We were excited to host our 105th Annual General Meeting on Thursday, July 7th. Thank you to the Board of Governors, supporters, and staff for attending!
This was the first AGM for our new CEO, Gary St. Amand and for our new Board Chair, Ken Ristau. For our long-standing Board Member, Bobbie Wildgoose, this was her last AGM after six years on the Board being instrumental with supporting our vision to eliminate poverty in our community.
Also, this was the last AGM attended by Reverend Lynn Maki, who is with the United Church of Canada, Alberta & Northwest Conference, as she is retiring after her long and dedicated support of Bissell Centre and other organizations.
Highlights of our 2015-16 Annual Report include:
In October 2015, we opened up Canada’s first housing complex to provide around-the-clock support for people with Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder.
Our Community Bridge prevented 215 evictions from occurring, ending the threat of homelessness for individuals and families in Edmonton.
132 adults and children were housed through our Outreach Housing Team, which was launched in July 2015 with the purpose to engage with people who are homeless in our city and find them stable housing.
Thank you to everyone for making 2015-16 a successful year for helping people living in poverty. We look forward to another year with providing the necessary supports and care for people in our community.
Meet Carolyn, a mother and retiree who channels her love for children by lending a helping hand around the community. Carolyn says she has always volunteered in some capacity or another, and she began volunteering for Bissell Centre around five or six years ago after being referred by a friend. Since then, she has been an indispensable part of Bissell’s childcare team, which offers free daycare to low-income and in-crisis families Monday through Friday. Carolyn always looks forward to her weekly Monday morning shifts caring for the children. “My role is to cuddle them, feed them, play with them,” she explains. “It’s the best of everything.”
Carolyn says that the staff is what makes Bissell Centre special. “You have a very good staff in the children’s area,” she says. “They’re very devoted. It’s not an easy job, because there are such a variety of children that are all from different families and expecting different things.” Carolyn adds that parents who drop their kids off at Bissell’s daycare need never worry about their little ones – they are in very capable hands.
Although there is no single memory Carolyn would tout as her favourite, she says that the small, simple things are what she remembers most. “Things like the joy you have when you’re holding a baby and it falls asleep in your arms,” she says, “or if it’s upset and you’re able to settle it down. Those moments are what make it special – when you’ve made them happy for a little while.”
Volunteering is also a powerful perspective changer for Carolyn. “You really start to recognize that everybody here – they’re just people too. It really puts a different light on a lot of things.” Carolyn feels gratified to know that she is making a difference in the lives of people who need it most, but insists that she also benefits from the experience: “I find I’m learning lots all the time. I thoroughly enjoy it.”
Bissell Centre relies on volunteers like Carolyn to keep programs like the daycare centre in operation. Thank you to Carolyn and all of our amazing volunteers for helping us to keep the wheels of Bissell Centre turning!
Interested in making a difference? Click here to find out how you can get involved.
Every year on June 21st, the summer solstice, Canada observes National Aboriginal Day in recognition of Aboriginal culture, honouring its vast richness and diversity. This year marks a special milestone as it is the twentieth anniversary of National Aboriginal Day.
The solstice was selected for this special day because of the significance that it holds for many Indigenous groups as the longest day of the year. Bissell Centre hosts annual celebrations on this day to honour our historic ties to the Aboriginal community and to promote its deep and beautiful culture.
“Aboriginal” is an umbrella term that includes the First Nations, Metis, and Inuit peoples of Canada. A large proportion of the people who access Bissell’s services are of Aboriginal heritage because this population disproportionately struggles with homelessness and poverty. The causes of this phenomenon are complex and rooted in a history of systematic marginalization and discrimination.
Bissell Centre is a tireless advocate for Edmonton’s Aboriginal community, as it has been for many years. Celebrating Aboriginal culture at Bissell Centre is an important part of the work we do in support of the Indigenous community. It allows us to connect more deeply with our participants and offers them a space to celebrate their heritage.
This National Aboriginal Day, we are serving a special meal of stew and bannock at 10:00am, as well as running a number of activities in our Drop-in Centre, including:
Blessing and smudging led by an Elder at 9:30am.
Traditional drumming and dance at 11:00am.
Indigenous art in the afternoon.
We are excited for these activities and hope that our friends in the community can join us to celebrate.
From all of us at Bissell Centre, Happy National Aboriginal Day!
It’s hard enough being a single dad, but it’s even harder when you struggle with poverty and periodic homelessness. The idea seems unthinkable, but it’s a reality that many dads in our community must face every day.
