When Patricia Verissimo moved to Ottawa from her native Brazil, she did not know a word of English, though that quickly changed as she put down roots and raised a family.
But what really made Patricia feel a part of her new country was her decision to give back. “For me, volunteering was a big step to feeling that Canada was my place,” says Patricia. “By volunteering I have truly felt a part of this community.”
Patricia volunteers for Shelter Movers Ottawa, a survivor-centered, free moving service for people leaving abuse. “My home city back in Brazil has a major problem with domestic violence,” she explains. “So this was something very close to my heart.”
“Coming from a place where you see violence every day, you start thinking it is common, that you can’t do much about it,” notes Patricia. “Shelter Movers is showing that violence is not normal and we can do something to help stop it.”
Since opening its Ottawa Chapter in 2017, Shelter Movers has completed over 670 moves, supporting anyone who is fleeing any type of abuse from any source. They help clients move in and out of shelters, as well as store their belongings in storage units at no cost for however long the survivor is in a shelter.
“We have done some high risk moves, and the police make sure that it is safe for us to go inside and move the belongings, so we go in, get the things, take the client out and help them move toward a new beginning,” explains Patricia.
“When we shut the doors on the truck, the client often starts crying because they know it’s final—they’re leaving their home for good—and we have to give them a lot of reassurance, telling them they’re going to be ok, that better things are ahead,” she explains.
While Patricia’s involvement with Shelter Movers has taught her skills she is proud to have learned—like how to drive a moving truck, buy a tool kit and work an Allen Key like a pro—it’s those personal interactions with survivors which leave the biggest impact.
“These women are so used to people putting them down that they stop believing in themselves, and we are some of the first people to show them that they have value,” concludes Patricia. “I love Shelter Movers. Every time I have a move I know it’s going to be a special day.”
For information on how to volunteer for—or donate to—Shelter Movers Ottawa, please visit sheltermovers.com/donate