Another Charlford Angel Gets Her Wings: Local Women’s Recovery Home Honours 20-year Program Director with Long-term Service Award

Another Charlford Angel Gets Her Wings

Contributed by Laura Johnson

Burnaby-based women’s recovery home Charlford House Society for Women bestowed its highest honour, Chalford Angel, to longtime Program Director Linda Shaw at the Society’s Annual General Meeting on July 9, 2018.

Shaw will be retiring after nearly 20 years’ service in December 2018. Her tenure has been marked with years of caring support for thousands of women who have successfully gone through the program.

Executive Director Miranda Vecchio says “the Charlford Angel is awarded to women who epitomize longtime service, heart, commitment and dedication to the Society. She says that the Charlford Angel “is an inspiration and the best reflection of the organization”.

Shaw developed the Surrogate Family model during her time at Charlford House, a female-focused addiction treatment framework centred around unconditional love and support. 

Vecchio says “it is a unique and special program which encourages collaboration and nurturing amongst the women in the program and staff. We believe in the power of a circle of women”. The connections built in the house become a foundation for a lifetime of support. 

Jen Rosval began her four-month stay at Charlford House on March 25, 2002. She says "Linda has been there for me since day one when I walked through the doors of Charlford House to start the program. She is the first to remind me any moment, that I am always welcome to come home to her and Charlford House for the support I need.”

Rosval has now been sober for over 16 years “Linda will say that I saved my own life by making good decisions, but in reality, I owe the life I have today to Linda and the rest of Charlford House for teaching me how to do this."

The Charlford Angel designation is a rare honour, and has only been given to three other women in the organization’s 48-year history. The first was to Founder Thelma McPherson, the second to long-term board member and local comedienne Ardell Brophy both of whom received the honour before their respective deaths. Both women shared the same recovery anniversary date and died within months of each other. The third Charlford Angel is past Executive Director Trish LaNauze. 

Linda Shaw will publish a manual /memoir of the Surrogate Family Model of treatment later this year  in which Linda details her career as an addictions counsellor.

Gifts of Recovery

Gifts of Recovery
Contributed by Victoria Heard

I didn’t get much sleep last night and I was having a hard time getting out of a funk this morning. Up at 5:30, 45-minute drive in traffic to work, where I arrive 2 hours early to avoid heavier traffic. Usually, I go to the gym, work out, then get to work and do yoga. I work at a yoga studio so I’m fortunate to be able to use the studio. But this morning I wasn’t feeling it, I felt off and exhausted.

Thinking about my addiction struggles and worrying about all my new found responsibilities, I was feeling stressed out and overwhelmed. I’m just over 2 months clean from a debilitating addiction to fentanyl, crack and crystal meth. I am trying to put my life back together. I haven’t worked in almost 4 years, I recently got a new job, I signed a lease for a new apartment and I am starting to tackle that enormous list of neglected affairs. I can’t help but live in fear, I am a master at burning everything to the ground, especially when things are going well in my life.

I decided to put my headphones in and take a morning stroll along the Seawalk in West Vancouver. I listen to Slacker Radio with entirely random playlists.

Over a year ago I went through this magical recovery program, Charlford House for women. It was there in music therapy I learned the power and influence of music. It bypasses our brain and inspires our heart. A song has the ability to mean something different to everyone, it all depends on their perspective. Also at Charlford I built a strong connection with, what I believe to be, my higher power. My best friend James Enright who passed away, he communicates with me through little signs, “coincidences”, prayer, and meditation. These moments in my life, as long as I open my eyes to see them, allow me to feel his presence and I know I’m not alone. He’s right here with me, he’s Got My Six. (Five Finger Death Punch reference.)

As I start my walk, I Hate Everything About You by Three Days Grace, is the first song to play. I listen to the lyrics and think about how much I hate my addiction, how much my addiction hates me. My addiction despises my potential, loathes my assets, and belittles my accomplishments. Deep down I hate that I love drugs, but, hey! I’m an addict. This song gives me a boost, my mindset started to shift knowing I’m headed in a different direction today.

The next song to play was Never Going Back by Sick Puppies.

