The Gift Project #storiesofhope

It is alive.

It is real.

It is ready for you.

baner-copyThe Gift Project has come into its own existence.  A little idea has become its own reality because of the generosity and creativity of Paul Long, Alexis Maledy, the amazing people at Corkscrew Media, Six Degrees Music Studios and Keys to Recovery.

Thirteen courageous and caring people shared their stories of recovery, of finding hope and home, after journeys through addiction.

These are powerful, compelling stories that touch deep and dig into the heart of our humanity, our shared human condition, our desire for connection, our need for belonging.

I hope you will join me in sharing these stories. In posting them on your social media pages. Pressing the LIKE button beneath each one.

And, as I build up The Gift Project’s social media presence, I hope you will follow along… and maybe even share one of your own stories of hope and encouragement in recovery.

Many blessings. Much gratitude.

The Gift Project


“I’ve been sober 18 months!” 

It is the first thing she says to me when I see her. I haven’t seen her in at least 4 years. Not since I worked at the emergency shelter.

I barely recognize her. I am thrilled to see she is alive.

We share a big hug.

Her eyes are clear. She’s grounded. Smiling.

She’s living independently in her own apartment with support from Keys to Recovery. Keys provides housing and supports to individuals leaving addictions treatment who would otherwise end up back in homelessness. It’s hard enough to maintain sobriety after treatment. Living in homelessness multiplies the risks of lapsing.

We are in the apartment of another man in the building. He has offered up his delightful, homey space to our video crew so that other tenants, all clients of Keys, can come in and film Christmas wishes on film. We’ll be putting the wishes up on a website ( which will be live in the next couple of weeks.

Everyone on the film crew is a volunteer.

Corkscrew Media, has volunteered time and energy to be part of The Gift Project.

“It’s been meaningful for all of us,” he says as filming wraps up. “Life-changing even.”

Along with the tenants who have agreed to go on camera, and a staff member from Keys, there are five of us present. Brent Kawchuck, Corskscrew’s Executive Producer, Mike the camera man, Blake the director, Paul Long a Calgary-based writer/creative director and myself. About a month ago I had mentioned my idea for The Gift Project to Paul and asked if he would be willing to help out.

He didn’t hesitate.

He immediately checked in with Brent and suddenly, an idea went from ‘conceptual’ to being ‘in action’. Paul’s also connected with Six Degrees Studios and they agreed to do the sound editing.

All pro bono. All because they want to make a difference by being part of a project that aims to connect people to what lies at the heart of Christmas.

It was a question Blake asked each of the participants yesterday.

“What does Christmas mean to you?”

The answers were heartfelt. Poignant.

Belonging. Love. Hope. Being together. Sharing with family and friends. Childrens’ laughter.

“When I was a kid it was all about gifts, the receiving,” said one of the interviewees. “Now, it’s all about gratitude and what I can give others.”

Sobriety is the gift that keeps on giving. And giving.

For some of the individuals interviewed, this Christmas will be the first time in years, they’ve been sober during the holidays.

It is a gift they all treasure. Value. Cherish.


It is the gift they all said they wanted to share with others.

As one woman so beautiful described it, “I wish I could bottle some of the good things I’ve found in recovery so they could have a sip of it too.”

‘They’ are the people still struggling on the street. Sill searching for a way out, for the courage, the hope that this life, this life of hopelessness and fear, feeling lost and alone, could end.

For the thirteen people we interviewed yesterday, there is life beyond addiction.

It is a miracle kind of place to be.

I sat amidst miracles yesterday. Listened to people tell their stories of struggle, pain, addiction and their journeys into hope, possibility, sobriety.

I felt blessed.

I felt humbled.

I felt grateful.

Thank you Crystal, Gwen, Doug, Tracey, Randy, Kim, Michelle, Jayme, Vivek, Cheryl, Kelly, Brittney.

Your words and courage touched my heart. Your courage is beautiful. Your journeys’ inspiring.

Thank you Keys to Recovery for being part of The Gift Project.

Thank you Paul, Brent, Blake, Mike and Six Degrees.

Your generosity gives me hope. The compassion and care you have brought into this project makes a world of difference.


As The Gift Project comes online, I shall keep you posted.


Growing Tolerance @CalgaryKeys to Recovery

keys logoHe is quiet spoken. Humble. 

He is a landlord who works closely with Keys to Recovery, a not-for-profit agency that provides supportive housing for formerly homeless Calgarians who are exiting rehab and treatment with no fixed address.

He talks about his understanding when first he began working with Keys.

How he became aware of his lack of tolerance, understanding, compassion.

And why tolerance is so important to create a better city for everyone.

He is dynamic. Humble.

He is the former Chief of Police of Calgary, or as the MC, the brilliant and compassionate Jonathan Love, Mr. @JLoveNotes describes him, Our Forever Chief.

