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Volunteer profile: Oxana Gryshchenko

April 7, 2019 | Blog, Volunteer Profile, Volunteering

Written by: Selwynne Hawkins

“I feel like I am making a difference to people who are very scared of coming to court, I can make them feel like they are not alone or discriminated against, and that I am there to help them.”

Oxana Gryshchenko has always been fascinated by the legal system. Her search for relevant volunteer opportunities brought her to the Okotoks Court House—where she was redirected to Elizabeth Fry Society of Calgary’s office. Shortly after her 18th birthday, Oxana started volunteering for the organization in the Adult Criminal Court Program on the Case Management Office floor at the Calgary Courts Centre.

Oxana is currently a student in the Legal Assistant program at SAIT. Between her studies and her volunteer commitments, she loves to read historical books, paint, and play tennis.

What have you learned by volunteering for Elizabeth Fry Society of Calgary?

I definitely developed the skill of thinking on my feet and being able to come up with a correct and relevant answer to clients’ questions in a short period of time. I gained some knowledge in the legal system which has served me as an asset in starting my Legal Assistant program.

How do you feel about your role with the organization?

I feel like I am making a difference to people who are very scared of coming to court because they do not know what to expect. I am very happy now that I am a volunteer at the Calgary Courts Centre, assisting people with their charges and helping to make their lives a little bit less stressful.

My role as a volunteer and the service that I provide is very important to clients, especially to the first time offenders. I inform clients of the court process, what the next steps would be after their court appearance, and mentally support the clients so they are not stressed about being in court. I provide them with appropriate referrals and make sure to help them as much as I can. I make them feel like they are not alone or discriminated against, and that I am there to help them.

Volunteering makes me feel better because I helped someone with their issue, but sometimes it also makes me a little sad because there is a limit to the help that I can provide people with.

What would you say to someone who is considering volunteering for Elizabeth Fry Society of Calgary?

Volunteering makes me feel like I am using my time productively by helping other people and making connections. Elizabeth Fry Society is a good place to contribute your time to because of the experience you get, the people you meet, and the clients you get to help.


Volunteer profile: Kelsey Richard

| Blog, Volunteer Profile, Volunteering

Written by: Natalie Jovanic

Kelsey Richard started volunteering for the Elizabeth Fry Society of Calgary in June 2016. While she started out on the Family Law Court floor at the Calgary Courts Centre, she is now volunteering in the Youth Mentorship program. She initially joined the organization to gain experience in the field and loved the legal aspect. Through volunteering, she also found that she enjoyed giving back to the community.

Kelsey leads a busy life: while volunteering, she is working full time and taking classes through the University of Victoria. Her goal is to obtain her Master’s degree and gain employment at Alberta Health Services Mental Health Diversion Program. In her spare time, Kelsey enjoys yoga and running by the river. If she finds time in her schedule, she finds herself going out to the mountains.

Volunteering set a new path for Kelsey’s life

Kelsey’s greatest insight from volunteering at the Elizabeth Fry Society of Calgary is to never judge a book by its cover. She found out that those you least expect can be the most loving and amazing people. Volunteering also taught her to step out of her comfort zone. Kelsey has learned a lot about herself, especially that she is capable of more than she originally thought. She has grown as a person and learned that everybody has a story. Volunteering has also influenced her career goals: while she initially learned lots about the legal system, she also gained knowledge in the mental health field which she has now realized she wants to pursue as her career.

Mentoring makes a difference for youth

Through her volunteering, Kelsey gained significant insight into the legal systems and family law as well as the laws and programs designed to support families. Kelsey’s role is very important as she is assisting youth in the community to make healthy choices. She takes her role seriously as she is aware that her mentees count on her. With youth she works with, she needs to show them that they have somebody in their life they can rely on. She finds volunteering can sometimes be emotionally difficult but in the end it is always rewarding. She fully recommends others to volunteer for Elizabeth Fry Society of Calgary.

Building trustworthy and supportive connections

Kelsey absolutely loves her role as a mentor and her mentee has said they enjoy the time they spend together. Her mentee has expressed how important that their connection is. Kelsey feels touched when somebody is genuinely grateful and happy and she thinks the staff of the Elizabeth Fry Society is great because they are always in touch and eager to help.

Volunteer Profile: Aymen Sherwani

| Blog, Volunteer Profile, Volunteering

Aymen Sherwani is an undergraduate student at the University of Calgary who hopes to one day go to law school and pursue a career in criminal law. In 2018, she started volunteering as a Program Resource volunteer with the Elizabeth Fry Society of Calgary, having now moved to a new position as a Traffic & Bylaw Court Volunteer.