One of those dads is Ché, a single father who has faced more than his fair share of troubles. His past struggles with alcohol addiction leading to crime and temporary homelessness left him feeling hopeless. “I’ve been at the bottom many times,” he says, “and it was pretty much my baby girl who was my saving grace.”
Ché recently reconnected with his four-year-old daughter, who is currently living in foster care. “The first time she called me Daddy, I melted,” he says. “When I hear her yell, ‘Daddy, come help me…’ I know that’s my purpose.”
While still in the midst of his struggle with addiction and poverty a number of years ago, Ché accessed Bissell Centre’s Employment Services. With the help of our dedicated support workers, he was able to complete his tickets and secure the employment he needed to get himself off the streets for good.
Since then, Ché has gotten sober, secured a place to live, completed his high school diploma, and enrolled in college in pursuit of an Addictions and Community Services Worker diploma. He has plans to pursue his Master’s degree in the future.
Ché has also started an initiative for a support group for men getting out of prison and re-integrating into the community, an endeavour that he began working on while he himself was still incarcerated. “This is a group for guys getting out and getting back into the community,” he says. “I know from the past that it’s hard to find people to relate, hard to get people to listen.”
Ché’s group, Second Chance Fellowship, is still in the early stages of development and is not yet meeting regularly. However, Ché is excited for it to get off the ground. “Besides my daughter, this is the biggest accomplishment of my life.”
Ché has already been granted guardianship of his daughter, but his living situation stops him from being able to take full custody. His biggest challenge has been finding a suitable and affordable home in which to raise his child. “If I go up to [the foster care workers] and say, ‘I’m ready to take her,’ they’re gonna want to see where I live. How can I do that when I don’t have a two-bedroom place?” Ché hopes that when he completes his diploma and finds steady employment, he will find an affordable two-bedroom apartment in no time, finally allowing him to be a full-time dad.
The transformative power that Ché’s daughter has had on his life is evident. Even though there was a time when alcohol controlled his life, Ché knows that, now that he’s sober, he won’t ever fall off the wagon again. He explains his reason for staying sober as though it were the most obvious thing in the world: “I can’t break my little girl’s heart, right?”
“I’m either Dad, Uncle, or Grandpa around here.” That is the way that Roger, a long time Bissell Centre volunteer, likes to introduce himself around the community. As he puts it, “I’ve got around two hundred street sons and daughters, and about five hundred street grandchildren.” To many community members and visitors to Bissell, Roger is more than a trusted friend – he’s practically part of the family.
Roger has a stocky build, iron gray hair that is nearly white around the temples, and a ready smile that creases his face with little provocation. He has been volunteering for Bissell Centre for over two years, but before that, he was a regular visitor to our Drop-in Centre. “I used to come here for coffee and that on the weekends, and one day they asked me if I wanted to volunteer for the Community Closet. I said, yes I would!”
Before he became a volunteer, Roger’s life was not without its share of troubles. “I lost a sister and a niece to an impaired driver,” he says. “And I lost a granddaughter to an impaired driver. And I got no use for that, people coming too close to kids when they’re drinking.” In the past, Roger has also struggled with homelessness and poverty, going back and forth between temporary homes before he at last got a place of his own in the inner city. Now that Roger has a reliable place to live, he devotes most of his free time to helping others in need.
Roger’s desire for helping others was what drove him to start volunteering at Bissell Centre, offering support and assistance to people who now struggle with the same difficult circumstances that he once faced.
When he’s not at Bissell, Roger is also involved in a volunteer street patrol. All of his volunteer work keeps him busy, but Roger shows no signs of slowing down. “I’m coming up on sixty-seven years old,” he says, laughing, “but I don’t think I’ll retire until I’m about one hundred and eight.”
It is truly an inspiration to see someone like Roger, who has witnessed far more than his fair share of tragedy and personal struggles over the course of his life, devote himself so completely to improving the circumstances in his community.
We are proud to call Roger part of our Bissell Centre family.
For the month of May, our volunteer spotlight falls on Marla, a two-year veteran volunteer whose smiling face can be reliably found at Bissell Centre every Tuesday. She has worked with the arts and crafts Community Participation program since January, before which she worked in the Community Closet distributing free clothing to people in need.
Marla makes time to volunteer around her part-time job at a charitable organization that seeks to alleviate poverty in South and Central America and parts of Africa. “It does great work,” she says of the organization, “but I also wanted to help out locally. That’s why I came to Bissell. My children are all grown now, and I’m at a point where I’d really like to give back to the community.”
