While in foster care as a child, JoAnne Chase received support and encouragement from her church, school and community. Now retired after a successful career in the insurance industry, she volunteers for and donates to Central City Foundation as a way to give back.  

JoAnne Chase is a long-time Central City Foundation volunteer and donor, and she connects that directly to having lived a life of privilege and opportunity. She knows it easily could have gone differently.

“I always had a feeling that so many of the people who have struggles and live on the Downtown Eastside are so close to what could have become of me and my family,” JoAnne, 68, says.

“We spent our young lives living from foster home to foster home,” she explains. She and four of her siblings were kept together as much as possible, and for a long time continued to attend the same school and church.

“There were incredible people who took an interest,” she says, referring specifically to fellow parishioners, and teachers who encouraged her. “I think that was probably the key, just having that support, even if it wasn’t necessarily financial, just moral support.

“We all know how lucky we were to land on our feet,” says JoAnne, who remains close to her siblings today.

Starting at age 17, JoAnne was able to support herself, saving enough money to attend university. “Kids can’t do that anymore,” she notes. “It’s just not like it was.” She made her own way, and built a successful 40-year career in the insurance industry, becoming a partner in a mid-sized brokerage in downtown Vancouver.

When JoAnne joined the Central City Foundation board in 2006, she seized the opportunity to become part of the projects committee. That meant making regular visits to the foundation’s community partners in the Downtown Eastside and beyond.

She recalls feeling awed during an early visit to the Downtown Eastside Women’s Centre, where hundreds of women living in poverty meet each day for warm meals, companionship and support.

“This is a gathering place, a place for them to get out of their rooms and meet with other women,” JoAnne says. Over the years, the Downtown Eastside Women’s Centre has received several grants from Central City Foundation, allowing the centre to renovate outdated space for its offices and programming.

“When people either are homeless or they live in very confined quarters, space becomes a big issue,” JoAnne says. “If they have these spaces to go to, where they can actually have a cup of coffee or a chat with another person, that makes space enormously important and relevant in people’s lives.”

Now comfortably retired to West Vancouver, JoAnne travels the world and spends time with her siblings and their children—when she isn’t volunteering for Central City Foundation. She’s grateful for the time to visit a range of community partners during the foundation’s twice-annual granting periods.

“You get to meet so many amazing people who are out quietly working in their own world and trying to help neighbours in need,” she says. Seeing that good work firsthand makes it easy for her to continue giving. “I really believe in the work the foundation does.”