Sandra Gonzalez is the new Shelter Manager at Christie Refugee Welcome Centre. She brings a wealth of experience to the role; both as a refugee, client of Christie, and shelter employee. We asked Sandra to tell us more about herself and are delighted to be able to ‘introduce’ her to you in this new position. 

What does Christie mean to you? 

Christie Refugee Welcome Centre is a second home to me. It is one of the first places where I felt welcomed when I arrived in Canada about ten years ago. I stayed connected with Christie first as a volunteer and then as an employee because it’s an extremely rewarding place to work. When you arrive in Canada as a refugee claimant you feel vulnerable and lost and there is so much uncertainty in your life that you need people to guide and orient you. We do that at Christie, and we do it not just because it’s our job but because of the values we hold as an organization that motivate us to welcome the stranger and help them find safety. I think what keeps me here is the meaningful work we do.

What should our community know about you? 

I was born in El Salvador and I came to Canada about ten years ago. Christie was my family’s first home in Toronto for about 6 weeks. Due to the long refugee claim process that my family and I had to go through, I was not able to go back to university until five or four years ago -because you cannot study at college or university when you still have a refugee claimant status – so I’m completing my university degree in International Development Studies until this summer and hope to graduate this Fall. I love travelling especially if it’s in a mission trip or a sort of pilgrimage where besides visiting new places you can reconnect with yourself and God. I try to live a sustainable lifestyle at home and at work too – my colleagues can tell you about that since I’m always bugging them about green initiatives we can implement at the Centre! and last but definitely not least, I am someone who always strives to place God in the center of her life.

What are your hopes for Christie’s future?

I hope that we continue to work with as much compassion as we have done until today. Also, I hope that we are able to continue improving the services and programming we offer in our Shelter and Outreach Program so find solutions to the settlement and housing challenges that refugees claimants face while living at the shelter and after moving out. Those challenges are always growing – extreme lack of affordable housing, limited income, few employment opportunities, etc.- great resourcefulness and resilience is required of Christie staff and clients to overcome those obstacles and successfully settle in Canada.

Do you have a favourite memory from your years at Christie? 

There is so many but one Christmas in particular stands out for me. It was our annual Christmas celebration for residents, we offer a special dinner and Santa visits to hand out Christmas gifts to everyone at the Centre. Santa always makes a surprise entrance with all the gifts and this year there was one particular 6-year-old boy who found this incredibly exciting. To finally see the “real Santa” (as he said) coming into the room, he almost cried with happiness and the look in his eyes was pure joy! Every year we have that special moment for residents, and we see many many kids being excited about Santa, but this one child was just so full of innocence and genuine joy that this moment just stuck with me forever.