He too mentions tolerance. Talks about when he first became a cop in 1975 how little he, or anyone, knew or understood about homelessness, addictions, abuse, family violence. How so seldom there were any answers, or any compassion, to provide those on whom they called to provide support.

How tolerance as a society is so vital to creating a just society. A city where everyone has a place to call home.

He is calm. Humble.

He talks about his life before homelessness. His successes. The company he built. The family he held dear.

He talks about the impact of his addiction. The trauma of homelessness, of being lost and intolerant of any offers of help.

And he talks about going to treatment. Twice. How the first time, coming out and only have the street to greet him, he couldn’t tolerate the shame and trauma. He fell back. Hard.

And then he talks about getting straight, going back to treatment and finding a home with Keys.

They’ve given me my grandkids, he says.

Once upon a time, we were a city that did not tolerate the presence of people with mental health, addictions, physical disabilities well.

We are learning.

The value of tolerance. Compassion. Empathy. Caring about one another, no matter where we are on the street.

We are learning to celebrate the work of being there to support those who fall, and to celebrate those who do the work of being there to help them find their feet again.

Last night, Keys to Recovery , along with many supporters, staff and board members, celebrated our growing tolerance for one another, our growing capacity to look compassionately and act with kindness and consideration with those who have lost their way.

We are learning to tolerate the spaces between what we believe is ‘the right way’ to live and ‘the real things’ that happen to people along the way.

We are learning to be more compassionate, caring and considerate of one another. And in that space, we are learning to celebrate baby steps and giant leaps forward as we create a world where all of us can live our own unique human potential, without fearing the intolerance of others.

It is a good thing.


Keys to Recovery: Unlocking the Potential

Karen Crowther is compassionate, dedicated, fiercely loyal and determined. She gives her whole heart and being to creating success for her organization, her staff, and the people they serve. And in return, her staff, the people they serve and the communities within which they live and work love her back.

Karen is the Executive Director of Keys to Recovery and as Broadcaster, Performer and last night’s Emcee Jonathan Love said at the Keys to Recovery (Keys) Unlocking the Potential fund-raiser C.C. and I attended, “There’s a lot of love in this room. I can feel it.”

It’s true.

There was Love. And… passion, commitment, a fierce conviction that we can make a difference. A deep understanding of what it takes to do that and a belief that everyone deserves a second, third, even fourth chance to change their lives. No one is hopeless.

Keys fills a unique niche in the homeless serving system of care in Calgary. They provide housing with supports to formerly homeless Calgarians who would otherwise be discharged from successful completion of rehab back to the streets.

It can be a vicious cycle.

Imagine. An individual knows what they are doing is not working for them. They want to get clean and sober and make the scary, yet liberating decision, to go to rehab. After treatment, they are sober, have the tools to continue their sobriety but, the one thing that is the same, is the lack of housing that contributed to their homelessness, and their addiction, in the first place.

Without Keys, they would be returning to an emergency shelter, or the street, with little support to maintain their sobriety and thus, change their lives.

Keys provides that support. They wrap a person in compassionate care, providing both housing and structure to support them in their efforts to retain sobriety and create a new life for themselves and their families.

Gabriel Chen, the keynote speaker last night shared a powerful and inspiring message of what is possible if we imagine a different way.

Gabriel knows. He is a lawyer whose client base is entirely made up of individuals experiencing homelessness.

In the first story Gabriel shared, “Mary” found herself homeless and, feeling defeated, gave into the lure of drugs to numb her from the dark reality of the life she was experiencing. Eventually, she knew she had to do something different, went to Rehab and got a place of her own and was working on her sobriety. But she was on her own, struggling every day to make ends meet and to retain her sobriety. One day, she got picked up on a misdemeanor and when the police ran her name through ‘the system’ it was determined she had some outstanding warrants from when she was using drugs and stole some food and got caught. She was sent to the Remand Centre and attempted to call Gabriel. Except, she was only allowed one call a day and the phone at the Remand does not allow the caller to leave messages. It was a week before she reached Gabriel when he happened to be at his desk. By then, she was terrified of losing her apartment and told Gabriel to plead guilty on her behalf.

She lost her apartment anyway, Gabriel shared and because he was brought into the cycle after she’d already represented herself at her bail hearing, he could not change the course of her journey. She ended up with a criminal record which, upon release, impeded her ability to get a job, an apartment, go back to school or to make any constructive changes in her life.

And the cycle continued.

Imagine instead, asked Gabriel, if Mary was supported throughout her journey. That upon exiting rehab and being immediately housed with supports, she chose to work with her Case Manager to clean up the outstanding warrants before they created more trouble in her life.

Imagine if Gabriel was able to stand before the Court to plead on Mary’s behalf, before the judicial process kicked into high gear with its judgements and criminalization of homelessness and addictions.

Imagine if he could have demonstrated to both the Judge and the Prosecutor that Mary was maintaining her sobriety, was going back to school and had support to change the course of her life.

