Written by Ashey Dier | Academy of Lions Media Team | Toronto
"Why do you run" I ask myself and others often as intention is important. For some the answer is deep and complicated, for others it's quite simple. For academy member Alex Larose the answer to "why do you run" is quite simple, to give back.
Bitten by the running bug a few years ago, Alex has been giving back through running. Her distance, the elusive marathon. Let me just say, running a marathon is a challenge. First there's the training, it's practically a full time job. Then there's the way your body FEELS from the training, it aches, and it's tired. But, all the early mornings, and aching muscles are totally worth it when you cross the finish line...so much so that you often sign up for another one shortly after crossing. For Alex, it's more than running - she uses the marathons as a way to give back, and fundraises while she trains making crossing that finish line even sweeter. For Alex running and fundraising go hand-in-hand.
"It started three years ago when I ran my first marathon in Montreal and fundraised for the Canadian Cancer Society. It started small, I had a small goal, but I saw the potential and it grew and grew. I loved it. Part of me want's to help everybody. I wish I could help everyone all the time," Alex said.
A few months ago Alex attended an event for Matthew House - a community of three homes here in the city that welcomes and assists newly arrived refugees, met Karen Francis the Executive Director, and knew she had to help. "I am very sensitive to the refugee cause so right there from that night, I knew. There were a few videos and a few speakers, one video and particular, of a young woman who comes and cooks at Matthew house affected me. I love cooking, it's one of my big passions. I told my husband when we got home, this is what I want to do, I want to come and cook."
Curious as to what affected Alex so deeply I asked Karen to explain Matthew House, and it's role here in Toronto.
"Matthew House is a network of three homes that support refugee claimants when they arrive to Toronto. We know through the news that recently Toronto received 25 thousands Syrian refugees. Matthew house serves a different refugee population, that would be refugee claimants. They arrive here and we as a country have signed an agreement, as many other countries have done with UNHCR that says we will be compassionate and receive folks that have been forced out of their countries for a variety of different reasons: persecution, horrible human rights violations and so forth. People arrive on our border and border services receives them, processes them, they are classified as an asylum seeker, they are not a refugee until they go before a judge. What happens at that point is they just kinda open the door and say 'ok, you're here, and you'll have a hearing in a few months when we run you through the system.' But there is really no system in place to receive them. What we recognized is that many of these folks were ending up homeless and on the streets. Our founding director, working in some of these homeless shelters herself noticed that the refugee population was being re-traumatized in the homeless shelters. So that is essentially the reason why and how we came into being. At that time 25 years ago there were not that many people receiving refugees that was not a popular cause to get behind. Our founding director has been doing this for 25 years, but Matthew house has been doing this for 18 years."
Matthew House has three homes in the city, and receives people from all over the world. Imagine being forced to flee your country, alone and with very few possessions. You arrive here in Toronto and dropped off by bus on Queen Street or Bloor Street with no idea where to go or what to do. You know you're in a safe country now, but you've been completely re-traumatized and often victimized due to a lack of system in place to assist, this is the population that Matthew House serves. Since opening in 1998 Matthew House has assisted over 1800 refugee claimants from 93 different nations.
Here is one of their stories:
A young women, 16 years old arrives from Eritrea, alone and terrified. A bus drops her off on Bloor street, not knowing anyone in Toronto she doesn't know what to do, she's afraid. Recognizing the writing on an Ethiopian restaurant sign, she goes in. Crying, she asked for help. Trying to help, the restaurant owners google "refugee shelter", the first hit was Matthew House. After a quick phone call Matthew house was put in contact with the young women and a space was opened up for her right away.
"Something that's important to me is that we're also a community that is receiving refugees, but we also provide a lot of really unique services to support folks especially through their hearing process, because that can be very tough, very complex and very complicated. We've become specialists in navigating that system, to the point that we've been asked to train some of the judges. We've got many volunteers that cycle through. We're privately funded so no government funding, no one specific organization, just a large group of people who really believe in what we're doing. We're really a community initiative in our own way," Karen said.
After meeting Karen and learning more about Matthew House and the various fundraising initiatives, a bigger opportunity was quickly realized for Alex. "Every year, Matthew House participates in the Scotiabank Charity Run at the Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon. It's our biggest fundraiser by far. When I met Alex and I saw that she had a passion for this, we're always looking for folks like her that just have an ease with it, I asked her to join the committee that runs this initiative."
Karen admits that this years goal is a lofty one, the most aggressive goal they've set. Through the Scotiabank Charity Run Matthew House hopes to raise 90 thousand dollars. "I feel that this is really something that we can do as a community, we have a great community of supporters," she said.
"I'm very new in joining Matthew House, but I feel responsible in achieving this goal. So I recently made a post on facebook, reaching out to a few friends. The timing was right and it started to trend. I just asked for help. I explained what we were doing and how we were looking for runners, and at the end of the first night I had about 15 runners. Then I asked everyone who was in, to challenge someone they knew to come and run"- Alex.
I asked Alex what it was about running that became such a good vehicle for fundraising, and what it was that made her want to give back? "This is a passion for me. I started running three years ago, just before I ran my first marathon I thought, if I'm going to be running, I'm going to be fundraising. For me, the two go hand-in-hand."
For Alex having the goal of fundraising helps her push through her training, and helps her bring it on race day. Alex's fundraising gives purpose to the pains of running. Running really is a beautiful thing.
To find out more about Matthew House or how you can become involved click HERE.