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December 15, 2022

Member Story: Christmas with Chrisna

“This has nothing to do with the Christmas season but has everything to do with the kindness you showed us and our son Chrisna. We feel AMAZING to be surrounded by people like you. Kindness is a gift indeed and you shared it with us.”

This message is from a card Joanne Jehu received in 2018, and she cherishes it to this day. Chrisna is a young man she met the first year she began volunteering at Matthew House in Ottawa, back in 2016. They’ve had a bond ever since – and Joanne and her family continue to welcome Chrisna and his family into her home over the holidays.

(Covid inevitably put a hamper on having them over for a couple of years, but Joanne looks forward to having Chrisna for Christmas dinner again this holiday season.)

“When Chrisna first arrived,” Joanne recalled, “we had him over for a meal. My husband and the kids decided to go out for a walk after dinner. Chrisna was absolutely amazed that we could walk so freely here in Canada – even at night. They went along the Trans Canada pathway and he was kind of terrified, thinking someone was going to come out of the bushes.”

For Joanne’s children – David, Michael, Deborah, and Marie – this was a true learning moment. They realized just how fortunate they were to be living in such a safe country. Her daughters, who happen to be bilingual, began joining their mom as she introduced new refugees to Canadian life. Many of the refugees they meet hail from French-speaking countries in Africa, so having her daughters along was a great help. “I only speak English,” Joanne admits. Other times, there were too many people to fit into one car, so her daughters would help with transportation.

Having moved to Ottawa in 2015, Joanna’s volunteer goals were two-fold. First, she wanted to explore her new city with other newcomers, providing them a warm Canadian welcome and some real Canadian experiences – things like apple picking, visiting maple syrup farms, or enjoying Canada Day festivities.

But Joanne also wanted to give people who had escaped atrocities most of us can’t even imagine a warm and peaceful Christmas. So that’s exactly what she did – and continues to do to this day.

Every year, Joanne contacts Matthew House to learn how many refugees will be living there over Christmas. From individuals to entire families, “each year is different,” Joanne explained. “The Matthew House is sort of a landing place for people fleeing. They are only there for a few months until they get settled.”

But no matter the number of people in need of help, Joanne and her team of volunteers are sure to raise enough money to purchase a turkey dinner for residents of the Matthew House to enjoy together.

And as a Serenia Life member and advisor, Joanne is able to go even farther with the help of the Action Team benefit – she uses her seed money to buy gift bags and stockings, and her generous community helps her fill them with items that range from handknit scarves and Tim Horton’s gift cards to toiletries and children’s toys.

Thanks to the efforts of Joanne and her Action Team, each person that year received a stocking filled with Christmas treats and sweets, as well as a gift bag filled with hats, socks, toothpaste, toothbrushes, and more. The children received an extra gift bag containing books, colouring books, markers, dolls, cars, and other toys. This year, Joanne has applied for the Action Team benefit yet again, and is busily preparing for this year’s Christmas initiative.

Yes, kindness is a gift indeed. And thanks to the kindness of Joanne, her family, and others in her community, another group of people in need will enjoy a warm meal and warm hearts this Christmas.

A message to our members from Serenia Life Financial:

We are so grateful to members like Joanne who make use of their Action Team benefit to help those in need every single year. This Christmas, please consider applying for seed funding (value: $250) to make an impact in your own community. Apply today!

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