Hannah has been in jail, a lot. She knows the inmates and knows the “system” inside and out like the back of her hand. She has no fear talking to the men and women in correctional facilities; as a matter of fact, she enjoys it. Just ask the 336 inmates Hannah reached out to this past year.
Hannah’s passion to break down barriers and bring out untapped potential in people has made her a pretty amazing Community Employment Services Coordinator with Westcoast Genesis Society. “I see (parolees), take them as I find them. There’s no one perfect shoe that fits them so I find different ways to work with them,” she says when asked how she does her outreach.
Her love for the community transcends her job, it’s who she is. She firmly believes one cannot live without community and knows how important it is to be connected to others. Hannah learned this from a young age.
As a child, she grew up with a father who was an abusive alcoholic and a mother who suffered from mental illness. When Hannah was 13 and her brothers 7 and 3, their mother decided to move the four of them from Thunder Bay, Ontario to B.C. After a long Greyhound bus ride, they ended up at a Sleepy Lodge in Coquitlam.
Eventually they put roots down in New Westminster. Hannah’s mother found a volunteer job as an administrative assistant at the Union Gospel Mission and Hannah being 13, refused to go to a new school mid-year so she found herself at UGM New West a lot being homeschooled by her mother. The two often helped serve meals to the marginalized community and looking back, this experience opened Hannah’s eyes to how choices made can really affect one’s life. “I was blessed early on to see where a hard life can take people.” she said. This insight became invaluable as she continued to learn life’s lessons.
As a tenth grader at New West Secondary School, Hannah had aspirations and plans. Grade 11 derailed those plans when she discovered she was pregnant. It was a difficult year with her son being born and having to drop out of school after being assaulted by her son’s father. She moved into a safe house until she figured out how she was going to take care of herself and her young child. Hannah was determined not to give up; she enrolled herself back into grade 12 and secured accommodations for her small family of two.
Hannah finished high school with Honours and as Valedictorian. She supported herself to obtain an Associate Arts and Criminology Diploma at Douglas College and continued on to get her Criminology degree at Simon Fraser University. While being a full-time student, she found ways to stay active in her son’s life by being a big part of the PAC at Lord Kelvin School. Hannah contributed as much as she could to the community as she saw how community came together to help raise her son. Christmas hampers, parenting programs, mothers groups – all these things helped Hannah as she studied, parented and tried to find ways to care for her family.
Over the years, as her mother went in and out of mental health facilities, it took an emotional toll on Hannah with resentment and anger building up. With her mother’s diagnosis confirmed, suffering from Manic Depressive Disorder, OCD, and Schizophrenia, Hannah needed to find the best care for her. It was a very long and difficult process but with determination and resourcefulness, Hannah was able to find a caring facility her mother felt comfortable in.
For most of her life, Hannah found herself taking care of others and was living in constant state of crisis. She said, “I felt disconnected to myself. I got caught up with the stress.” Realizing she didn’t feel at peace with her life, Hannah took steps towards intentional self-care and receiving mentorship. Yes, she admitted she has had to work through many things and it’s been a process of healing, acceptance and gaining identity. “I was completely detached to society but I came to terms with who I am.” This allowed Hannah to begin experiencing wholeness among all the brokenness she had experienced in her life and it felt good.
Today, there are a lot of things Hannah can be proud of; she is a mother of an amazing teenager, Aaron, who is just as resilient and positive as she is. She also gets to enjoy her mother and shower her with love on her visits. Every day, Hannah gets to fulfill her passion bringing hope and purpose back into people’s lives. She initially wanted to become a police officer but after doing a practicum at the Westcoast Genesis Society as an SFU student, there was no turning back.
Seven years later, Hannah oversees and delivers 19 services in Education and Employment planning to Federal and some Provincial parolees on community release in New Westminster, Burnaby, Tri-Cities, Surrey, Delta and South Surrey regions.
Carl Jung said,
“I am not what happened to me, I am what I choose to become.”
Without letting obstacles get in the way, there’s a lot to be said about how Hannah has chosen not to let life’s challenges define her. Her relentless pursuit of finding potential in people has brought such a gift to the communities she serves and we are pretty fortunate to have her as part of ours.