Shannon Christensen’s passion for the non-profit world took hold early in life, thanks to her grandmother’s influence.
“She ran an orphanage in Nigeria for seven years while her husband was stationed overseas,” Christensen recalled.
“She’d share stories and slides, and she kept all these really amazing mementos, and I kept thinking, ‘I want to do something like that.’”
Christensen’s interest in helping others first manifested in her career when she became a trauma therapist for the Elizabeth Frye Society, a position she still holds. But now, she’s driven to make a bigger difference—and this drive has led her to create Mamas for Mamas, a community-driven platform where low-income mothers can request donated items, enroll in community support programs, and apply to receive refurbished computers free of charge.
Working at both organizations requires discipline and drive, which Christensen has in spades.
“I have two children under the age of five, so I’m up first thing in the morning. Around 6:30 a.m. I start answering emails and redirecting donation requests to our donations coordinator. After I get my kids up and ready for school and day care, that’s when I check in with the event planning committee.”
The Mamas for Mamas’ event planning committee consists of 12 women from high-profile Okanagan organizations who plan events like the recent 1980s-themed 5K fun run and the upcoming 007 Casino Royale gaming and entertainment night.
The organization is also working on a fundraiser with the Kelowna Closet Cleanout flea market and a spring pub night at Rose’s Pub, but the major headline event of the year will be the annual fundraising gala in November.
“We have a different theme every year—last year it was Country Formal. It was a sold-out event at the Laurel Packinghouse. We raised about $10,000 for our programs, and part of that money also went toward children’s Christmas gifts for 10 families.”
But that’s not all that Christensen has planned. The non-profit’s popular computer distribution program—which provides individuals earning under $30,000 per year with refurbished computers for free—will be up and running again as soon as Mamas for Mamas can find a computer technician to volunteer.
Universal childcare is also a major priority, as Christensen plans to open Canada’s first universal childcare centre to offer spaces at the federal New Democratic Party’s recommended rate of $15 per day.
Christensen’s drive to give back—both in her day job as a trauma therapist and in her capacity as executive director of Mamas for Mamas —stems from a simple but important lesson she learned from her father.
“It’s more important to be kind than it is to be right. My dad always used to say, ‘The only thing I know for sure is that I don’t know anything for sure.’ He was a lawyer, and he’d often go to
Cottonwoods to prepare residents’ wills for free. He died in 2009, on the day after my wedding. After I lost him, I talked about change, wanting to see different things. And I thought, ‘I have to be the change I want to see in the world.’”
Christensen and her husband knew firsthand the stress and uncertainty of raising a family on a low income, and it’s that struggle and the fact that many women don’t have a partner to assist with bills is what inspired Christensen to start Mamas for Mamas.
“When we were in our early 20s and on one income, we were broke, but we got by because we knew that we could borrow money from family if we had to. That’s why we have to build a community like (Mamas for Mamas). There shouldn’t be this much struggle in our own backyards when the resources to solve these problems are sitting right in front of us.”
Since its inception in 2014, Mamas for Mamas has grown to 22 chapters nationwide, and counts 9,500 members across the Okanagan. It’s a phenomenon that Christensen attributes to the contagious nature of generosity. To learn more see mamasformamas.ca.
Crowe MacKay’s Women to Watch program is a weekly feature that profiles remarkable women in our community. This feature series is a joint initiative between Crowe MacKay, the Kelowna Chamber of Commerce and the Kelowna Capital News. To nominate the exceptional woman in your life, email firstname.lastname@example.org.