Celebrating joy, #United in community

The #LoveLove Letter, United Way Elgin Middlesex

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2023 #LocalLove Letter Holiday card art, Yolanda Juarez Cardinal Tree of Life
Kelly Ziegner, President & CEO United Way Elgin Middlesex

My family knows I’m a planner, a do-er. But I also like to leave space, especially at this time of year, for discovering joy in unexpected places at unexpected times.

Perhaps you feel that too – a craving for serendipity, as warm as a toque in a snowstorm of to-do lists.

If so, I’d invite you to meet Yolanda Juarez, whose artwork graces this email and our holiday story. In her Cardinal Tree of Life, Yolanda has transformed ordinary beads and wire into extraordinary, exuberant art.

Cardinal Tree of Life is an original work by Yolanda Juarez, an artisan working out of My Sister’s Place, The Micro Enterprise, a not-for-profit organization empowering women in business and art. Created of repurposed beads and hand-twisted wire, the work represents joy and beauty that can be found in everyone and every season.

“I love decorating for all the holidays and all the seasons, and winter is the season for cardinals,” she explains of her piece. “I’ve added butterflies, too, because they’re all about metamorphosis. Caterpillars change and become more beautiful, like all of us.”

More than most of us, Yolanda knows about change.

She trained as an electrical engineer in El Salvador and, after coming to Canada in 1985, worked and raised a young family while re-certifying in her profession. The day Yolanda was to graduate in 1993, she was in a car crash that left her with serious and permanent injuries.

“It was hard to accept, but I’m the kind of person who doesn’t give up,” she notes.

With a 10-year-old, six-year-old and a baby to care for, Yolanda began eight years of physiotherapy and speech therapy. Unable to work, she started volunteering.

This past March, Yolanda became a participant at The Micro Enterprise, a social enterprise located in the coach house behind My Sisters’ Place where United Way has invested support for years.

At The Micro Enterprise (operated through Canadian Mental Health Association Thames Valley Addiction and Mental Health Services), women artisans create and sell their handiwork, learn business skills, receive mentorship and become mentors.

“Yolanda creates masterpieces,” says Sheela Gurushanta, Micro Enterprise co-ordinator. “She learns so fast and is so creative, we realize her previous knowledge and muscle memory are working with her imaginative side.”

For Yolanda, it’s also about belonging.

“I find peace of mind when I come here,” she says. “I find friendships that are really important to me. Every day here, I find purpose.”

Yolanda’s story, and Cardinal Tree of Life now shining brightly in our office, embodies that unexpected beauty.

Her story reminds me of the transformations that can happen when people stand #United for a community where everyone matters.

Today, as you tick your holiday to-do lists, we hope you pause and celebrate your personal version of what Yolanda has discovered in her new-found community: peace, friendship and purpose.

From our United Way family to yours, we wish you the best of holidays.



Kelly Ziegner
President & CEO, United Way Elgin Middlesex

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Feel Good Giving — Looking to find the perfect, meaningful holiday gift for clients, staff and suppliers? With Feel Good Giving through United Way, you can donate an hour of tutoring for a child, a meal for a neighbour-in-need and so much more. And it’s guaranteed to be the perfect size!

Give now for maximum impact — If you want your do-gooding to do even ‘gooder’, check out these donation options before Dec. 31. Your year-end giving could power up matching donations from dedicated community investors and generate a healthier credit for you at tax time.

United in Action – Save the date — Join us in a panel discussion advocating for people living on social-assistance benefits that leave them struggling far below the poverty line. RSVP today.

Bringing affordable housing home — There’s a need and shared obligation to solve today’s housing crisis. A new United Way Action Plan for Housing Stability offers seven concrete recommendations intended to achieve results.