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Working in non-profits, it often feels like the workday never ends for Ashley MacDonald – whether it’s an ongoing to-do list, endless daydreaming of unlimited budgets free of bureaucratic red-tape, or simply a tough day that needs processing, it’s a challenge to wind down when the workday is over.
Director of Social and Clinical Programs at The Gathering Place, a community service centre in St. John’s, Newfoundland, Ashley MacDonald doesn’t really ever “clock out.”
“There is never enough money, people, or time to get the work done – you always do your best – but there are limits to what you can accomplish when the need is always growing and the resources are limited,” MacDonald said.
Having already spent years in community work, MacDonald applied for the job to bring ideas directly to Guests, and ensuring that their voices, needs and lived experiences were heard and understood, as part of The Gathering Place’s Guest Empowerment Program.
Ashley MacDonald, BSW
- Director of Social and Clinical Programs at The Gathering Place
- Founder/Organizer of fundraising initiative Sue’s Socks
- Creator of the Thank You Card Project, to support survivors of sexual assault
- Keynote speaker at Take Back the Night 2018, raising awareness of sexual violence against women
In January 2020, MacDonald and her team were faced with a unique challenge – an intense and swift snowstorm that sent the city of St. John’s into a State of Emergency for an entire week.
“There was so much to do, so many messages going out and coming in,” she shared. Her focus shifted from social and clinical programs to the Director aspect of her job.
Walking to The Gathering Place to shovel out the door two days after the snowstorm had battered the capital city, MacDonald was approached by a Guest, outside in the cold in sneakers, without a hat or mittens.
“He walked over to see if we were open because he didn't know where he could go for food and he doesn't have a phone, internet, or radio, he had no means of communication, and he hadn't eaten in a couple of days … I had no answers for him at this point either,” she shared.
“For many of our Guests, I think there was a sense of isolation that can't be captured. The agencies where they normally go for food, socialization, medical care, clothing – literally all aspects of their care were unavailable. Being able to open the doors that first day was an immense relief for staff, volunteers, and Guests. At least if we didn't know what was happening with the SOE, we knew there was food, warmth, connections that could be made.”
With the city’s citizens, organizations, services, and governmental departments now armed with a least a bit of practical know-how for the next “snowmageddon,” it’s back to business as usual for MacDonald and The Gathering Place.
An eight-week cooking program with Food First has just started up, a Peer Support group in collaboration with the Schizophrenia Society is coming up, and the addition of a Men's Mindfulness Group and a Women's Wellness Yoga Group is in the works.
MacDonald is quick to note that the Guest Empowerment Committee is still “in its infancy,” but is clearly off to a good start.
“I do feel that this could become one of the most powerful program pieces going forward,” MacDonald said.
“Creating real and meaningful change, and identifying those meaningful changes requires us to hear from those who are most impacted by systemic failures. We are, in our own way small way, aspiring to affect change by hearing the voices of those individuals who are most impacted by poverty, homelessness, trauma, complex mental health concerns, colonialism, and all forms of oppression.”
Outside of her work at The Gathering Place, one can expect to see MacDonald busy with Sue’s Socks again in 2020, and in the media, continuing to raise awareness regarding sexual violence.
“I have some ideas – but they need a little more incubation time,” she shared. “I don't think I will be too quiet though, it doesn't really suit me.”