Innovative Practice Series: Haven’s Way Part 4 - The funder/founder perspective

Safe Haven Foundation of Canada
December 30, 2016

This blog post was written by Karen Sherbut, who leads the Safe Haven Foundation of Canada with her husband John Sherbut. Together, they founded Haven’s Way as philanthropists in 1999, and remain steadfast champions and funders for the program to this day. 

This blog is the fourth in our series on Haven’s Way – please follow this link for our other submissions and click here for our evaluation report. 

Early Beginnings: 1976

She was just 16 when she ran away from home for the last time. For years, she had simply existed… living in terror of her father and stepmother’s rage. She had seen more than her fair share of how cold, frightening, and ugly the world could be. As she wandered the streets of her hometown that frigidly cold January eve, she had no idea where she was going to find shelter or warmth… yet she knew that even the streets and all of its unknowns, was safer than going back home.

The opening lines to a new television series? Hardly. This was my story, and I was just one example of the tragedies that countless children face every day.

Fast Forward: 1996

Photograph of Karen and John.My passion drives from within myself, from knowing the difference that a safe home environment can make. Haven’s Way was made a reality thanks to my husband John, and his love for me, his commitment and desire to make this a better world, and his commitment to walk along-side me in this journey. John posed a very simple, yet profound question to me, over a casual lunch date that was the spark that ignited a fire that continues to burn deeply within our hearts and souls... “what would have made your journey easier?”

There, over a very long lunch, and on a coffee stained napkin, we began building the framework for our business plan and went through the necessary steps to receive our nonprofit and charitable status. Our first fundraiser was later that fall at our wedding, where we asked guests for donations instead of wedding gifts.

While our vision was built on personal passion, the program was developed as a direct result of a need identified through our in-depth study on homelessness and street youth in Calgary. We met with 20 youth serving agencies, and multiple youth with lived experience to get feedback on what was working, and what was not in Calgary’s youth sector. The results confirmed that there was a major gap in the continuum of residential services for street involved youth. One of the most eye-opening discoveries was that the very supports that I needed 23 years before remained unchanged. The only difference was that the potential to succumb to the nightmares of street life was faster, more intense … and that has only continued to increase as the years go on.

Opening Doors: 2000

Armed with this invaluable insight, we completed our research, developed our plans, received our charitable status and in November of 1999, we publicly launched Safe Haven Foundation of Canada. We asked Calgarians to Help Give a Calgary Girl Her Future Back. Our mandate was clear – to provide long term homes with stable family environments for teenage girls at risk of or experiencing homelessness, and to provide them with the necessary supports so they could work through their issues, complete their education and become self-reliant contributing citizens to our community. In one short year we went from concept to reality. We purchased the land, built the homes, fine-tuned the program, raised $700,000, hired and trained the programing staff.

Success came quickly, but not without its challenges. The philosophies and beliefs on which the program was founded were put to the test. While minor modifications have been made, the vision and philosophy to this day remain intact.

The biggest challenge for John and I was the risk of ‘founder burnout’. We have always volunteered our time, and for me, it was becoming a full-time commitment just managing the program, let alone raising the ongoing operational dollars. We knew a stronger outreach component was needed, as well as additional program support for girls that were graduating from the program who still wanted and needed transitional support.

A Turning Point: 2004

We asked ourselves two hard questions that became the next defining moments in the program: 1. Is there a better way to do things, and 2. Are we really making the most impact? Working with The Centre for Non-profit Management, we did a Needs Assessment in the fall of 2003 to determine if the program was delivering the services needed to the young women served, in the most effective and efficient manner possible. While Haven’s Way, and the need for it, was widely supported, survey respondents confirmed that for the Safe Haven Foundation of Canada, the greatest opportunity lay in adding more components which would enrich the girls lives… to build more homes, to grow and expand, and to increase public awareness.

Safe Haven Foundation knew it needed to find a cohesive fit with an organization that shared their beliefs and values, who would share the same passion and assist in growing Haven’s Way in the ways it justly deserved. That fit was found with Boys and Girls Clubs of Calgary.

In November 2004, in concert with Boys and Girls Clubs of Calgary, new ground was broken in creating a strategic alliance designed to enhance and grow the support and delivery of Haven’s Way. This alliance has been key to the success of the development and growth of the program, allowing Safe Haven Foundation to increase its focus on creating new initiatives while allowing Boys and Girls Clubs to focus on program delivery. This partnership ensured that the young women served had access to a multitude of support mechanisms and resources. Haven’s Way has remained that same, safe home, only stronger and more capable of fulfilling more dreams and opportunities.

Looking Back at Two Decades: 2016

We take great pride in our relationship with the programing team of Boys and Girls Clubs of Calgary. It is a unique and innovative partnership built on mutual trust and respect. I can’t speak highly enough of their programing team who breathes life into this program daily. By working so closely together, we are able to recognize and establish additional program components that meet the ever-changing needs of a young women’s journey back into mainstream society.

As I reflect back on our last 20 years, we know that we have the easy job… It is the young women that Haven’s Way serves, that dig deep into their souls, look fear in the face, and take their lives back.

Life wasn't always carefree and easy going for Karen Sherbut (nee Barrett), growing up in Winnipeg Manitoba, life came with its own set of challenges that ultimately lead Karen to quest for more. Her passion for what later became the Safe Haven Foundation of Canada was ignited by her less than ideal childhood and upbringing, and those who she credits to this day with helping her persevere through trying times.


Her struggles and resilient nature cultivated a young women whose concerns and first hand experience prepared her for the role of her life; a role model, mentor and activist. A role that would ultimately change the lives of many young women, their families and loved ones and impact the Sherbut family immensely.


When Karen meet the love her life John they were unaware of the impact they were about to create and the legacy they will leave behind. In 1996 the Safe Haven Foundation of Canada was born, its goal to help keep at risk teenage girls of the streets and out of a life of betrayal, abuse and misguided loyalties. Their pilot project Haven’s Way (formerly known as Safe Haven Foundation Lifelong Homes) provided a safe place for the girls to live and receive support as they worked on overcoming their obstacles and barriers.


Through Karen’s guidance and leadership Safe Haven Foundation formed a partnership with the Boys and Girls Clubs of Calgary to manage the operations of Haven’s Way which enabled Karen to take the Safe Haven Foundation to its next stage of growth and begin to provide long term funding to child and youth serving agencies, including Big Brothers big Sisters - Teen Mentoring Program, Boys & Girls Clubs of Calgary and Area, The Alex and Juno Foundation.


Karen's passion remains visible and reflective through the time she dedicates to volunteering her expertise and extensive knowledge, not only to the Safe Haven Foundation of Canada but also to the many boards and advisory roles she has undertaken over the years. Karen has had the privilege of serving on the National Board for Big Brothers Big Sisters for the past nine years as well as being active on such past committees as Strategic Planning and Fund Development. Karen currently sits on the Board Effectiveness Committee and the Awards Committee and serves as the Alberta Regional Director. Her time is now divided between family responsibilities, volunteerism, and the building of a new company with her husband.


Calgary is now home to Karen and her husband John, however their adventurous spirit doesn’t allow for much idle time. Her love for her family, cooking and travelling are the perfect compliment to a perfectly lovely human being.

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The analysis and interpretations contained in the blog posts are those of the individual contributors and do not necessarily represent the views of the Canadian Observatory on Homelessness.