Phoebe is the woman on the far left

We, at Semiahmoo House Society, are very familiar with Phoebe’s magnetic smile and caring personality. As I sat down with her to talk about her personal story, I was impressed by the profundity of her character, her insight about the resonance of connections and her ability to make life altering decisions. Her story illustrates that, through our personal networks and the power of time, our actions have the potential of touching many lives, allowing dreams to be achieved and lives to be transformed.

In 2002, Phoebe Mehdorn, a German-born woman living in Costa Rica, had reached a juncture in life where she contemplated her personal journey and determined that it was time to make significant changes. Not knowing yet where life would take her entirely, she envisaged traveling to British Columbia to explore the sceneries that she had dreamed about since she was a little girl. Deciding to act on it, she got a ticket and flew to the Vancouver International Airport where she was met by her Costa Rican neighbour and friend, Ray (not his real name), who happened to be visiting friends in the Lower Mainland at the time.

Ray promptly introduced Phoebe to a woman in his social circle, Nolda Ware, a White Rock resident and an employee of Semiahmoo House Society. The two women entered in a conversation where Phoebe revealed her plans to travel across the province while Nolda provided advice about great places to visit and the best transportation methods to achieve that. As their meeting progressed, they talked about everything, including Phoebe’s aspirations of charting a new destiny. It was not something that Nolda could really help with at the time, but she was happy to listen, nonetheless. On that very first meeting, both women developed an overwhelming sense of affinity and immediately became good friends.

As anticipated, Phoebe proceeded to tour as many spectacular sites of Lotusland as she could over several months and found each experience awe-inspiring. All the while, she and Nolda maintained their friendship through email and social media.

After months of traveling, Phoebe realized that, as much fun it was to explore BC, she needed to obtain employment. Not being able to stay or work legally in Canada, she returned to her birth country of Germany where she studied elder care. This was a good move because her new education would mesh well with her previous experience working with people with disabilities and provide her the skills she needed to work with vulnerable people and make a difference in their lives.

After a couple of years, while she was satisfied with her vocational status, she grew ambivalent about the direction her life was taking in Germany. She longed to go back to British Columbia and make it her home. Once again, she took action.

When Phoebe arrived to British Columbia, she made arrangements to meet Nolda with whom she had continued a long distance friendship. While sitting together and enjoying a glass of wine, Phoebe shared her hope to live and work legally in Canada and deliberated on the requirements to initiate the bureaucratic process.  The women ended their meeting with Nolda pledging to help in any way she could.

As serendipity would have it, Nolda overheard a colleague talk about having to recruit a caregiver for Danny (not his real name), an older man with autism who very much wanted to remain in his home. Nolda perked up and advised her colleague that she might just have the right candidate for the job.

When Nolda approached her with the opportunity, Phoebe thought that, given her training and experience, it would be ideal for her. There was just a little problem; she still needed to apply for legal status. Wanting to help, Nolda, a well-respected employee of Semiahmoo House Society, approached senior staff and asked for help. Paul Wheeler, then Executive Director, Lise Boughen, Director of Programs, and Gale Cooper, Manager of Community Support Network, all agreed, along with Nolda, to sponsor Phoebe in obtaining the authorization she needed to work and live in Canada.

Once the formalities were completed, Phoebe got the job and moved in with Danny to provide him full time care. Phoebe continued to care for him for a few years, after which she went on to accept a position with Semiahmoo House Society’s Recreation and Leisure Services where she had the opportunity to experience new skills and provide support to different people. In the meanwhile, Danny welcomed a new caregiver, a woman from the Philippines who had recently immigrated and was in the process of bringing her family to Canada.

Phoebe also has a passion for massage and energy healing. She has been practicing massage for over 25 years and studied at the Esalen Institute in Big Sur, CA. She has integrated a number of modalities into her own unique style and she combines energy healing with her massages. Every Tuesday she offers chair massages at Semiahmoo House as part of a Wellness Program for participants and employees. She also has developed relationships with people that live in the Semiahmoo House group homes that receive regular treatments to enhance the quality of their lives.

Phoebe and the other actors in this story made connections that reverberated in fulfilling needs, wants and dreams for themselves and for others.  While they may not always have known how and when their decisions and actions influenced other people’s lives, they chose to make their interactions meaningful, thereby positively impacting each other’s journey. Just like rain drops falling on a quiet river, sprawling into rings that connect together, we are not isolated.

By Louise Tremblay, The Semiahmoo Foundation

Semiahmoo House Society, a non-profit organization located in Surrey/White Rock, exists to provide quality services and supports to people with disabilities and their families in the community. 

The Semiahmoo Foundation exists to fund, support and enhance the programs and services delivered by Semiahmoo House Society.

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