Aymen first became involved with the organization because she wanted to gain more knowledge and experience within the legal system while giving back to the community and understand racial inequality in Canada. When asked why Elizabeth Fry Society of Calgary was her choice of organization to work with, she replied “At the time, I was looking for a meaningful cause to dedicate my energy and time towards. I applied to the Elizabeth Fry Society with the understanding that I would be volunteering to directly aid previously incarcerated women, or women in need…” In addition to volunteering for a school newspaper as an opinions columnist, Aymen publishes articles and poetry, and practices karate.

What has working with the Elizabeth Fry Society taught you, both in your personal and professional life?

Through volunteering with the Elizabeth Fry Society of Calgary, Aymen has gained extensive knowledge about the legal and criminal justice system. She has honed important life skills, such as interacting with strangers confidently and staying composed even in a chaotic situation. An important insight gained from her work with the Society is that “Life is unpredictable, so be thankful for what you have, and never stop fighting for what you aspire to achieve.”

Why do you believe the community should be supporting the Elizabeth Fry Society?

Aymen wants the community and potential donors to know that the Society “is very wholesome” and she also recommends volunteering with the organization, saying that “it is worth it”. She wants the community to know that “I feel like if more people were involved and actively trying to be a part of the solution to the objectives that the Elizabeth Fry Society of Calgary is attempting to achieve, change would happen quicker.”

How has your role with the Elizabeth Fry Society changed you as a person? How do you think it has changed or impacted those who’ve come to its doors seeking help?

Working with the organization has affected Aymen, in that it opened her eyes to how much truly needs to be done in the world. “I feel that there is so much more that can be done to aid women escape the cycle of poverty. Enforcers of the law should definitely be involved in discussions and be a part of the solution in an effort to not only reduce the rates of crime, but also successfully rehabilitate previously incarcerated women into society again to prevent repeat crimes.” However, she does feel that she is making a difference in others’ lives, even if it may be a small one: “As a Program Resource Volunteer, many women came into the office asking for food and bus tickets, and I was happy to be able to help them in a moment of need like that. At the courthouse, I am always happy to help individuals who are coming to the courthouse for the first time and don’t understand how to navigate the system.”

Volunteer Profile: Tatiyana De Costa

| Blog, Volunteer Profile, Volunteering

Written by: Natalie Jovanic

Tatiyana has been a volunteer for the Elizabeth Fry Society of Calgary for nearly a year. Initially, she volunteered in the Adult Criminal Court Program on the Case Management Office floor, then transitioned to the Traffic and Bylaw Court.  She connected with the organization’s work because she admired the agency’s initiative in helping women integrate back into society in the face of the obstacles they are presented with, poverty in particular. Her passion for the organizations work also derives from personal experience: her mother was a single teenage mom and for that reason, they sought aid in the YWCA shelter. In her spare time, Tatiyana likes to cook and make her loved ones happy. She also enjoys travelling and experiencing different cultures. She will graduate from the University of Calgary in November 2019 and plans to take a year off to work and volunteer more before applying to law school.

Insights about the options in the legal system

Volunteering for the Elizabeth Fry Society of Calgary has given Tatiyana the opportunity to further develop her communication and customer services skills. Above all, she has learned more about the justice system. She is now aware that the legal system has more options available for individuals than she commonly perceived. For example, for adult criminal charges at the Case Management Office, there is an Alternative Measures Program or the Alberta Health Services Mental Health Diversion program. Alternatively, on the Traffic and Bylaw floor, there are several potential options available to individuals with expensive tickets.

It is important for organizations like EFry to support people through the obstacles in society.

Integrating emotional and legal support for people from diverse background

Clients greatly appreciate the legal information Tatiyana provides, which assists them in preparing for their court appearances. Small talk is very helpful in easing the process and it builds a sense of trust because they often come to her after speaking to the Justice of the Peace or Crown to ask more questions. Particularly those who are new to Calgary or Canada do not fully understand and often come to her for more clarification. Volunteers who speak different languages are very important in helping clients as language becomes a barrier adding to the stress of the process. Tatiyana speaks Spanish which has been an amazing help to people who seek interpreters to deal with their ticket. Overall her role is extremely important in providing clients with adequate information to prepare them to deal with their court matter.

Supporting people to understand their rights

Tatiyana sees the value of her volunteering as the clients are usually intimidated because they do not fully understand what to do with a ticket. The volunteers are making a difference in the courthouse because they help ease the process and help clients feel prepared. Many people walk in the courthouse and are intimidated, finding themselves lost and not knowing what they are there to do. The information volunteers provide clients often assists them beyond one court appearance, as they can apply the information to further court matters they may require to deal with. Clients become familiar with what they need to do, and Tatiyana thinks that is important because individuals need to understand their rights and options. She is especially happy to know that the Elizabeth Fry Society has a program to assist recently immigrated individuals with integrating comfortably into society, as it is a very vulnerable position to be in. This program makes the process less frightening.

