Sam is a mother and a grandmother. She works as a Harm Reduction Support Worker at Regional HIV/AIDS Connection and is a Peer Mentor in the Butterflies for Change addictions support group at My Sisters’ Place. She went to culinary school. She likes to help people.
Sam’s life story life story includes tragedy and loss. Starting with sexual abuse in childhood and intimate partner violence as an adult, her life spiraled after she was stabbed in the neck by her husband who then died by suicide. Sam discovered his body. She describes the period that followed as a time when she lost everything including her children who were taken away from her. Sam turned to drugs to numb her pain.
On October 13, 2014 Sam made a decision to quit using while she was serving a third prison sentence. She resolved to change her life so that she could be a part of her grandchildren’s lives. She opted for a release into the Drug Treatment Court even though it would take a whole year to complete the program versus six months left of her prison sentence. She completed the program in 7 months – 3 months ahead of schedule. Sam is the first woman in Canada to graduate from the Drug Treatment Court.
Sam requested to complete her community hours for the Drug Treatment Court at My Sisters’ Place. She had repeatedly heard about the safe community for women while she was in jail. Many described it as a place where women could get all kinds of help. Sam recalls feeling intimidated about walking through the doors on the first day. Yet immediately, she noticed how nice everyone was and how they had the utmost respect for staff and for the space. She felt like she belonged. “Everything about this place screams family. It screams I am here to help you.”
One day, the staff member facilitating the women’s addictions support group (Butterflies for Change) asked Sam to come and share her story with others in the group. That began an ongoing relationship and Sam eventually accepted a volunteer peer support role where she now co-facilitates the weekly group. Sam understands the struggles women in the group are going through. For Sam, participating in this group is therapeutic in many ways and has played a significant role in her own recovery. Women in the group look up to Sam and are inspired by her journey of overcoming addiction. Sam thinks highly of the Butterflies Group. “It works. It’s incredible to see the difference it makes in women’s lives each week and that’s what motivates me.”
Last year, Sam completed the Peer Designation OPDI Level II Certificate. Earlier this year, Sam accepted a staff position at My Sisters’ Place supporting women accessing the drop-in program!
We are often told by the women who use our services that no matter how well-intended a worker is, there is no substitute for lived experience. A staff member who is not only fully qualified in transitional support work, but also has the Ontario Peer Development Initiative Core Essentials training is an incredible asset to our team. Sam really offers `whole package!’ Cary Meyer, Peer Support and Development Worker, My Sisters’ Place.