women shaking hands

Supporter Spotlight: Marking a 20-year partnership with Royal LePage Shelter Foundation

Before she even knew what to call it, Shanan Spencer-Brown felt the sting of domestic violence happening in her community.

“When I was a child, the mother of one of my closest friends was being abused. I didn’t know how to name it at the time. I just knew it didn’t feel right.”

When Spencer-Brown eventually went on to become a social worker, she volunteered in a women’s shelter. She observed the pivotal role shelters play in helping women to feel safe, rebuild confidence, and plan for a better future.

Today, as Executive Director of the Royal LePage Shelter Foundation (RLSF), Spencer-Brown is proud to lead an organization that’s raising funds to support women’s shelters and, through its support of the Canadian Women’s Foundation, violence prevention programs. The year 2018 marks a 20-year partnership between RLSF and the Canadian Women’s Foundation.

In the following Q&A, Spencer-Brown talks about why gender-based violence remains an important cause for Royal LePage, the Annual National Garage Sale for Shelter fundraiser, and the impact of partnering with the Canadian Women’s Foundation.

Q: Royal LePage is the only Canadian Real Estate company with its own charitable foundation, which donates 100% of funds raised to support shelters and community violence prevention programs. What is the connection between real estate and the goal of ending gender-based violence?

A: At Royal LePage, we know that a house is only truly a home if the people who live there feel safe. That’s not the case for the thousands of women and children who experience domestic violence in our country.

Our real estate agents are committed to creating safer homes and communities by supporting the Royal LePage Shelter Foundation in various ways. Since 1998, the Royal LePage Shelter Foundation has been at the forefront of supporting women’s shelters across Canada.

Through our partnership with the Canadian Women’s Foundation, we also fund violence prevention programs and other initiatives to help break the cycle of family violence. In addition, we are proud to have been a founding philanthropic partner of the Fourth R, which promotes teen healthy relationships, and because it’s vital for abused women to be able to find the support they need, we are pleased to be a national partner of sheltersafe.ca, a website managed by Women’s Shelters Canada.

Q: As Executive Director of the Royal LePage Shelter Foundation, how does this work resonate with you personally?

A: After I had the opportunity to volunteer at a women’s shelter, it was clear to me that shelters are so much more than a physical place. They give women the opportunity to feel heard, be understood, and develop a community of support.

Many abused women feel isolated. When they are welcomed into a shelter, they not only experience a sense of relief and safety, they meet staff, volunteers and other women who rally around them to provide support. This helps them move toward rebuilding their lives and independence.

Later in my career, I worked for an organization that offers programs for children who have witnessed family violence. Sadly, children are negatively impacted when they are exposed to their mother being abused — even if they don’t see it happening in the moment, they are still affected in both the short- and long-term — and this is another reason why I am so committed to this work, as are many Royal LePage Shelter Foundation supporters.

As an adult, I’ve had friends who experienced violence in their relationships and I’ve seen how dramatically this affected them. I’m thankful that, by doing what I do for a living, I can help other women safely move on from an abusive relationship.

Q: How are Royal LePage agents involved in fundraising to end gender-based violence?

A: Every day, I am inspired by the creativity, effort and generosity our agents put into supporting the Royal LePage Shelter Foundation, and I recently shared some tips on engaging employees in fundraising. Some agents have been part of our commission donor program — where they make a donation for every house they help a client buy or sell — for 5 or 10 years or more, personally donating thousands of dollars!

Across the country, Royal LePage offices organize local fundraising events including golf tournaments, silent auctions, bake sales, walk-a-thons, curling bonspiels, cycling events, fishing derbies, and gala dinners … the list goes on and on. One hundred per cent of the funds raised go to their local shelters because Royal LePage Canada covers our foundation’s administrative costs.

Shanan Spencer-Brown, Executive Director of Royal LePage Shelter Foundation on a fundraising trek in Iceland.We also have some Canada-wide fundraising events, including the Annual National Garage Sale for Shelter (this year’s event is on May 12, 2018—read more about it below). In the past few years, we organized two “Challenge for Shelter” fundraising treks in Peru and Iceland, which have raised more than $1 million.

Another national campaign we’ve been doing for over a decade is called Shelter Blooms™, which raises both funds and awareness. We offer tulip bulbs bundled in packaging that provides information on family violence in Canada. Every fall, our agents purchase these bulbs and gift them to their clients and friends or plant them in gardens in the community.

Last but not least, at all Royal LePage conferences, our agents and brokers generously donate and bid on items in exciting silent and live auctions. There is always a spirit of friendly competition and people want to be the highest bidder, but that’s because they know all the funds raised go toward our efforts to end violence in Canadian homes.

Q: Every May, RLSF organizes the Annual National Garage Sale for Shelter. Can you tell us about more about this event and how people can get involved?

Royal LePage volunteers in company aprons pose at the 2017 garage sale.A: Absolutely! This year, on Saturday, May 12, close to 70 Royal LePage offices and other community locations across Canada will transform into a destination for bargain hunters with the return of the Annual National Garage Sale for Shelter in support of the Royal LePage Shelter Foundation.

Now in its 10th year, the event takes place on the Saturday of Mother’s Day weekend and brings community members together with Royal LePage agents and staff to raise funds and awareness to help break the cycle of domestic violence. Since 2009, this event has raised close to $3 million for women’s shelters across the country.

How can people get involved? You can donate gently used household items to your local participating Royal LePage office and stop by the Garage Sale for Shelter in your neighbourhood on May 12. You’ll find some great treasures and many locations also offer a barbecue, bake sale, entertainment, and children’s activities. Check out a map of  the 10th Annual National Garage Sale for Shelter locations.

Q: How have you seen the impact of RLSF’s partnership with the Foundation? When you look back on this work, what are you most proud of?

A: Our partnership with the Canadian Women’s Foundation has allowed us to reach more deeply into communities across Canada and to support the issue of violence prevention in a profound way. While it’s critical that we support women’s shelters, it’s equally important that we invest in programs that prevent intimate partner violence.

For example, the organizations that we support through our contributions to the Annual Violence Prevention Grants program include those that help teens to learn what a healthy and respectful relationship is all about. Teenagers are not immune to experiencing abuse — both emotional and physical — in their dating relationships, so helping them to recognize and address signs of abuse early on is important.

In addition, our partnership with the Canadian Women’s Foundation has allowed us to play a role in addressing more complex issues like the intersection of abuse, mental health, homelessness, and addictions; the needs of women with disabilities; how Indigenous women and newcomers experience violence in their lives; and the unique challenges faced by those who have been trafficked for the purposes of sexual exploitation.

On a personal note, I’m honoured to be on the Annual Violence Prevention Grants committee, helping to make decisions about which organizations receive funding. When I look back at the 20 years of our partnership, I’m most proud of the fact that we have been able to support critical services provided by shelters, while also responding to emerging needs in the community and fostering innovative ways of addressing violence prevention.

The Canadian Women’s Foundation thanks the Royal LePage Shelter Foundation for its 20-year partnership!