Honouring Our Voices Gathering: Message From The Executive Director

March 28, 2019 | Blog, News

On February 28-March 2, 2019, Elizabeth Fry Society of Calgary in partnership with Pathways Community Services Association – Miskanawah, Boys and Girls Club of Calgary, Sunrise Healing Lodge, YW Calgary and the White Buffalo Parent Link Centre with Siksika Family Services welcomed over three hundred family members from communities across Southern Alberta to the Honouring our Voices – Healing Gathering for Families of Murdered and Missing Loved Ones.

We were honoured to have ceremonies commenced by the women of the Stand-up Head Dress Society of the Blackfoot Confederacy, and a pipe ceremony conducted by Elder Dila Provost Houle and her son Councillor Riel Houle. A sacred fire began at 4pm on Thursday, February 28, 2019 and was kept alit until the final closing ceremonies on Saturday, March 2, 2019.

Throughout the 3 days, families engaged in healing ceremonies including the Tea Dance Ceremony with Dr. Reg Crowshoe and 18 of our community Elders and Knowledge Keepers, as well as blessings and emotional support from many of our Elders to assist them along the path of healing. In addition, psychotherapist, Metis Elder Kerrie Moore provided therapeutic support for those families experiencing distress.

To celebrate healing, Rod Hunter with Eya-Hey Nakoda and Darcy Turning Robe with Sorrel Rider Singers provided an evening of fun and dancing in a round dance .

Powerful presentations were facilitated by Bernadette Smith, whose personal experience of her missing sister, Nahanni Fontaine who shared her personal story, and Savvy Simon whose voice of positivity provided the families with courage to face their grief. On the final day, a panel of family members told their stories of healing and hope for those struggling with their losses.

While parents were spending time focused in ceremony and support, the children and youth were also engaged in on their own healing journey respectively with Shirley Hill and Dwight Farahat. “I am…” is an original poem written and performed by the youth in attendance during the gathering.

The Elizabeth Fry Society of Calgary would like to thank Lowa Beebe for dedicating her time as Master of Ceremonies, our funders Calgary Foundation, Calgary Homeless Foundation, Justice Canada – Murdered and Missing Indigenous Women for their generous support of this gathering. In addition to our partners, volunteers, presenters and performers, staff and those Elders and Knowledge Keepers who exhibited their commitment and compassion to the families of murdered and missing loved ones.

Katelyn Lucas
Executive Director

Volunteer Profile: Gurmeet Sawaich

| Blog, Volunteer Profile, Volunteering

Gurmeet Sawaich is an undergraduate student who started volunteering with the Elizabeth Fry Society of Calgary in April 2018. She started in the Calgary Traffic & Bylaw Court and later moved on to the Traffic & Bylaw and Adult Criminal Courts in Cochrane and Airdrie. Interested in the legal system due to her academic background, and specifically women in need of resources and support because of her personal experiences as a woman of visible minority, Gurmeet felt that working with the Elizabeth Fry Society of Calgary was the best of both worlds. Volunteering, as well as making art, henna designs and travelling in her spare time, Gurmeet is currently working towards her degree in Law and Society, which she hopes to turn into a career.

What has working with the Elizabeth Fry Society of Calgary taught you, both in your personal and professional life?

Volunteering has honed Gurmeet’s skills that are not only vital in the kind of career that she hopes to pursue, but also in life, such as being a good listener, being respectful to everyone despite arbitrary categorizations and being non-judgemental in providing support. Gurmeet has also gained some very practical knowledge. She has become more interested in learning about legal resources, non-profit organizations that help individuals in need, the intake program and other resources available through the Elizabeth Fry Society. She has also gained an understanding of the underlying issues that lead individuals into the legal system and keep them there.

Why should the community support the Elizabeth Fry Society?

“It’s a great organization with a noble cause,” Gurmeet said. “It’s a great place to learn about legal resources available for vulnerable individuals. It can also be a stepping stone for individuals who would like to have a career working in the community.”

How has your role with the Elizabeth Fry Society changed you as a person? How do you think it has changed or impacted those who have come to its doors seeking support?

“Working with the Elizabeth Fry Society made me a better person,” Gurmeet said. “It’s a sense of accomplishment by working for the community and getting to hear their bliss.”

This is a change evident not only to Gurmeet, but also those around her, who have commented that she “looks more confident and fulfilled.” She has also learned that “helping others is always a gain” and that she certainly is “making a difference by helping the community”, and helping those in the legal system who have no idea of their next step by directing them towards their next steps in their journey within the legal system. Gurmeet relates a story of a woman who appeared for a court appearance, with a bag containing all her belongings, as a conflict with her husband had left her on the streets and barred her from seeing her children. Eager to help, a staff member of the organization, advised her to visit the office, where she would receive assistance in finding a place to stay, food, and any legal resources she might require. She was visibly relieved as she left, knowing that she “was not alone in her fight. She knew that the Elizabeth Fry Society was there to help her”, which at the core of it, is what the society is all about: helping everyone and anyone who needs it!