Imagine that the judiciary were aware of Keys and respected and supported the work they were doing in the community to end homelessness.

Imagine if…

Keys to Recovery makes this possible, Gabriel said.

It’s true.


Keys to Recovery plays a vital role in Calgary’s Plan to End Homelessness. Every Calgarian has a role to play — the board members of Keys who were all present last night, the volunteers who helped organize the event like my dear friend Wendy C., and the people who came out to support Keys in their inaugural fund-raiser like Diana Krecsy, President & CEO of the Calgary Homeless Foundation, all made a difference.  You can too. Check out the Plan and see where you fit. (Action Step No. 14 is a great one for every Calgarian) Let’s take action! Together. We can end homelessness in Calgary.




Wow! What a miracle!

keys logoIt is 6:58am. I am sitting at my desk, still in my pjs, putting the finishing touches to my blog, getting it ready to publish.

The phone rings. I check caller ID. My youngest daughter’s name appears on the tiny LED screen. Why is she calling me so early?

“Aren’t you coming to the Keys to Recovery Breakfast?” she asks before I even say hello. Befor I even have a chance to ask, “What’s wrong?” (Why else would she call before 7am?)

I almost drop the phone. On no! I have completely forgotten to watch the time. I am due to be speaking at the Keys breakfast at 7:30.

“I’ll be there in 20!” I yell into the phone. I don’t press Publish. I don’t shut my computer down.

I am stripping off my pajamas as I race into the bedroom where Marley the Great Cat is still sleeping on C.C.’s chest. C.C. opens one eye as I fling drawers open, the closet doors and start rifling through its contents looking for something to wear.

“I need your help, please,” I say, pulling on a pair of pants. And I explain what’s happening. I don’t want to have to find a parking spot downtown during rush hour. Is he willing to drive me?

He doesn’t hesitate. He doesn’t miss a beat. “Of course,” he replies.

It’s a bit of a miracle! Twenty-two minutes after the phone rang, I am walking into the Petroleum Club ready to take on the day.

GRACE- It could have gone two ways. My lateness could have left me feeling anxious, stupid, angry. Or, it could have left me feeling calm, prepared, open.

It was my choice how I chose to respond to the circumstances.

I chose Grace.

I chose to breathe into the anxiety that was mounting as 7:30 approached and C.C. was navigating rush hour traffic.

I chose to remind myself my speech was prepared as I greeted the wonderful Karen Crowther, Executive Director of Keys to Recovery and told her the funny story of my morning’s lapse in time keeping.

I chose to accept myself, exactly where I was at.

It wasn’t about my forgetfulness earlier in the morning. It was all about my being there on time, ready to give my best to inspire the 40 or so guests invited to this special Keys breakfast. That was why Karen had asked me to speak. To inspire the special guests in attendance to get engaged,  interested and involved in supporting the important work Keys does in our community.

To have allowed myself to let anxiety, self-recriminations, or anger interfere with my purpose would have been to make it all about me. It would have been to expect perfection from my human condition, and given that I’d already messed up my timing, that was obviously not on the agenda!

I am grateful. My youngest daughter sits on the board of Keys and, like everyone there, was highly invested in making the event a success. She had the wisdom, and the grace, to give me a call.

C.C., recognizing my flight of panic, stepped in to also ensure I was able to turn up, without anxiety eroding my confidence.

I am blessed. I have a network of people around me, supporting me, cheering me on and shining their light so that I can shine mine.

It isn’t that way for those living in homelessness. Their light is darkened by the realities of living with no fixed address. It is dimmed by the weight of struggling each day just to stay alive. It is shadowed by the addictions, mental health crises and other factors that continually inhibit their ability to take a step away from that place where all they have to carry through the day is the label that they never imagined would be their’s – ‘homeless’.

That’s why Keys to Recovery, and all the other agencies who work together to end homelessness in someone’s life every single day, are so important to our community. It takes a community working together to build a way out of homelessness.

It takes people working together to create a community where no matter their circumstances, those who have fallen on the road of life, have a way to get back home.

And that’s why it’s so important we stand together with Karen Crowther and her amazing team and all the other incredible people who give so much to ensuring those who have not, have someone to stand beside them as they make the journey from the darkness of homelessness into the light of having a home where they belong.

It took a community of caring people to get me to my destination on time yesterday.

It takes a community to end homelessness.

Thank you Karen and all your team. In just one year, 129 people housed. 129 people moving out of homelessness, beyond their addictions into lives that they can once again be proud of.

And thank you Deb for sharing your story, for inspiring all of us to remember that ending homelessness isn’t just about ‘the numbers’. It’s all about the people. It’s all about ensuring that no matter where someone falls, they know there are people walking with them as they find their way back home to that place where they can wake up every morning, look into the mirror with clear eyes and say, Wow! What a miracle!