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Taylor, Director of Operations: Celebrating 5 Years at Candace House

Taylor, our Director of Operations, celebrated her 5th anniversary of working at Candace House - she reflected on what these years have meant and where she hopes to see us grow:

How did you get involved in Candace House?

I had recently finished my undergrad in the Spring of 2018 and came across a job posting for Candace House. Although I had a lot of experience in similar fields, including housing, domestic violence, mental health and addictions, I was surprised I had never heard of Candace House. After reading the website, I realized it was a brand new organization supporting victims of crime. While I had no experience in the justice field, I loved the vision and mission of Candace House and had to take my chance at applying.

Funnily enough, I was late for my first interview because of the weather (of course, Winnipeg) and had difficulty finding the office since we didn't have signage at the time. However, in my interviews, I immediately connected with both Carla and Chris (Board Members) and with Cecilly (our Executive Director). I loved that we had all of these great ideas of what Candace House could be. I was honoured when I was offered a position as the first Healing Haven Host (now Victim and Family Support Liaison) and started my first day in February 2019.

What has motivated you here at Candace House?

The culture. For the longest time it was just Cecilly & I running a house - we worked really well together and had all these ideas of how Candace House could grow. I’m a very creative person and I love advocacy, so with Candace House being so new, any idea I had was able to come to fruition in some way, shape, or form. Being able to create these ideas, implement them, and watch them bloom gave me a sense of satisfaction and fulfillment in being able to see the immediate impact; hearing families tell us how much they appreciated that support, I knew I was in the right place.

The families that come here also bring me so much joy - every family is so different, with their quirks and uniqueness, and each one is so kind and compassionate. It feels like I’m being invited into their families, getting to know them and their loved ones. It's an honour being able to connect with families in this unique way that I don’t think I’d be able to get anywhere else, and I don’t think I could ever leave behind.

What are some stories that have stuck with you?

One of the first families I worked with was going through jury deliberations - so we were at Candace House in the evening making dinner. They were from out of province, so having food here made a huge difference. The father of the family took me under his wing, almost like a second daughter, and taught me the "correct" way to make spaghetti. We were laughing in the kitchen about the way I would usually make it. It was this really fun experience where they were able to be ”normal,” without having to think about the fact that a jury was deciding to convict a person who murdered their loved one. It was like it wasn’t going on, and we were able to do puzzles, watch TV, and have a nice evening separate from court.

Another time, I was sitting beside a friend of a victim waiting in the gallery for a jury to come back with their decision, and she leaned over to whisper, “Have you ever done this before?” Since I was still pretty new at Candace House, I hadn’t sat in on the reading of a jury decision - so I was honest and said “no, this is my first time.” She paused and leaned back over and said “I think that’s more reassuring, knowing that we’re going through this together.” She squeezed my hand while the jury read out the decision, and slowly I could feel this release and sigh of relief when a guilty verdict was read. Afterwards, she said, “I’m kinda glad that you didn’t know, because it felt really nice knowing I wasn’t alone in this experience.”

What are some things you've learned along the way?

You don’t need to know everything or know what it's like to have a loved one murdered to support families and victims. You don’t need to be a grief expert, or be able to fully understand what they're going through; you don't have to know anything about the justice system, you don’t have to know all these fancy tools and techniques to support someone. The fact that we're doing it together, sitting with them in their grief and the most difficult time of their lives, and listening to their story, are the things that make an impact. Being able to hear the same traumatic experiences and information that they’re hearing is the impact. Like, "I didn’t have to do this alone. You witnessed my pain, my sorrow, and my loved one’s story when no one else could."

I've also learned that getting the support you deserve when you’re going through the justice system is important -  even if the person is found not guilty, even if you’re dissatisfied with the lawyers or the judge, you still deserve support as a victim or family member. Candace House being there gives families a type of justice that is separate from the justice system; an internal sense of justice and safety that comes from feeling supported through that process. If you’re not going to have retributive justice, at least you feel supported, and we’re making a difference in the justice system in that way.

It also helps that we’re separate from the government, from the justice system, so sometimes we can provide support in a different way that allows people to be angry with the justice system but not angry with us; where they feel safe to express their emotions, where they’re not afraid of being kicked out of Candace House for crying, yelling, being angry, swearing, or asking a question in the middle of the day like they would be in court. You’re welcome here at Candace House.

What are your hopes for the next 5 years?

When I started, I didn’t know we were going to grow this much. If I think about the growth we’ve had even during the pandemic, where we couldn’t provide support in the same way, we’re a lot farther than we expected to be.

Even if violent crime stopped today, we would still be supporting all the families, victims, and survivors before today. The families we worked with in the beginning are coming up to attending parole board hearings and will continue into the next 5, 10, and 25 years from now. Their experience doesn’t stop when somebody is sentenced or goes to prison. This is a lifelong journey for them, and they deserve that ongoing support.

Our support might even look different from what we’re doing now - we have to ask, what does grief look like 25 years after your loved one is gone? And what does support look like in that grief?

I’d also like to see more of us - in Manitoba, in our rural communities, across Canada. I don’t want to be a first-of-its-kind anymore. I want to make sure that other families that are going through the exact same thing also get this kind of support.


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