Story behind the story
Yesterday I experienced Candace House. I actually had coffee at the kitchen table, toured it, touched it, sat in every soft chair and had amazing conversation with everyone in it.
Then I came home and cried.
I cried because it is so beautiful!
It has magic. It works. It is perfectly designed. It has Candace’s spirit hovering close by.
And I’m remembering the journey – that long journey of 34 years that got us here.
I remember how shocked I was when I joined the first group of crime victims so many years ago. We were so raw. I remember the poverty of spirit, the poverty of place and the poverty of hope.
In my work with other charities - like the founding of Child Find - there was always a quick heart-breaking sympathy toward the cause that translated into easy access to resources. This culture of crime victims was different. In crime there is always an inherent offender – an inherent war – legal and personal. It doesn’t open hearts,. It engages the justice mind – the critical mind.
As outcasts, we needed safe people and a safe place, but couldn’t find anything. It felt like no one wanted us, so we would seek each other out and meet in dark church basements – left-over places so we could cry together.
After 20 years of meeting other crime victims from all over the country, I was convinced that there was a need to do something. In fact everyone sensed it. But no one knew what to do. Then one day, I was asked again. “What is the answer to crime victim anger?’
I searched my heart – synthesizing all my victim experiences. By this time, I had heard it all even though I hadn’t experienced it all.
My heart said. “A house.”
Then I met Floyd Wiebe, president of a parallel victim organization , who shared my concerns and experiences except that he attracted a different set of crime victims. He attracted those who chose advocacy and I attracted those who chose emotional healing.
Knowing his dedicated heart – I asked him the same question. “If you won tons of money and wanted to donate a good portion to the work of crime victims, what would you do?”
He said “A House. I’d build a house for them. They need a place.”
Wow! The dream was solidified.
It was the unlikely people that caught the vision first. It was the offender type organizations were keenly aware that most of the public attention was directed their way – leaving nothing for us. They even raised money for it
And in the beginning when the idea was floundering, it was a defense lawyer who took me out for lunch. “You can’t let it go…. It’s too good an idea.” He became a member on the founding board, and I credit him for being one of the most powerful consistent driving forces behind the vision all these years.
Actually it was the offender camp and influence that designated it “the Candace House”… even though I had misgiving of our family being so closely allied with the house.
Then we wondered if anyone else was interested.
We organized a consultation that brought all the big players together: government (federal and provincial). victims of every stripe, program directors, and mental health advisers. We found out that we all agreed – we needed a house.
With such open endorsement from every possible interested party – we were convinced.
But then to do it!
Oh my – that was the hard work. We looked for a prototype and found that there was none. We would have to fashion it all ourselves. We then nailed down the victims needs and matched a house design to it.
We made some mistakes.
No – they weren’t mistakes! They were rabbit trails. We needed to try out different places, different visions and different emphasis to see what would work.
First of all, we emphasized a house. It had to be a house – the grander the better.
Then during our trial – I reconsidered that. We could forgo the house concept for something closer to the Law Courts buildings, I decided . After all , we could turn any building into a house with a homey feeling.
And back and forth we went.
The wear and tear took its toll. I burned out. We as a board burned out.
At that time in desperation – four years ago – I handed it off. I chose two amazing people.
When I was director of Victims’ Voice, there was a student who I had hired through a summer program to put together a conference of high profile crime victims. We even pulled in Bill Pelke from the states.
She did it! She organized it all. At the end I noticed that the victims who were usually very particular about who they would let into their broken hearts, invited her into theirs. They asked me if she could be invited to one of their self-help support groups even though she didn’t meet the membership criteria, which was to have experienced the murder of a loved one. .
Years later, I remembered her and decided she would make a great executive director for the “house.”. I sent her a quick Facebook message.
Thank goodness she paid attention. We hired her – on pittance. Her name was Cecilly Hildebrand.
Then I was on the lookout for a president of the floundering board. We had always chosen people aligned with the compatible programs, but now I thought we needed a new look. The dream was about a house, not a program. It meant buying a house – renting out offices in the house – perhaps renovating a house. We would need a business mind. I met this young man at a business network meeting. He moved among the wealthy with ease. He was growing his own promising business with a youthful enthusiasm. He was amazing.
I Introduced him to the board – and they named him president very quickly. His name was Darryl Stewart.
And then I retreated to my own trauma-riddled life to heal and recover in time for the next retrial.
I remember driving home from a CH board meeting and realizing I had nothing left. I actually said out loud. “Dear God – you – together with Candace, have got to make this work. I’m out of here. I love it, I endorse it, I believe in it, but I can’t make it happen. I’m at the end. I give it to you – and all those I’ve chosen and love…. “
That was four years ago –
And now it is here.
The first stories coming out of the program are amazing.
To see this dream become a reality and for it to be functioning already the way we had envisioned it to function so long ago, feels like a miracle. But it’s not a miracle. It has been built on an amazing team of hard-working, courageous, persistent, visionary, individuals, who were able to navigate the path from dream to practicality and design a house that is perfect.
I’m crying because I’m happy. It is beautiful. It is so perfect.
I’m also crying for all those victim friends of mine – who way back in time – needed this house. They would have loved it. I miss them now.
I’m crying that we still need such a house…. I’m crying for families that will use this house.
I’m crying tears of gratitude that there are wonderful brave souls who dared to make this dreams come true.
“Beauty of whatever kind, in its supreme development, invariably excites the soul to tears.” Edgar Allan Poe
Below - you will find the first prototype of Candace House. My sister Lu and her husband Jake drove their Road Trek camper van from BC to attend the preliminary hearing. If I look back, it was the preliminary hearing that was the hardest - that's when we learned about the tying and all of that. I was an emotional wreck before - during and after.
I remember the first day as we were leaving the house. My sister asked if we might all travel together in our car so as to save parking fees. I nodded. Then I looked at their van parked on the street. "No," I said. "We need your Van. I need some place to escape during the day."
They conceded. Actually they were able to obtain a pass from the Legislative Building because of their tourist status.
So during the breaks we would cross the street to the Leg where the van was parked and picnic. Crossing the street, sitting in a private space with close friends and family - felt like a healing retreat centre. One day we even had boiled hot corn on the cob -- comfort food. Oh yes - there was always a stash of chocolate in the van.
As you can see in the picture - there were moments when we could forget all about what was happening across the street.
Thank you Jake and Lu - you were a god send. We have now replicated some of this in the Candace House. We don't have the lawn, perhaps, - but everything else. Blessings!