The sun is high in the sky as I follow Ellen Campbell – CEO and Founder of the Canadian Centre for Abuse Awareness (CCAA) – up the steel grate stairs leading to the organization’s warehouse entrance. A colourful sign with the words “Abuse Hurts” hangs on the outer wall of the grey building. Campbell glances over at the rough patches of red brick peaking out behind layers of plaster, explaining they “still have some work to do here.” Her team of three (along with the countless volunteers) moved to the Aurora location only one year ago – which goes to show just how much change is possible in a mere 365 days.
Personally, I love the exposed brick. After spending an intense and inspiring 45 minutes with Campbell, I feel it is the perfect portrayal of the vulnerability and healing that exists behind these walls.
“I always say abuse is like cancer,” Campbell says, as we start the interview from a makeshift living room in the organization’s Charity Store. “If it hasn’t happened to you, you know someone who has suffered.”
Campbell is a survivor of childhood sexual abuse. “I had a pretty destructive life; I ended up suicidal,” she tells me. “By the grace of God, I’m alive. And I started to turn my energy into trying to make it better.”
Campbell launched CCAA from her basement in 1993. The organization now services 100,000 individuals every year, without the help of government funding. Campbell didn’t have any specific training that led her here. She’s an entrepreneur with a grade nine education. “You can do a lot of things with passion,” she says.
Her optimism is contagious. “I have a strong faith; that’s what motivates me. It’s wonderful to be able to turn something that was so terrible in my life into something good.”
As we continue our conversation, followed by a tour of the three buildings at 125 Edward Street, it is clear just how understated her use of the word “good” is.
The Charity Store is a large room carefully decorated in beautiful antique furniture. To the right of the entrance is what Campbell calls the “pretty room,” where the walls are draped in soft pink and white fabrics, with pastel painted dressers and desks decorated with gold hardware. One hundred percent of the funds raised at the Charity Store go towards the programs for survivors. Anyone from the community is welcome to come and shop, or donate furniture for others to purchase.
I follow Campbell out the door and across the parking lot. We stop in front of a bright red door. Inside, there are shelves upon shelves of donated clothing freshly steamed and carefully folded and sorted by size. Upstairs, we enter a room complete with racks of women’s dresses and drawers of new, never-before-worn brassieres. Campbell picks up a light pink bra and shows me the price tag: $109.
Here, 10 or 12 women arrive every other Monday to receive a full makeover, with professional makeup, hairstyling and wardrobe. They walk away with a new closet, and a new start on life. I can only imagine the magical transformations that take place here. “In the morning, when they come in, they barely look at you,” says Campbell. “Sometimes they still have the marks. And then as the day goes on, you start to hear the laughter and feel the change in mood.”
Next, we head to the 10,000 square foot warehouse – the one with the exposed brick. It’s full of furniture, which interior decorators select for the survivors’ apartments. They also provide brand new bedding, drapes, as well as the artwork and accessories that truly make a house a home.
This is all part of the organization’s Delivering Hope program, which is only one of many services the CCAA offers. It’s not just the women who get a new start here; men and children are equally valued and supported. This year, the CCAA will be hosting a conference on the domestic abuse of men. “I’m very passionate about helping men,” says Campbell. “They’re victims as well, and there isn’t as much help available for them.”
“Everybody’s wounded at some level or another; we all have wounds,” says Campbell. “Recovery is not a destination; it’s a journey. We’re all on it.” If you know someone who needs help on his or her journey to recovery, you can reach out to the CCAA directly.
Visit abusehurts.ca for more information
written by CHARLOTTE OTTAWAY