There’s no going back,
When life’s a loaded gun, you pull the trigger, trigger
There’s no going back
The past is in the past
Thank God it doesn’t last forever
There’s no going back
F*!* that going back
There’s no going back
F*!* that going back

As I’m listening to this song, I start to bounce in my step, and I was overcome with this feeling that James was letting me know I’m right where I’m supposed to be. I felt safe. Then I thought, okay seriously, if the next song is Five Finger Death Punch this is James. Now, remember how I mentioned Slacker Radio is COMPLETELY random. Not only was the next song Five Finger Death Punch but it was my favorite song, Far From Home. I started to tear up, I was overcome with happiness and gratitude for my life today. This song means so much to me. I believe, in my addiction, there were too many times to count… I shouldn’t be here. And I believe it was James in heaven keeping me alive, he always believed in me, he makes me feel like I’m worth it.

I needed to express my gratitude and share this beautiful experience. There is no high, no drug that induces the euphoric contentment I felt this morning walking alongside the ocean, with the sun shining on my back and confirmation James has Got My Six.

Motherhood is an institution vs. motherhood in an institution

Motherhood Is An Institution vs Motherhood In An Institution
Contributed by Miranda Vecchio

A Mother's Day introspective of a Charlford "peach":

"I dreaded Mother’s Day for years; In part, because my mother (who was neglectful and abusive) died at a young age and in part, because I never conceived a child of my own. The sting was deeply rooted and literally burned on the inside. I would do my best to avoid people so I didn’t have to deal with the awkward question “So, are you doing something special for Mother’s Day?” Such an innocent question but it pierced my heart every time.

When I sought help from Charlford House years later, for what I thought were totally unrelated circumstances, I was able to work through some of the conflicted feelings, anger and pain; I managed to come out the other side. I was given permission to grieve. That alone was incredibly freeing!

While living at Charlford House, I met a lot of moms and learned not to envy them for this fact alone. Here, I became accepting, whereas before I had been judgemental, believing that given the chance, I would have been a better mom than anyone. Very easy to say of course, when I had never been in their shoes!

Here I am years later and I work at the very facility that saved my life, saved my soul and saved the best for last.

I have the incredible honour of witnessing the journey of the women here. Emotions run high around Mother's Day. While some women yearn to see their children, others are anxious and overwhelmed at the thought of seeing theirs.  Still others ruminate on how past behaviours have harmed the relationship between themselves and their children or with their own mothers.

It tugs at the heart strings, listening to the women interact. They comfort and reassure each other. I hear their words: “Don’t worry if you don’t get to see your kids this weekend. I’m gonna need a lot of help with mine so you can be like mama #2”; “I think you’re really patient and kind. Maybe you’re just being really hard on yourself because you feel so guilty”; “Don’t worry if you don’t know how to be a mom. There are lots of women here who will give you all the help and support you need”; “You don’t need to overcompensate by having every minute filled with some activity. Your kids are so young, they won’t necessarily remember everything they’ve done. What they will remember is their mother’s love so just spending quality time with them is enough.” “Even when you leave here, your “sisters” will always be there for you so don’t panic”.

This last remark strikes a chord because recently, one of our graduates gave birth to a baby girl. As of right now, I am aware that one of her “sisters” is spending the day with her, looking after the newborn while mama gets caught up on some much needed sleep. This is the kind of unconditional love that is taught, learned and shared thanks to the Surrogate Family Model of Treatment at Charlford House.

I believe that there is a certain reverence that goes along with motherhood. I consider the fact that many men (those who are institutionalized in particular) have “Mom” tattooed somewhere on their person. Further, I don’t tend to hear comments about how Mother’s Day is “commercialized” the way I do with other occasions. God intended for mothers to be nurturing, protective, kind and loving and most of them are. In my own mother’s case, it is clear to see in retrospect, that she was mentally ill at a time when such conditions were rarely acknowledged or treated. We are extremely lucky today to have facilities like Charlford House that address co-occurring mental health disorders like bi-polar and addiction.

Many of our women are single moms on a fixed low income. When they leave Charlford House, it is heartening to follow their journey – how they navigate challenges large and small and become amazing parents to their children.

If the children are our future, then that future is made brighter by the loving example set by moms everywhere - especially those who courageously seek help to battle their issues and become the best version of themselves.

If it hurts to say or hear “Happy Mother’s Day”, please know that there are all kinds or resources available to help to heal your aching heart. My prayer is that you will find the one that best mends yours.

For the record, today I have a wonderful step mom and two incredible step sons. I am pleased to say that I now derive much pleasure from selecting the perfect Mother’s Day card, calling and receiving a phone call on Mother’s Day.

My heart is full. Thank you Charlford House. And thank you to moms everywhere."

International Day of Happiness

Did you know that March 20th is the International Day of Happiness?

