity and interests.” These proved true with Ben as I quickly learned his knowledge of social cues was limited and his repertoire of activities he enjoyed was minimal. Two years ago when Ben and I first started hanging out he had social challenges that would frustrate his classmates. Specifically, personal space and remaining quiet during instructions would agitate the group. Through applying my educational background and experience in combination with Ben’s focus and love for his peers, he soon learned the importance of socialization and boundaries. Don’t get me wrong, you can still hear Ben’s echoing “hello!” down the halls as he greets everyone he passes, but he respects personal bubbles and the need to ask before giving hugs. Like anyone, Ben forgets these “rules” as he calls them, but with gentle reminders, he is able to refocus and present himself as a mature young boy. Having just turned thirteen, these social interactions are more important for Ben than ever before. Tackling his delays in social skills has allowed Ben to engage more with his peers, which ultimately expands his repertoire of activities and interests. Ben has now gained the confidence to play the board game ‘Sorry’ and ‘Go Fish’ with his peers. These games provide the opportunity for Ben to connect with others and express himself more.

The best display of Ben’s progress came during a game we play on the front field, called ‘Trading Post’. In this game the children must collect items they find on the field (for example flowers) and return them to the trading post in exchange for gems. To get gems, their item must have a purpose (for example medicine or clothing). The goal of the game is to collect the most gems and ultimately exchange them for land. I had been hesitant to suggest this game to Ben because it is a complex and chaotic game, that he previously showed no interest in. However, I was wrong to hesitate because any activity can be modified to allow everyone to participate. Ben saw the gems and immediately wanted to be the banker in charge of trading the items. He took on this role with so much enthusiasm. I sat back and observed Ben shouting “this is worth two dollars” and “what is this item for” to his classmates who waited patiently for the verdict on their collected items. Everyone loved his overpriced estimates and his exaggerated movements and voice. This game demonstrated Ben’s progression with his social skills and communication, and his love for inclusion. Being thirteen means Ben will no longer be in the program come September, but I have no doubt he will exceed all expectations in his future.



Volunteering at The Cridge Transition House

By Vicki Melville Bathurst

I met up with Marj during her four hour shift at The Cridge Transition House for Women (hereafter to be referred to as The House). Unlike the open door policy that I was becoming accustomed to, this is a gated home whose whereabouts is kept strictly confidential. It is a massive, stately old home built in 1912 and was once the grandest in the area. With 12 bedrooms, in a pinch it can house up to 18 women and children, with cots squeezed into corners for the little ones. The house was quiet this afternoon, unlike the two weeks prior when I was told it was “packed to the rafters.”

If you’re lucky, you’ve never heard of this place. But if you or someone you know needs it, you will be forever thankful it exists. The House is a safe haven, offering housing and support to women and their children fleeing domestic violence. Recently an abused woman from Ontario jumped into her car fleeing violence and she kept on driving until she hit the B.C. coast and couldn’t drive any further. Fortunately The House is well known within the community of first responders who work with these women, and it is always open. It is here that she finally found safety.

So what exactly is The House?  Purchased by The Cridge Centre for the Family in 1991, it provides safe, emergency accommodation, support and information for women and children escaping an abusive relationship. It not only provides up to 30 days refuge for the women, it can also be the stepping stone towards independent, transitional housing on The Cridge Centre for the Family’s main property for up to 3 years.

The House requires a minimum of 12 active volunteers to operate.  Volunteers assist with all routines from meal preparation, baking, taking care of children, picking up and organizing donations, fueling The House vehicles and driving to appointments. To volunteer here, you must commit to volunteer at The House 4 hours a week for a minimum of 6 months. In turn, The Cridge Transition House for Women has an extensive training program that recognizes the importance of dealing with such a vulnerable group of people, and goes above and beyond in providing a meaningful and rewarding volunteer experience.

For the past 5 years, Marj has come to The House once a week to bake and help the women with dinner preparations. She knows that the wonderful smells of fresh baking often draw the women to the kitchen where she is able to offer them her listening ears and caring heart. Having watched women arrive at The House in the back of a police car, she is passionate about her job and her ability to bring some light into the lives of these women and children. Marj tells me how much she, personally, gets out of her work here. She says “it makes her heart sing” – to be able to listen, to offer a few kind words, or to teach some new skills in the kitchen. From our very first conversation on the telephone, Marj’s philosophy is “where there’s a spark, there’s fire.” She explained to me what she means by this – she believes there is a volunteer job for everyone, maybe not with The Cridge, but somewhere in the community. Why? Because in connecting with others in the community, not only can the volunteer go away knowing they made a difference to others, but Marj also knows how rewarding it makes the volunteer feel about themselves and their role in strengthening their community.

In honouring, but not celebrating, 25 years of history for The Cridge Transition House for Women, The Cridge Centre is launching a Courageous Women Campaign. The goal is to raise $25,250 to allow them to grow and strengthen their supports for the women and families of The House, to continue to help women find strength to recover, overcome and launch violence-free lives.

The following words were written by a woman at The House and vividly describe the horror of domestic abuse: My husband threatened he would kill me with his bare hands if he ever got wind of my plans to leave him. He said, “If you leave me, I’ll find you. No matter how long it takes, I’ll track you down…… I’ll kill you, the children and then I’ll take my own life”.

YOU can help out, either with your donation or your commitment to become a volunteer. For more information on the Courageous Women Campaign: jspecht@cridge.org or call 250.995.6419

Click here to learn more about The Cridge Transition House for Women

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

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!