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“I see that Family Feeling”—Meet Volunteer Elisa Gores

by | May 27, 2021

A photo of Elisa cropped in an organic oval shape. In the background are abstract organic shapes that are green and white. The background is a dark purple.

It’s National Volunteer Week and this year’s theme is “The value of One, the Power of Many.” Honouring the individual and collective efforts we have seen during the pandemic, it invites us to imagine the society we want to live in post-pandemic and to reflect on what is needed from each one of us going forward.

“You can only sweep up monkey poo for so long before you wonder what else is out there,” says Elisa Gores, Stella’s life partner and now volunteer with the Communications and Marketing team at Stella’s Place.

Elisa looking and smiling at a group of monkeys that are clinging to a wire fence that separates them from her.

Elisa used to work with primates. And then zebra finches, as a research assistant in a neurobiology lab. Currently, she feeds orphaned squirrels in another volunteer job with the Toronto Wildlife Centre.

She clearly loves animals, but there was something missing. “I’ve always been interested in people and I think a big part of what I wasn’t liking about my job was that I wasn’t helping anybody,” she reflects. A friend suggested social work, seeing Elisa’s potential as a therapist. The versatility and holistic approach of a social work degree appealed to Elisa:

“This framework recognizes that a person exists in their environment and that macro level social systems affect people’s mental health. As soon as I started it, I knew I was in the right place!”

This all happened in Chicago, where fate and her second passion, music, introduced her to Stella who was visiting folks from the music organization Village Harmony. “We talked every single day from the day we met,” reminisces Elisa. 

Stella and Elisa connected over shared passions and interests as well as lived experience of mental health challenges. They see each other deeply and they hold each other accountable. “We are really up front when one of us is not doing the work,” elaborates Elisa.

Elisa and Stella standing close together, smiling and posing for a different photo being taken off to the right.

They got engaged last June, married in July, and then Elisa packed up her apartment and moved to Canada. 

From attending an International Association of Social Workers Groups conference in New York, where everyone she met seemed to know about Stella’s Place, Elisa had an inkling that she wasn’t just joining Stella’s immediate family in Toronto but also marrying into an organization:

“It was so lovely to find out what it looked like on its own, beyond where the family was coming from. Stella’s Place has its own life and all these people who care about its mission, kind of in their own right. That was super cool to be able to see.”

While waiting for her Canadian work permit, Elisa offered her services as a volunteer with the Communications and Marketing department, internally known as the CALMS team. Elisa affectionately renamed us “CLAMS” and has been assisting with a multitude of tasks, researching and writing content for blogs and social media, building a media archive and providing psychoeducation to the Development Team and the Family Advisory Council. Fluent in both ‘languages’, she builds bridges and transfers knowledge between the program and fundraising teams. “I’ve always felt valued. I have this fantasy where I’m 75% a clinician and 25% on your team,” she shares.

“As a social worker you want to be an advocate for mental health, and I feel like this is teaching me what it means to work as an advocate. Who are the people you need to be talking to? Why does it matter? What kind of language do you use?” 

Elisa and Stella posing together in hard hats that have a Stella's Place sticker on the front. Stella is wearing a brightly coloured Stella's Place face mask and Stella is wearing black sunglasses.

At a time when the fundraising climate is challenging, many non-profits are struggling, and communication has become almost exclusively digital, the CLAMS are grateful for the extra pair of hands, extensive skills, expertise, dry humour and deep care Elisa is bringing to the team. And the feeling is mutual:

“I see that family feeling. Everyone who works here is so nice! Even on this development team that is not a clinical team, there is so much vulnerability and openness about your own mental health struggles and your families and what you are going through. There is genuine care about everyone’s mental health. It feels like you are practicing what you are preaching with your own staff, not just doing what is good for your participants. That’s the nicest thing for me to see.”

Currently, Stella’s Place does not have a formal volunteer program. We do, however, accept volunteers with specialized skills to support our operations as needed. Keep an eye out on our Careers Page for future opportunities.