I recently sat down with Calvin Johnson, founder and CEO of Lykki Office Supplies (Fittingly, Lykki is Danish for ‘happiness’) and asked him what happiness means to him. His response was that “Happiness is...Making a positive impact in the lives of others.”

This comes as no surprise and is certainly a sentiment shared between Lykki Office Supplies and Charlford House Society for Women.

Calvin started his business almost 30 years ago and for over a decade has contributed greatly to the life of Charlford House (a 15-bed facility for women starting a journey of recovery from drug and /or alcohol addiction). As a not-for-profit organization our “little house of miracles” could not have continued to serve the community for the past 47 years, without the ongoing support of businesses such as Lykki.

The corporate culture at this company is reflected in details large and small – each seeming as intentional as the next: from the Tiki Bar reception desk to the palm trees & cabana style work stations (Did someone say fun?); from their core values: “Live, Love, Laugh, Learn” to their “One for One” initiatives (for every one dollar you spend, one litre of clean, safe drinking water is donated to a person in need; for every piece of fruit you purchase, Lykki will donate one piece of fresh fruit to a child in need - now that’s impactful!).

In his earlier days, Calvin considered that success would be making lots of money & accumulating lots of toys – although he always had a heart for others (volunteering for the Annual Variety Telethon for instance) and was proud at the time, of his 40-under-40 recognition. Nowadays however, his perspective has changed – matured – “Success is all about happiness”, he proclaims.

As a responsible business owner, Calvin believes that creating a people-first work environment is imperative. This includes considering the importance of and respecting his staff’s work /life balance. Such thinking results in a much happier, healthier, more productive workplace.

Their tagline is “Delivering office supply happiness”. As a customer, we are certainly happy that if we order before 3pm, the product is delivered the next day. We are happy that there is a 24 hour chat feature on the website, ensuring that personalized service is available anytime. We are happy to do business with a company that has a social conscience. While Lykki supports many local charities, they also make a global impact. Visit to learn more.

What does happiness mean to you? Go to and let us know. We will be happy to hear from you!

Finally Home

Finally Home
Contributed By Tara Van Gelderen

Walking up the twelve steps into Charlford house, I was broken; life had beaten me down and I didn’t know how to get back up on my own anymore. The house itself isn’t anything special, just a regular home in a normal residential neighborhood but inside, magic happens. It was here that I first learned about being loved by strangers without anything being asked of me in return. The first few days were a whirlwind of new faces and a noise level I had never before encountered. Addiction is a dark quiet place and it was hard to get used to living with so many people. Eventually I found myself disappointed when I went into a room and there wasn’t anyone there. Now it doesn’t feel like home unless fifteen people are there to say hello when I come in. The noise is what I learned to love at Charlford. If you listen closely you can hear the girls empowering each other, consoling each other so much more. These girls are keeping each other alive. Girls that had no one, girls that felt worthless are now standing up together and fighting not only for themselves but the people around them. It’s a type of power none of them possessed their first day in the house. The new ones are being shown how the house works and what to do by the seniors but they are also teaching the seniors responsibility, how to care for others and so much more. Humility lives here, no one is more important than anyone else, no one is better than or worse than, everyone has a voice, a vote and a chance.

What is that magic feeling?

What is that magic feeling?
Contributed by Laura Johnson

There is a feeling inside Charlford House that immediately soothes the soul of anyone who enters it. I'm not the only one to notice this - you hear it from the women, staff, and volunteers – and there are others much more qualified than I am to describe what it's like to walk into the house for the first time. Over the years, many women have shared their experiences stepping up the 12 concrete stairs and through the front door, imbued with equal measures of courage and trepidation as they prepare to face their demons for the next 3 months. My first step over the threshold was much less courageous. As a prospective board member, I had only to meet the other board directors and present myself as a worthy candidate. Yes there were nerves involved (a lot), but they were quelled once I sat down in the dining room that serves as gathering place for monthly board meetings. And now each time I enter the house I am instantly put at ease. It's as though nearly 50 years of miracle-making lingers in the walls and gently instills the air with the residual magic of lives saved and renewed. There is a palpable sensation that this is a good place. All are loved here, and anything is possible. But is it really these four walls that are the source of these feelings of acceptance and inspiration? I believe that the true genesis of Charlford House's magic is its people and their collective will to see each woman succeed: it's the hope and drive of board members, staff, volunteers and the women themselves to overcome. From what I have witnessed in just one year, it is this good will that produces a determined, indefatigable, and loving energy that fills every corner, and fuels every function and operation of the house. The impossible becomes possible time and again and more miracles are made. Charlford House is a special place. You will feel it if you are ever lucky enough to be present under its roof. However, its magic lives within each person who has ever walked back down the 12 stairs, empowered with the love and message of Charlford House and ready to light up the world. 

