Joanna’s passion for working with people who are marginalized began in 2001, at the age of 19, when she went to Dublin, Ireland to volunteer in a homeless shelter. She returned to Edmonton a year later wanting to learn more about homelessness in Canada. She was hired by the George Spady Centre where her passion was solidified. Joanna’s vision and commitment to people experiencing social marginalization, was authentic and unwavering.
At 23, she wrote, “I am inspired daily by the strength, courage, and humor embodied by the people who use shelters. The love that they conjure in me is unlike other loves I have felt in my life. It is a gritty, stripped down love that harbors no expectation for return. It is wedged deep in the pit of my soul. It remains, in the face of resentment, distrust, hatred. It is unmoved by my own frustration or feelings of futility. It remains, ultimately unconditional, innate. Fellow humans – wounded and worthy – as we all are.”
Joanna recognized a shared humanity among people and understood that all people have wounds and scars that influence the way they walk through the world. “I have consistently witnessed responses of resilience, humor, and wisdom as people face the reality of living with the effects of trauma, poverty, addiction, and mental illness” she said, “This has shown me both the deep strength that we all hold as individuals and the incredible capacity this strength creates when we work with others to address personal, social, and organizational challenges.”
Joanna pushed those around her to think critically, to question and reflect upon societal “truths” and she invited people to share their different perspectives so she could learn from them. She wrote of herself, “I bring passion for learning, and relish the rough edges. I know that my optimism will keep me afloat, and my determination will see me through.” And it did – Joanna could always find the silver lining and the learning within any experience and she used that learning to propel her forward.
Through her work, Joanna came to understand the profound impact that transitioning from homelessness to a safe and supported home could have in a person’s life. She worked tirelessly to support people to feel “at home” and connected to their community. She saw celebrations and community gatherings as a way to build relationships and foster connections that help make a place feel like home.
From 2012-2015 in her role as manager of MPA Sanford Apartments in Vancouver, Joanna experienced the challenges of working within a tight budget. One issue that particularly stood out for her was the difficulty in finding funding for parties, community gatherings or celebrations. A month before Joanna passed away, she created this endowment to support agencies in Edmonton and Vancouver who provide programs that address homelessness, with funds for these celebrations.