This past May, a new project was brought to light as the need for a sustainable resource for marginalized women in the Okanagan grew and in this past September, the project began. Through HOPE Outreach Okanagan, a service that works to support vulnerable women in the community and help them realize their own dreams for living a safe and healthy life, Jewels of HOPE came into fruition. With COVID-19 being a major obstacle for HOPE Outreach’s services and human connection being further reduced to abide by the pandemic restrictions, it became increasingly clear that something else needed to be done to help support these women especially during these times. 

The Phoenix had the privilege to be able to speak with two incredible women who are involved with the Jewels of HOPE to discuss the project and how–despite being so new–it has already been making a difference. I was able to speak with the Project Lead for Jewels of HOPE, Lorraine Richmond, who took the time to explain how the project came to be, what her role is, and what the goals of this new service are. Dee, also known as Mama Dee, also took the time to speak with me about Jewels of HOPE as someone who has experienced what it is like being on the streets, has been a longtime friend of HOPE, and is passionate about her community. As the holidays approach, temperatures drop, and the need for basic supplies increases, we also talked about how people and the community can support and donate to HOPE Outreach and Jewels of HOPE to help change the world one life at a time.

Content Warning: The following article contains themes and mentions of homelessness, exploitation, drug use, gender-based violence and overall hardship faced by women in the community. Below are a few resources you can reach out to if you feel you are in need of support:

  • UBCO Health and Wellness
  • UBCO students can contact anytime Monday to Friday, 9:00am-4:00pm through the website or by phone: 250-802-9270
  • Canadian Mental Health Association
  • Visit the website here for tips on how to get the help you need and how you can build a team of support
  • Specific support options can be found within their branches by location. You can visit the main website here to search for specific branches located near you.
  • Here are some of the branches here in British Columbia:
  • Bad Date Reporting (Through HOPE Outreach website)
  • This link will take you to the HOPE Outreach Okanagan page on Bad Date Reporting that has tools that can allow you to cover your tracks and hide the screen with the click of a button. Through this link, you can access another link that provides a way to report anonymously and without the need for personal information. This link is also accessible below with the mention of “Bad Date Reporting” below and can be sent to someone you know who has experienced a Bad Date.

What is HOPE Outreach Okanagan and Jewels of HOPE?

HOPE Outreach offers several services to help vulnerable and exploited women on the streets. Their nighttime outreach service involves volunteers going out seven nights a week to supply homeless women in Kelowna and Vernon with basic necessities and human connection. They also have a narcan team trained to help anyone in need of distribution as well as harm reduction supplies such as smoking and injection kits. Along with volunteer orientations and trainings, HOPE Outreach also offers educational opportunities for the community by hosting events and centering the voices of women with lived experiences. As HOPE Outreach is a strong advocate for homeless and exploited women in the community, they also collect information for Bad Date Reporting to support the safety of women, especially those who are in sex work.

These services have proven to be essential in the community, notably in the face of an opioid crisis, homelessness, and gender-based violence. However, as Lorraine Richmond pointed out, there was still a need for a sustainable way of helping these women.

“We can see around upwards of four hundred women between Kelowna and Vernon,” Richmond stated. “It seems that many of our women feel caught and stuck in the ways they are existing right now.”

Richmond explained how Angie Lohr, Executive Director of HOPE Outreach, was working with a business coach to explore other ways to provide support and “a stepping stone to sustainable employment, to confidence, to dignity, to belonging, and to safety.”

The idea was to teach our vulnerable women a fairly simple, artisanal skill that they may want to pursue and that there might be a market for.

“The market research with our local farmers markets and Craft Culture markets said jewelry vendors who have been selling jewelry for many years are still selling similar jewelry and there is still a market,” Richmond revealed.

Despite market research also warning that the jewelry market is oversaturated, Richmond explained that it seemed like a good place to start anyways, ultimately leading to the launch of Jewels of HOPE.

“The women from the streets, shelters and supportive housing were invited to submit a design for a bracelet to begin the Jewels of HOPE social purpose launch.  The bracelet design that was chosen was deeply meaningful to the designer: black onyx beads that signified perseverance and strength in sadness, the colours of the medicine wheel and a small orange bead charm to honour residential school survivors. This bracelet inspired a second bracelet, similar to the original, although made with howlite beads that signify peace and stillness in the storm,” Richmond added.

Jewels of HOPE’s Goals and Impact

“It may or may not be about jewelry forever. It will always be about the women, who are the jewels,” Richmond stated. “There is a meaning behind the jewelry and truthfully, in a year or two, they may be making something else. But it is the worthiness of creating something with their hands that other people also see the value in and are willing to support.”