It is this power that we will harness in the coming years as we strive towards a new and different challenge: finding another set of four walls for Charlford House. After 50 years, this well-loved and well-loving house is showing its wear, and it's time to relocate to a new, 'forever home'. It will take more than magic to reach our capital campaign's target. Hard work and unrelenting commitment to the vision lie ahead. It may seem like a daunting pursuit, but as long as the people of Charlford House are the driving force, we can achieve yet another miracle. 


Fully Alive

Fully Alive
Contributed by Miranda Vecchio

I’m never short of inspired by the courage the women of Charlford House demonstrate each and every day and I doubt I will ever cease to marvel at their miracle of change.

I often tell people that I’m not on the frontlines or in the trenches with the Program staff. I couldn’t do what they do. I’m responsible for the nuts ‘n bolts of the operation - fundraising, public awareness, administration – that sort of thing. I’m only on the sidelines – on the periphery.

What is amazing to me though, is that even from this vantage point, I have the privilege of witnessing the magic of Charlford House - the gradual revealing of each woman’s spirit and soul, her very identity being discovered, exposed and strengthened. I see her transition from frail and fragile to “standing up straight” empowered with a whole lot of gutsy emotion in between.

I suppose the process could be described as time-lapse recovery, each woman gradually emerging until the moment she becomes fully alive. That’s a sight to behold and I am blessed to be able to do so on a daily basis.

Thank you to these women who enrich and amaze me every day and to the staff who, with tender patience, lovingly nurture and guide these women home to themselves.

We are all the better for it.

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Circle of Women

Circle of Women
Contributed by Linda Shaw

There’s nothing more powerful than a Circle of Women.

When I join the circle every day, I feel each woman becomes part of me, and I them. It’s as if we become as one, in a place so safe anything can be said, discussed, and even debated. I had often wondered how that worked, walking into the circle as a human doing, immediately turning in to a human being as I cross that invisible line. I suppose it could be contributed to DNA, the ancient circles of the first women, the warmth of the fire, suckling babes and the first blush of verbal communication. Perhaps it’s changed in content but not context. It’s still life and death, and the need for safety has not changed since that far off ancient time.

Living in solitary addiction is not the natural way of women. We are nurturers, we are bearers of new life, and our sisters are there in empathy with us and for us. The Circle is the place we recover together; the women becoming sisters forged by the fire of change. The support and love will follow us throughout each woman’s journey.


Do you know a real live warrior?

Welcome to Charlford's new monthly feature!
Do you know a real live warrior?
Contributed by Laura Johnson

I've been lucky enough to meet more than a few warriors. They are women who are in recovery, and they are some of the bravest women I know. Since joiningCharlford House's Board last June, I have been repeatedly inspired by the stories the women have shared about their recovery. I am moved by their accounts of overcoming adversity to change their lives from deep lows to highs of joy and fulfillment. Recovery begins at Charlford House, where the women are encouraged to confront the their histories of struggle and tribulation. They deserve our utmost respect for revisiting their personal battlefields and defeating them. But their victory is not won in just one day - just as addiction is not a single-headed monster defeated in one battle royale - it is a continuous process of introspection throughout their lives. The women learn to face the disappointments and tragedies of life head on, in full consciousness of their emotions and reactions. A commitment to staying clean and sober requires a constant and vigilant attendance to life's pitfalls and seeking ways to manage the ensuing pain without turning to the numbing effects of substances. Many of us try to achieve this kind of self-awareness. We may strive to practice mindfulness, journal to make peace with our feelings, or go to the gym to work out our frustrations. But for some the following options remain: a glass of wine to smooth the edges after an argument with a spouse, or a “restorative” night of cocktails with the girls after a stressful week. Or we might simply choose to ignore a conflict while it bubbles away, unexamined and wreaking psychological havoc from below the surface. That avoidance could be a hazard to someone in recovery: their success necessitates that issues be dealt with before they become triggers for relapse. The women of Charlford House show us that recovery is a continuous journey requiring the discipline and courage of a warrior. It is pure bravery and I am in awe of them.