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A Picture of Resilience: Elizabeth Tremblay

Exiting the shelter system just over a year ago, Elizabeth Tremblay faced significant barriers to entrepreneurship, including the stigma of being part of the criminal justice system, financial bankruptcy, a lack of formal education, a mental health diagnosis and chronic pain. Since early adulthood as a young mother of four, Elizabeth had wished for mentorship to help guide her through life’s challenges; instead, she struggled alone with anxiety, depression and alcoholism, which led from couch surfing to street homelessness, to sleeping at drop-in centers and living in shelters, then a transition house.

“It was the worst time of my life, but it was also a time when I made connections within different social services,” Elizabeth says. “Those connections led to my finally learning the skills and tools that I truly needed but hadn’t known how to find.”

Among the support organizations she accessed was Elizabeth Fry. A counsellor there suggested she enroll in the Rise My Start Up training program, and in 2019, Mentor/Mentee Canada was launched as a seed organization to provide mentorship within the shelter system through Lived Experience Leadership and the creation of Lived Experience Employment.

“In the shelters we understood one another because of our lived experience,” Elizabeth says. “We helped one another navigate the system by sharing resources and learnings, and we saw how shelters, emergency rooms, and incarceration units could be made better for our own recovery and the recovery of our peers. But no one was asking us for our lived expertise. We were in a broken, expensive system that needed mentoring itself —mentoring to listen, share, learn and collaborate, like we were doing as a community of peers.”

Beginning by developing a 10-week Peer Support training program for recovery and wellness in employment and housing, in its first year Mentor/Mentee Canada graduated nine trainees. The organization then led a series of panel discussions for people with the lived experience of homelessness, sector staff, and executives to facilitate conversation, listening, learning and collaboration amongst stakeholders. Now, Elizabeth has evolved Mentor/Mentee Canada to be a model for others to build industry connections, and to advance the Peer Support movement by bringing Peer Support training and employment to street encampments, hotel shelters, and supportive housing across Canada.

Through support from Rise, Elizabeth was able to raise her voice to influence Toronto and Canada’s housing and recovery systems while working through her own personal recovery.

“I knew I wanted to develop my skills when I signed up with Rise, but I didn’t realize the motivation and empowerment journey I was in for,” Elizabeth reflects. “I’m continually managing my mental health, but I’ve overcome stigma, oppression, failure and regret, and most importantly regained my family, who are proud of the changes I’ve made.”

While correcting the present, she is planning for a future that includes developing peer programming for within new COVID-19 housing environments and scaling recovery-based peer support training for all, including Front Line Workers and management.

This and more is why Rise has selected Elizabeth to receive the 2020 Dr. Paul Garfinkel Resilience Award!

“If there’s one thing that it takes to be an entrepreneur, no matter how heathy you are, it’s resilience.”  Elizabeth says, “I think that’s why the homeless are powerful —because we have such incredible resilience. It means there is hope.”