Be inspired by this caring couple’s learnings and journey.
When Robyn and Thomas first started their respective roles at UGM, they didn’t realize how much it would change their lives—beyond just their careers. Now, this couple is sharing what they’ve learned from working together in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside (DTES) and journeying alongside people and families working to courageously overcome homelessness, poverty and addiction.
We know their journey and perspectives will not only touch your hearts, but also inspire you to take action in your own communities. They’ve learned a tremendous amount from their years in the DTES and we’re blessed that they’re sharing their experience with us—so that we can all learn how to be better neighbours to people in our communities. Be inspired by their heart, journey and learnings.
Robyn and Thomas met nine years ago while both working at UGM on the Women and Families Team. When they had an opportunity to work closer together with kids for a few months, their relationship sparked. They both realized this could be the start of something special—especially because working in a service-oriented environment like UGM allowed them to see each other’s true colours as they cared for others.
“You get to see somebody in their best and worst moments when you're working alongside each other to serve others.” — Thomas.
“When you’re around kids, you have to be yourself. Kids pick up on inauthenticity quickly. So it was fun for me to see Thomas’s true silly self as he worked with kids. I remember one time there was a kid having a tough time. So Thomas sat with the kid, listened and tried to work through the kid’s emotions for so long. And his patience was just so incredible. It just shows how he genuinely cares for other people.” — Robyn
Now, they’ve been happily together for eight years and married for six. Beyond sharing life together, Thomas and Robyn share a deep love for the Downtown Eastside community. Since getting to know the neighbourhood and working together, they've grown in love and understanding of each other’s passion, calling, and dedication.
“It's really helpful to have a partner who also wants to learn how to be a better neighbour, and sees the beauty and complexity of the community. We're constantly in the tension of whether we’re being helpful or harmful when someone is struggling. It’s so nice that we can talk and figure it out together.” — Robyn
Their daily life, including living close to the neighbourhood to stay connected to the community, further reflects the deep care they have for the community they serve. “We chose to have our wedding in the neighborhood at Strathcona Church because we wanted to make it barrier free, so anybody in the community who wanted to come was welcomed.” — Robyn
They’ve learned a tremendous amount through their years of working here together. And they’re aware that they’ll always be learning, together. Beyond the lesson of continual learning, the couple also have gained valuable insights and perspectives on family, love and community throughout their time serving at UGM.
“We've both worked at UGM for around nine years but we still will always be guests to the community. The community members we get to walk alongside are experts in their own experience. So there's so much to learn from people, like how to care for each other and how to really have each other's back.
I don't think that's glamorizing anything, but it's so easy to miss. For me growing up, the Downtown Eastside was an area that you went through to get somewhere else. Rather than leaning in and being welcomed into the community. There's so many incredible lessons and so many incredible people here and each person will have something that they can share and something that we can learn from.
You're welcome here no matter who you are, where you've come from. We want to invite you in and we want to care for you. It is incredible seeing that kind of love at UGM. Love is intense. Love is messy. Love is dedication. Love is family. Even when somebody drives you up the wall, if that person is your family, you're going to go to bat for them. That’s a lesson of love I’ve learned from having seen that love in action all around me in the Downtown Eastside.” — Thomas
Today, Thomas is the Children & Youth Program Supervisor and Robyn is the Senior Development Officer, Annual & Special Giving at UGM. They’re truly passionate about their jobs that allow them to live out their calling, faith and purpose. The couple is constantly inspired by the community they encounter through UGM.
“The people here in the Downtown Eastside are incredible. There's a strength and uniqueness to this neighborhood. There is love, depth and a true sense of community you don't often see in other places. This is my life. So many of my friendships and obviously my most significant relationship all came from here. I can't imagine doing anything different.” — Thomas
So what are ways to be a better neighbour and to better help those in your community? Robyn and Thomas have some helpful thoughts. For starters, words are much more powerful than people realize. It’s important to recognize the language you use.
“Words can perpetuate stigmas or increase empathy. I didn’t realize how impactful words were until working at UGM. In my current role, where I get to share more stories about the community, being able to educate people on what words can perpetuate stigma and harmful stereotypes, is truly meaningful.” — Robyn
Going deeper, it’s important to not just re-learn or re-think the language you use, but also to re-learn your perspective and understanding. Although you may have the purest intentions, it’s so important to put in the work to learn how to help others well in a way that actually fosters their growth and healing.
“Seek deep understanding and act on the advice you receive from those who are living within a community before making any decisions about how you think you could help. We have so much information available to us. For example, you can call an organization that has expertise in respectfully caring for the community and ask, ‘Where do I start?’. Or you can read articles that are being written by people who live in the community.” — Robyn
“Do your research and also do your self-reflection. Check your motivations and whether you’re hoping to make things better in your way verses the way that’s actually better for the community. Ask yourself, ‘Well, why do I want to help? Is it about me or something else? What am I coming into this with?’ Find ways to partner with people from the community with people that are already doing the work.” — Thomas
At the end of the day, remember that we’re all interconnected and your actions in your own community can have a ripple effect on others. You can choose to help, because small individual actions can make a big impact on you and your community.
“So often, people who don't live in the Downtown Eastside disconnect themselves from the things our neighbors struggle with. But whether you live nearby the Downtown Eastside or you live farther away, if you do take action in your own communities, it still impacts the Downtown Eastside.
You have influence over a piece of society. And if you challenge stigmas and structures that perpetuate struggles with poverty, homelessness, and addiction, you're challenging those stigmas across society.” — Robyn
Your words and actions can change lives. We see this happen all the time at UGM, as we partner alongside people as they courageously work to overcome homelessness, poverty and addiction. You can choose to speak words and take actions that help others, because we are all neighbours in the community.
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