Joan Gullen

Joan Gullen

Lifetime Contribution

Joan Gullen has been a motivating force behind numerous community organizations and her many humanitarian efforts have had a profound and lasting impact to the social services fabric of Ottawa-Carleton and its citizens. She has founded and initiated several of Ottawa’s major and essential social infrastructure organizations that serve to improve conditions for women, children and for those in need. These organizations have not only aided their respective beneficiaries but have also enriched our city as a whole.

Over 35 years ago, Joan Gullen co-founded with Ralph Tannis the Snow Suit Fund because they saw a need in the community and rallied support from businesses and individuals to bring their passion for change to fruition. As a result, this organization has brought dignity and hope to families who simply do not have the means to provide their children with the necessities for living. In a typical year, the Snowsuit Fund distributes 16,000 snowsuits to children ages 15 and younger and the benefits of its services are far-reaching for both individuals and for our community as a whole.

Ms. Gullen also founded and initiated many organizations to assist women. In the mid 1980’s she founded the Regional Co-ordinating Committee to End Violence Against Women (RCCEVAE) that has since been renamed as the Ottawa Coalition to End Violence Against Women (OCTEVAW). Since its inception, she has devoted countless hours and energy towards reducing violence against women and children. She forged new partnerships among local police forces, hospital workers, and grassroots organizations representing women; and, as a result of her leadership, the organization developed a model and structure for other social action groups across Canada. Today, the OCTEVAW has grown to include 33 member agencies and 11 non-voting participant agencies.

Another initiative that has been spearheaded and supported by Joan Gullen is Interval House, the first shelter in Ottawa for women fleeing abuse.  She was the motivating force and a core member of the small group of women whose determination led to its establishment. Today, through its residential, transitional and housing support program, Interval House assists about 420 women and children annually.

Ms. Gullen was also instrumental in establishing both Immigrant Women Services Ottawa (IWSO) and the Gloucester Centre for Community Resources (1979) now named Eastern Ottawa Resource Centre. She was the first Chairperson of IWSO’s Board of Directors and, in 2000, was named a Life Member on its Board of Directors. It was Joan Gullen’s drive, determination and organizational skills that ensured the successful launch of these much needed resources. Since inception, the operating budget for the Eastern Ontario Resource Centre has grown by 24 times from $150,000 to $3,750,000.

The Gloucester Housing Corporation (GHCO) that began in 1985 under its former name of Gloucester Non-Profit Housing only came into being as a result of the community activism in which Ms. Gullen was a major contributor and initiator. Together with a few likeminded individuals, she saw the need for affordable housing in the east end of the City. She became the Board’s first Chairperson and for a number of years also chaired various sub-committees. Her extensive involvement with social housing and numerous other social service organizations in the Ottawa community was highly valuable in working through challenges and giving a voice to the tremendous demand for housing to those in need.  Presently, Gloucester Housing provides 252 units of affordable housing in 6 communities. Joan Gullen was a critical and influential participant in the development of each of these communities and her contributions have been pivotal to all the successes achieved by GHCO.

A further initiative and success of Ms. Gullen’s includes her instrumental role in establishing Cornerstone Childcare Centre in the east end of Ottawa. She was central to the successful negotiations to secure funding for the Centre that offers services to 15 toddlers and 40 preschool children, providing them with first hand experiences and opportunities that promote active learning.

Behind all of Joan Gullen’s initiatives is a core principle that long term success and viability relies on a community-based structure and collaboration based on a clear understanding that the power to influence public policy rests on an organized, broad and cohesive constituency that can articulate its purpose and reflect women’s experiences and the view of service providers at the ground level. The success of her approach is fully corroborated by the successes of each and all of the organizations that have benefitted from her determination, expertise, and skills.

Ms. Gullen’s multi-decade activism has been recognized through numerous awards, both as a recipient and as the namesake for awards granted. In 1999, she was presented with the Governor General of Canada’s Meritorious Service Decoration Medal. In her honour, for her outstanding service to our City and communities, Family Services of Ottawa established the Joan Gullen Award in 2001 (an annual award to recognize and reward significant contributions to the progress of social justice for women in the communities of Ottawa); and The Ontario Association of Social Workers-Eastern Branch has established the Joan Gullen Media Award for Excellence. The prize is awarded for a story or series of stories that covers social welfare, social concerns and/or social policy issues.

Always with grace and kindness, Joan Gullen has worked tirelessly to improve the lives of others and has made Ottawa and our communities a far better place for all.