For decades, people in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside have been longing to overcome the treacherous cycles of poverty, homelessness, and addiction for good.
In this 2020–2021 Annual Report, we invite you to discover how your compassion is helping transform their lives, and welcoming women home to UGM’s brand new Women & Families Centre.
At UGM’s Women & Families Centre, you’ll empower women with tools to overcome addiction for good. You’ll provide them with resources to completely rebuild their lives. You’ll help mothers become resilient role models to their children — and most importantly, you’ll give them a place to call home.
By supporting UGM, you’re helping families persevere out of poverty, homelessness, and addiction — transforming the entire trajectory of generations to come.
CW: Abusive relationships, attempted suicide
Joelle has a family history of addiction, with her own struggle with alcohol and cocaine starting after surviving an abusive relationship in her mid-20’s. Despite it, Joelle was still able to succeed in pursuing her goals. “I went to school, got a degree in psychiatric nursing, and worked at a naturopathic clinic,” she shares. Life was on an upswing, but then, someone from AA got her into heroin. “That’s when my life really spun out of control. I was working at a detox centre, and only lasted a couple months before my addiction caught up with me.”
That started a cycle of recovery and homelessness. However, bringing her second child into the world — a precious daughter — disrupted that. Not only did Joelle receive stabilization support and was thriving in recovery, but she also found subsidized housing. Sadly, she eventually relapsed, and her daughter was taken away. “It was heartbreaking; it was like a piece of me was missing,” she says. After living through attempted suicide, Joelle realized if she wanted her life and daughter back, she needed deep healing. “I hadn’t dealt with my traumas. That’s why the relationships I ended up in were abusive. I needed to surround myself with people that really cared.”
That brought Joelle to The Sanctuary, which she knew was a safe place. “Everyone was super welcoming. The Sanctuary has always had an open door,” she explains. Here, Joelle embraced the support, and courageously worked through her past. “I didn’t trust people, but because of the unconditional love I got, I learned to really trust. I was given time to rest and heal, which is what I needed. They made me feel like I wasn’t alone.” Joelle is also incredibly grateful for UGM’s Aftercare programs, which are providing avenues to rebuild her life, while staying connected to the community. “I can’t stress enough how important it is to have that continuity of care. Without it, I don’t know if I’d still be sober.”
Since then, Joelle has completed a Support Worker Internship at The Sanctuary, which has helped restart her career in health and addictions. “It was the perfect transition back into the workforce,” she shares. “And, it gave me a sense of purpose: showing women there’s a way to stay sober.”
Today, Joelle is overjoyed to be reuniting with her daughter, who’s now six! “If it wasn’t for UGM, I wouldn’t have her back so soon. They wrote a support letter to the Ministry, and have housing for us in the new Women & Families Centre,” she says, gratefully. “My greatest hope is to show my daughter resilience. You can make mistakes, get back up, and keep going. This building is going to offer women an opportunity to be role models to their children, and help raise healthy families. It’s time to break the cycle.”
CW: Alcohol poisoning
For as long as she can remember, Virginia has aspired to create her impact in the world with her creativity. But after flourishing beyond imagination as an Interior Designer and Chef in the hotel and restaurant industry, she still ached with emptiness. “I couldn’t quite put my finger on it,” she explains. “I travelled the globe: training as a chef in Italy, owning three restaurants in Calgary, and opening the Shangri-la Hotels in Vancouver and Mumbai. But I just had this feeling there was something missing.” She tried filling that void with alcohol, but it only left her as lost as ever.
Addiction unravelled Virginia, and one day, she found herself dying of alcohol poisoning while living in the backseat of her car. “I recall asking God to let me go because I was so exhausted from my life,” she shares. “But after a few hours, I realized He was there with me. I started praying, and I promised that if I somehow made it out alive, I’d turn my life back over to Christ.”
After miraculously surviving, Virginia embedded herself into a church community, checked herself into detox, and began her recovery journey at UGM’s Sanctuary. “The moment I walked in the doors, I felt love and support,” she begins. “And I looked to God and said, ‘I’m finally home.’” Virginia came to The Sanctuary which gave her the strong start she needed before moving on to a long-term recovery program. “UGM was pivotal,” she shares. “In my addiction, I didn’t think others were suffering as deeply as I was. But the women’s love and compassion helped me realize I wasn’t alone.”
After a transformative year in recovery, Virginia was ecstatic to stay at UGM again before moving onto second-stage recovery. That reconnected her to her loving community at UGM through our Peer Leadership Program and sewing workshops, which she still participates in twice a week. Over the past year, Virginia has also been a valuable member of UGM’s Community Advisory Committee for the Women and Families Centre — providing wisdom to ensure its opening event is life-giving to the women who walk through our doors.
While Virginia still revels in her art, her sense of purpose now comes from her faith. Today, she is working toward a Master’s in Theology, and is pursuing her newfound passion: mission work. “I want others who are suffering to know there’s faith, hope, and love — and to never give up. It’s truly what I love, and I want to share that message around the world,” Virginia says, humbly. “I truly believe I’m right where I need to be, and I wholeheartedly thank UGM for all they’ve done for me. They helped restore my faith in Christ, and my life has never been better.”
Every single person’s life that you’re compassionately helping restore is opening doors to stronger families, renewed purpose, and transformed communities.
We are filled with such deep hope, knowing the expanded programming at UGM’s Women & Families Centre opens these doors even wider.
Opening Doors to Stronger Families
“I think one of the biggest impacts of Joelle’s transformation is seeing our beautiful daughter back to her caring and loving self. She has once again become goal-oriented, optimistic, and looks forward to the future.
Joelle has always been dedicated to her daughter, and as she has progressed in her recovery, we have really seen her step back into her role as a mother. It has been wonderful to see her grow in this way. Her daughter is so happy to have her mom back in her life. It has also been heartwarming to see her reestablish her relationship with her son.”
– Judy, Joelle’s Mom
Opening Doors to Renewed Purpose
“Virginia has an endless curiosity for the deeper meaning of life. Her devotion to self-awareness and connecting with the Spirit is so powerful. We all have dark days that can trigger feelings of hopelessness, but Virginia has never been the type to give up.
I admire my aunt for many reasons, but the one that touches my heart the most is her courage to surrender and let God in. Being able to set aside your ego, pride, and resistance is not easy — but she did it so willingly. God has ignited a fiery passion in her, and she now paints to feel, connect, express, and be still.
Virginia is proof that you can rise from the ashes and create a stronger, wiser version of yourself. We can turn our most vulnerable moment into the first step of creating a beautiful and untouchable world — and that is the gift that Virginia keeps on giving.”
– Sydney, Virginia’s Niece
Opening Doors to Transformed Communities
“Virginia is very accepting and non-judgemental — and the women know and feel that. Virginia has had many great life experiences, but she’s never held it in higher regard than others. In that way, her love, care, and acceptance of all those around her inspire me. Virginia gives back by sharing her skills, vision, and talent with us — she’s a gift to be around, and I’m thankful she continues sharing her presence with us.
We’ve journeyed with Joelle for many years, and through it all, she’s remained calm, kind, and true. Joelle has always been willing to help in any way she can. She knows what she wants in life, and though many barriers have stood in her way, she’s been steadfast in reaching her goals. We’re so looking forward to what this next year will hold for Joelle and her daughter in our brand new building — and are grateful to continue being part of their journey.”
– Korena, The Sanctuary Team Member
2020–2021 Year in Review
This year, we’re celebrating the deep impact you’re making, and reflecting on what brought us here.
Learn more about President Bill Mollard’s retirement, the legacy he’s created, and UGM’s vision for tomorrow.