Like many people in the spring of 2020, Sam, a faculty member at Douglas College, found her life turned upside down due to the pandemic. (Sam is a pseudonym.) With unexpected time on her hands, she began researching local volunteer opportunities.
While she didn’t limit her search to organizations that help survivors of violence, the Nova Scotia mass shooting in April 2020 hit Sam, herself a survivor of intimate partner violence, particularly hard. “The worst shooting in Canadian history all started with [the shooter] assaulting his wife,” she notes. “Domestic violence is not ‘your or my problem’ or ‘other people’s problem’ – it’s society’s problem.” If we, as a society, had taken care of that woman beforehand, then those 22 people might be living today.”
Around the same time, Sam spotted a Shelter Movers Vancouver (SMV) post, calling for a volunteer grant writer and decided to apply. “I had no idea there was an organization like this until I started looking for volunteer opportunities – I mean, I could have used their services,” she says. When she didn’t get the position, an SMV Volunteer Coordinator contacted her and asked if she’d be interested in becoming a mover. Luckily for us, Sam agreed, earning not one but two organizations a valuable resource. While volunteering as a mover, Sam learned about Dixon Transition Society (an SMV partner) and joined their board of directors in 2022.
Born in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, Sam arrived to Canada at age twelve. After a year in Vancouver, she and her family moved to Maple Ridge where she graduated from high school. A talented student, she completed both her undergraduate and graduate degrees at the University of British Columbia where her mentor, who was also her graduate supervisor saw Sam’s love of teaching and suggested she pursue a career in the classroom, instead of doing research. She took his advice and has been teaching at Douglas College for the last three decades.
From September to April, Sam’s busy schedule makes it hard to commit to any moves. Despite being tight on time during the school year, she’s still able to make her dedication to volunteering work by volunteering during the summer months. “The beauty of Shelter Movers is that it’s flexible, there’s no pressure. While they suggest participating in one move a month, if you’re not able to [do that], that’s okay,” says Sam. She appreciates the various ways to stay engaged with the cause, even during the months she has to step back: “…if you go off the radar, they won’t stop sending you emails and blogs and the chance to participate in the town halls.” In other words, she says, “you’re not forgotten.”
"I could have used their services"
Sam remembers one high-risk move particularly vividly. It was during the holiday season, the abuser was present, and the scene felt familiar to her. “That move was really impactful – I realized that the client could have been me and the abuser could have been my husband, many years ago. It made me feel good that I’m not the only one that’s been through something like that.”
SMV was helping the client move from a large, comfortable house to a small basement suite, something that resonated with Sam. “Once we finished the move, we were all gathered at the woman’s new home and you could feel the burden come off of everybody’s shoulders,” she recalls. “We congratulated the client on her new home and wished her luck. You could see on her face that she was so relieved.” The whole time, Sam says, she was thinking that the woman could have been her.
From SMV to Dixon
In the summer of 2020, Sam volunteered to help move an SMV client and her toddler from Dixon House to a new home. It was Sam’s first time at Dixon House and she was struck by how warm and welcoming it was – a great place for families to feel at home until they were ready to move to more permanent housing. That experience inspired her to join the board of directors of Dixon Transition Society, where she can actively seek solutions to problems impacting clients. “We [Dixon] had to turn away 1300 people last fiscal year due to lack of space,” she notes and is interested in ways to reduce that number.
Sam says her motivation to keep volunteering with SMV is simple – it’s the clients. “You see the relief on their faces when it’s all done and you see their gratitude – you just can’t put a price on that. It’s very meaningful to me.”
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