When she’s not working or volunteering, Marla also loves to travel. Her volunteer work has taken her as far as Ecuador and Guatemala; in the future, she hopes to travel to even more new places, and is in the process of learning Spanish. She also has a strong artistic background that comes in handy during her Tuesday afternoon painting sessions, where she helps to instruct participants in arts and crafts.
When asked about her favourite memory with Bissell Centre, Marla recalls serving New Year’s Day dinner. “My family was volunteering with me,” she says. “My daughter and her boyfriend came along to help, and we were serving meals at the Drop-in Centre. That was very special.” Marla’s pleasant, approachable personality makes her well-suited to her volunteer role. As she explains, “I treat people here the same way as I treat my own friends. Some people are just going through a rough patch in their lives, and are just happy to share, happy to have an ear to listen.”
One of Marla’s favourite things about Bissell Centre in particular is the people she gets to work with. “Every staff member I’ve met here has been phenomenal,” she says. “The staff make such a huge difference – they are very caring people, all of them.”
And when asked what she would say to someone considering volunteering, Marla’s answer is immediate: “I would say go for it! Especially if you like people. For me the most rewarding part is actually working with the people you are helping. You really get more out of it than you put in.”
Thank you Marla for your continued dedication with helping people.
Want to volunteer?! Please click here to get started!
In October 2014, Debbie was involved in a car-jacking incident, which left her traumatized and made it difficult for her to continue working. She tried working a few more months but required stress leave when diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder due to the incident. Debbie eventually returned to work, but quickly started to experience deep symptoms of anxiety and depression, which resulted in her leave being extended.
With her income greatly compromised, Debbie utilized Employment Insurance and Income Support to financially help her and her family as she pursued opportunities to get back to work. She had limited support from her parents and one of her daughters also helped her to make rent.
When Employment Insurance ran out and her daughter moved to Vancouver, Debbie’s struggles increased as she tried to find ways to pay rent and utility bills leaving her and her family on the verge of homelessness.
That’s when Debbie turned to Bissell Centre’s Community Bridge Program for financial help thinking that she and her children could soon lose their home. The program paid her next month’s rent and program staff were able to keep their utilities going to ensure that they would not be evicted.
Community Bridge staff continue to stay in contact with Debbie every month to see if she and the children need assistance and to provide any support they may need to remain housed. Debbie feels she has stable support from Bissell Centre and is currently enrolled in programs to help with her transition back into the workforce.
Please visit Bissell Centre’s Housing Services to learn more about the Community Bridge Program and our efforts to provide stable housing and financial support for people living in poverty.
Thanks to our funding partners United Way, City of Edmonton, Stollery Charitable Foundation, ENMAX, and Edmonton Charitable Foundation.
This week, we honour our volunteers who assist people who are struggling with poverty in Edmonton. In conjunction with National Volunteer Week, we have planned activities at Bissell Centre to recognize their valuable contribution to the inner-city community.
Each year, our 1,100 dedicated volunteers give more than 11,000 hours serving meals for the hungry, leading activities for children from low-income families, sorting numerous donations, and providing administrative support. We are continually inspired by their compassion and commitment!
Stay tuned to our Facebook and Twitter pages for stories and photos about our dedicated volunteers.
Interested in Volunteering?
To help make a difference for people in our community, please visit our Volunteer Services page and sign up through our online application program to tailor your volunteer experience with us!
We are excited to announce the appointment of Gary St. Amand as the new Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of Bissell Centre. Gary was appointed Interim CEO after the resignation of Mark Holmgren in November 2015.
“Gary St. Amand is a dynamic and thoughtful leader in Edmonton’s social sector and he has the full support of our organization,” states Ken Ristau, PhD, Board Chair of Bissell Centre. “The Board is confident that Gary will continue to work with our supporters and all Edmontonians to meet the challenge of our vision to eliminate poverty in our community.”
“Bissell Centre has a long history of compassionate and empowering support for families and individuals living in the grips of poverty. During my time here, I have gained a deep respect for the strong tradition Bissell Centre has as a place of safety and support, while also exploring innovative ways to eliminate poverty,” says Gary.
Gary’s strong leadership as Chief Programs Officer of Bissell Centre for the past three years has been integral to the growth and strength of the organization and its mission to empower people to move from poverty to prosperity. Gary is also a member of the City of Edmonton’s EndPoverty Task Force Implementation Committee with a vision to eliminate poverty in the city within a generation.