“The goal is to invite their creativity, their capacity, and their ability to take the steps and feel confident that there is something worth striving, living, and growing for,” she continued.

When speaking with Dee, she revealed how she did not have an interest in making jewelry until she got involved with Jewels of HOPE. “Lorraine mentioned it to me and I met up with her and she showed me how to do it,” she explained. “It was easy and it gave me something to do with my mind and my hands because I can’t go out and do much right now.”

In addition to helping her cope with the pandemic and giving her a space to be creative and practice mental wellness, Dee also expressed why the reasons behind the jewelry is also something she likes about the project. “It helps so many other people,” she stated. “Anything to help Jewels of HOPE, I would do. Those girls have been so good to me in the past I would do almost anything to help them out.”

As a leadership coach in private practice and as someone with experience with non-profits, Richmond explained that she is values-based and purpose-driven. In regards to Jewels of HOPE and her role, Richmond affirmed that her work and the project comes from her core values.

“I have a strong belief that all people matter. In my coaching profession, I know there is often a gap between that cognitive awareness of ‘all people matter’ and what it really looks like in our day to day lives,” she stated. “What is really valuable about this work is that it is not the externals of these women that show up, it is that they have intrinsic value for who they are.”

Richmond then described how the making of the bracelets allows for connection and encourages trust. Illustrating how making the jewelry can be difficult and messy for some, there is also a tangible feeling of dignity when a volunteer reaches out to help make the bracelet together or when they make a bracelet themselves. “They sit up straighter, they lean forward, and there is a hint of hope in their voice knowing that someone might pay money for the work of their own hands,” Richmond described, “I believe the bracelet is more than a bracelet in that it is really a symbol of hope and awareness and a community that can bring healing together.”

“We Would love to see a bracelet on every wrist in the Okanagan indicating a community that holds human dignity for all people. Share HOPE. Wear HOPE,” she continued. “It is a way to symbolize that we will work together to bring healing to our community by bringing dignity to the marginalized, the exploited, the vulnerable.”

Supporting Jewels of HOPE & HOPE Outreach

With every bracelet handmade by our women, a five dollar certificate is given to the Jewels of HOPE women behind it, which can be used to buy food, living accommodations, and other necessities. As Richmond shared with me, someone once expressed her excitement about being able to put the certificate towards a birthday present for her son. Another woman was happy to have a bit of money to buy some food as she had not eaten for four days.

Richmond stressed the importance of giving human dignity and connection, revealing that a way larger corporations, organizations, or companies can help is by providing scholarship opportunities and financial assistance to the women of Jewels of HOPE. Further, partnerships with other companies and organizations have proven beneficial in the past and is something Richmond states is needed for the future in order to provide spaces and more opportunities for the women Jewels of HOPE supports.

There are so many more ways to support Jewels of HOPE, HOPE Outreach, and women in the community in general. Along with following their Instagram, Facebook, and Pinterest (#jewelsokanagan) and purchasing their bracelets, Richmond explained that donations of food, clothing, money, and supplies are essential. 

Jewels of HOPE seeks donations of supplies and money to help continue the project while being able to provide food to the women that attend during their pizza night events. Through this link, you can view how you can get involved with Jewels of HOPE by donating, volunteering, helping to host an event, or partnering with the project. 

“During the Christmas season, purchasing a bracelet for family, friends, co-workers, your boss and your staff is an excellent ‘shop local’ gift. You can find Jewels of HOPE on the following days in Kelowna, the East Kelowna Markets on November 28 and December 12, as well as the Craft Culture Market at Prospera Place from December 3 - 5,” Richmond added.

Of course, you can also help by donating to HOPE Outreach through this link.​​ As we get further into the colder months of the year, donations of warm clothing and other basic needs become even more crucial. Along with winter coats, sweaters, gloves, and mittens, HOPE Outreach is looking for donations of hats, socks, toothbrushes, toothpaste, dental floss, hair ties, hair brushes and combs, small tissue packages, tampons, makeup, jewelry, razors, Q-Tips, (reusable) water bottles, juice boxes, candies, chocolate bars, candies, and gift cards.

You can also donate monetarily to HOPE Outreach through this Canada Helps link. Here, you have the option to make individual donations or monthly donations. As Richmond affirmed when discussing how people can pitch in, monthly donations come with the extra benefit of being more consistent and reliable, giving the organization more room to plan and prioritize consistent support, resources, and a hand up for the vulnerable and exploited women in the Okanagan.