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Story of two women explains commitment to shelter-related causes
Mar 11, 2011
Elaine’s journey on the road to Esther House, a second-stage addiction treatment facility for woman, began at the funeral of her friend who died from a drug overdose.
It’s a day the 36-year-old Winnipeg women remembers well. Elaine said her friend’s death was the wake-up call that she needed to do something about her addiction to pills and alcohol.
“His funeral was on August 23, 2010,” she said. “That was the day I sobered up.
“I had got to the point that I knew it was time to stop — my health was deteriorating. I had to get help.”
For Sylvia, the road to Esther House, which a grant from the Manitoba Real Estate Association (MREA) Shelter Foundation supports, began when she hit rock bottom while addicted to alcohol and cocaine.
“I had no hope,” the 35-year-old woman said. “It was a question of do I want to live or do I want to die.”
Her wake-up call came when she was on the verge of facing criminal charges at her workplace.
“I was dishonest at my job and I could have gone to jail,” Sylvia added.
For both women, their journey toward sobriety commenced with a 28-day Addictions Foundation of Manitoba program. From there, they went to Esther House Inc., a non-profit community-based facility, the only non-co-ed place in Manitoba where women can stay for up to a 12-month period while making the transition to sobriety. 
The MREA Shelter Foundation donated $10,000 to Esther House in 2010, but it’s just one of four shelter-related charities that have received grants. Other grants have been given to the Manitoba Interfaith Immigration Council Inc., Habitat for Humanity Winnipeg, and New Directions for Children, Youth, Adults and Families.
The second annual WinnipegREALTORS®-sponsored Gimme Shelter social, which will be held on March 16 in the Tijuana Yacht Club at the Canad Inns Polo Park, is an integral part of the fund-raising effort for the shelter foundation.
Last year, the social, which features rock bands made up of members of the real estate community, raised over $26,000 for the shelter foundation. And so far, other REALTOR® fund-raising efforts have brought the total to over $161,000.
“Every person deserves a home where they can feel comfortable, and it was with this understanding that the foundation was established and subsequently registered as a charitable organization in 2006,” said MREA Shelter Foundation chair Roberta Weiss, who is also a member of WinnipegREALTORS®.
It is the very fact that Elaine and Sylvia found a “comfortable” place to call home — even though it may only be a temporary haven — that they were able to deal successfully with their addictions.
“Esther House gives you structure in your life and it makes you accountable for your actions,” said Elaine. “Before I just did anything I wanted.
“It (coming to Esther House) is the best step I made in my life,” she added. 
Elaine said she had ignored her family and other relationships during her days outside treatment.
“Now, my family is again a part of my life. I speak to my mother every day on the phone.” 
Before receiving treatment, which began on March 10, 2010, Sylvia said, “everyday was the same, like the movie Ground Hog Day,” when struggling with her 10-year addiction without the benefit of some structure.
Sylvia has completed her stay at Esther House and is now taking Grade 12 adult classes. After she completes her high school equivalency, Sylvia wants to go to university.
“Before I never would have thought it was possible.
“I don’t think I would have been successful if it wasn’t for Esther House,” she said. 
“It gave me basic life skills and taught  me how to have healthy relationships.
“I now have confidence in myself, something I didn’t have before.
“I have goals, I have hopes and I have dreams. It’s really exciting,” Sylvia enthused.
Elaine expects to remain at Esther House for the full 12 months, but she will also soon be starting a new outside job.
“I think I’m ready,” she commented.
“I’ll be working from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., and  then return to Esther House for the evening where I’ll still perform my duties, such as cooking and cleaning,” she added.
In the meantime, she attends the required five meetings a week, sometimes attending up to eight a week.
“You learn your boundaries with other clients, and how to resolve conflicts,” Elaine said.
“I get a lot of support at Esther House when I need it.”
While the structure and meetings help her, she also calls her sponsor when she wants someone to talk to about the trials and tribulations of life.
“I can talk to him about anything,” she added.
Two people filled with hope and achieving sobriety after years of addictions is a good reason why REALTORS® support such community-based initiatives, said WinnipegREALTORS® president Ralph Fyfe.
“You see great need at the grass-roots level, and you can’t help but want to help” said Deborah Goodfellow, the recent recipient of the WinnipegREALTORS® 2010 Community Service Award.
“Hundreds of our REALTOR® members do things for their communities that make me feel proud,” said the past-president of WinnipegREALTORS®, who as president of MREA was involved in the establishment of the Shelter Foundation.
“REALTORS® have done so much for shelter-related causes,” she added. “We know about peoples’ problems. You can’t help get to know the people in the community you serve when you sell homes for a living.”
WinnipegREALTORS® founded the Housing Opportunity Partnership (HOP) which purchases, renovates and sells homes in the city’s West End to low- and modest-income families. HOP has become an important tool for the revitalization of the neighbourhood.
Both WinnipegREALTORS® and MREA are participants in the REALTOR®-inspired province-wide Quality of Life program, the principles of which are designed to ensure the economic vitality of the community, provide housing opportunities, protect property owners, and build better communities.
“Quality of Life is a benchmark that we use to judge our initiatives,” said Lorne Weiss, a past-president of WinnipegREALTORS®.
Weiss said Quality of Life defines how REALTORS® interact in the community.
“We talk everyday with people who hope to build a better life for themselves and their children,” he said. “We understand what makes a community attractive and desirable. We know a community is more than just homes.
“We’re not just REALTORS® — we’re neighbours,” added Weiss. “Our children attend the same schools, play the same sports, and we go to the same places of worship as our neighbours. Our interests are not at odds with our neighbours’ interests.”
WinnipegREALTORS® established the Citizens Hall of Fame in 1986 to honour Winnipeggers who have made an outstanding contribution to the quality of life of the city.
Rick Preston, the chair of the committee responsible for the hall of fame, said it is a unique and special program that serves as a permanent tribute to what can be done by individuals in the community.
Among those who have been honoured as inductees into the hall of fame are authors Carol Shields and Gabrielle Roy, politicians Bill Norrie and Steve Juba, and businessmen Israel Asper and Robert Chipman.
The sculptures of the 34 inductees are on permanent display along the Walk of Fame in the Formal Garden at Assiniboine Park.
REALTORS® are also committed to the Canadian Museum for Human Rights, and have raised over $1.6 million toward the cause.
“It’s not just a museum we’re talking about,” said Goodfellow. “It’s a shining light in real time, a beacon for the whole world, and it’s amazing that it’s right here in our own backyard.”
While major causes attract the most attention, a member of the real estate community is also the volunteer hockey coach seen at the local rink, a director of the community centre committee, the person serving meals at Siloam Mission, or the individual visiting a lonely senior living down the street.
For Elaine and Sylvia, they are also the people who gave a grant to Esther House and in the process helped two women along the road to sobriety.
(For tickets to the Gimme Shelter social in support of the MREA Shelter Foundation, call Lucy at 786-8854. The public is encouraged to attend and support this worthwhile cause.)