When Ashley Siu was a little girl, she and her mom Van-Anh suffered through difficult times. Needing support and guidance, they reached out to St. Joe’s Women’s Centre for help; a decision which had a profound impact on both of their lives.
St. Joe’s has served Ottawa’s homeless women as a daytime shelter for over thirty years, and it welcomed Ashley and Van-Anh with open arms.
“My mom had me when she was very young,” says Ashley, now sixteen. “She left home and school, and St. Joe’s provided a welcoming place for us,” she recalls. “I had a real sense of community, of safety, of warmth and care.”
While Ashley was busy growing and playing as a young member of the St. Joe’s community, her mom not only received moral support, but food, toiletries and practical advice that saw her go to college and earn a degree, which led to a full time job in the government. The experience of relying on St. Joe’s – and seeing the positive changes it made in their lives – left an indelible imprint on Ashley, who now regularly volunteers her time in the Ottawa community.
“It’s important to me to volunteer, because my experience at St. Joe’s helped me grow up to be who I am today,” she says.
Marsha Wilson, the Director of the Centre, emphasizes that St. Joe’s acts as a powerful resource for women – one which builds on partnerships established with other organizations like Ottawa Public Health and the Royal Ottawa Mental Health Centre to provide women with the care they need. It also helps them to build autonomy, self-respect and a strong network of friends.
“It’s all about the women and children who walk through this door,” says Marsha. “We are a safe home away from home for them,” she continues. “When you don’t have a network of friends or a place where you can feel safe, how can you be happy?”
For Ashley, her memories of St. Joe’s are suffused with happiness. “They’re caring people at St. Joe’s – more like friends,” she says. “My time there gave me a sense of gratitude and appreciation for the kindness of others.”
And now, the compassion shown to Ashley in the past will shape her future. “When I grew up, so much was given to me because we were struggling. Now it’s my turn to give back to everyone else.”