Justina Stewart has lived a life of giving back to others around her. She is shy and modest in her efforts, so much so that she didn’t know how to describe what she does for others when The Northern View sat down with her. She didn’t know what to say because giving back to her community is natural to her and she has never thought of not doing it – and she doesn’t talk about what she does because it’s just a way of life.
“She may be one of our cities biggest givers and no one knows as she does it so quietly and humbly,” a work colleague of hers told The Northern View. “She cares for others in a way that is rarely seen.”
“The bible teaches us to do work quietly and without reward,” Justina said. “It’s not a competition.”
Throughout the pandemic, she has had a concern for Elders in the community and makes certain they are alright. Justina helps with community outreach at her church by cooking and providing meals for the less fortunate. She said the church has taught her to reach out to people and has helped her overcome some shyness as well.
A small part of what she does is collect warm clothing and jackets at her office to distribute in the winter. She said she doesn’t like to call people ‘homeless’, so her father taught her to refer to them as ‘street friends’. Recently she was instrumental in assisting a street friend suffering from substance issues to be reunited with his out-of-town family. She said once he was reunited he went for treatment and is now doing well.
“I always say don’t treat people differently. Don’t treat people mean, do not be mean. Treat them how you want to be treated.”
Raised in the church from an early age, helping others in need was taught to her from when she was a toddler in the village of Kincolith or Gingolx. In the isolated community of 400 people back then the only way in or out of the village was by floatplane or ferry. The road wasn’t built until 2003, just after Justina moved to Prince Rupert in 2000.
As a mom of six children, three boys and three girls, Justina was looking for a new start from an old life. She married young at the age of 18 and tried to make an abusive relationship work for more than six years. Alcohol became her crutch of support through a two-year battle with depression.
There were ups and downs, and a final plummet to rock bottom when she had an awakening. She realized she needed to take back her own life instead of taking her life.
What would seem like small things to others like the scent of a flower or the melody of a song, became emotional triggers for past traumas in her life.
“One day I woke up from a drunken stupor. I was wondering where my kids were. I couldn’t remember the last time I saw them,” she said. “It broke my heart, but right away I went for counselling.”
Justina credits her mom’s faith for getting her through.
“I started drinking a lot when I was in high school. It was rough. Really rough,” She said as her voice caught in her throat and tears wet her eyes.
“I was suicidal. It was my mom’s prayers – she never gave up on me … I quit drinking and turned my life around.”
“Alcohol ruins lives if you don’t take control of it,” she said. “It took a lot for me to realize what is real and what is important.”
She said she was 40 years old and it was around 2000.
“I gave it all to God. My life changed again, for the better. He answers prayers and provides healing,” she said.
Twenty-one years later giving back prayers for others is something that Justina does naturally in assisting ‘street friends’. As a member of the Compassion Explosion Bethel Church and daughter of the congregation’s minister, the less fortunate will often approach her and ask for prayers. She always obliges by immediately bowing her head. She said she doesn’t wait until she gets home, it is always right then and there even in the middle of the street because that is what is needed in that moment.
“I don’t know what it is like to have nothing,” she said so she wants to give as much as she can to help others better their lives.
She says hello to everyone on the street and believes a smile can change a person’s day.
“If I had a bigger house, I would take in all the ‘street friends’ so they could sleep in a warm place,” she said.
The training centre administrator has been sober for more than 20 years and offers part credit of her success to her employer, Hecate Strait Employment Development Society, who she said took a chance and believed in her.
Shortly after arriving in Prince Rupert, Justina joined a course run by the society that taught life skills, coping techniques for surviving abuse and employment readiness.
Women, in general, tend to put themselves down, so they don’t need anyone else doing it for them, she said.
“Abuse comes in all shapes and sizes. It can be physical, mental, verbal, and sexual,” she said. “The key is to know your own worth. Don’t let anyone tell you differently.”
Part of the empowerment course was for attendees to each morning list three employers that they would like to gain work experience from. Each morning Justina’s choice was Hecate Strait. She said she was comfortable with the staff and enjoyed the atmosphere. It was friendly and she wanted to stay. Each morning the response was the same.
“They kept shooting me down. They said they were not taking any students.”
Her perseverance and determination finally won over. After about four weeks of the constant same answer ‘No’, they created a space for her. Fifteen years later, she hasn’t looked back. She said when she first secured the position her father went out to all the ‘street friends’ passing out her business cards encouraging them to go and see”Willard’s Witchy-Poo” so she could make some magic and help them to obtain training and move forward to a better life.
“I took my life back 20 years ago … I fought hard for the life I have now. We all deserve to be happy – and alcohol-free.”
“I believe in God. I put all my trust in him and he has brought me through so many trials,” she said.
K-J Millar | Journalist
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