'We found each other for a reason': 2 women connect on Vancouver's Downtown Eastside
Project Beyond Hello helps Downtown Eastside residents reconnect with lost family members
Kristi Blakeway and Cindy Cadwell don't come across as the likeliest of friends.
Blakeway, 43, is a principal at a high school in Maple Ridge, B.C, where she lives with her husband and two small children.
Cadwell, 49, lives in social housing on Vancouver's Downtown Eastside and struggles with drug addiction.
But to see the two of them together is to know they share a deep appreciation for one another.
Theirs is a story that proves how empathy and persistence can bridge the gap between people living in seemingly separate worlds.
"She's such an amazing human being," Cadwell says of Blakeway. "The things that she does — reaching out."
The pair recently reconnected over breakfast at the Lost and Found cafe on Hastings Street. They meet a few times a year to touch base and help each other out.
Blakeway — blond, petite and quick to smile in her form-fitting dark clothes — sits close to Cadwell and speaks softly as they eat their meal.
Cadwell — stringy brown hair, a bit gaunt, but also quick to smile in her oversized clothes — asks about her friend's family.
They met five years ago when Blakeway was on the Downtown Eastside handing out water as part of her volunteer work with her project, Beyond Hello.
The project helps less fortunate residents of the neighbourhood reconnect with family members by sending Christmas cards.
When Blakeway met Cadwell, the latter was scrawny and manic and thinking about throwing herself in front of a bus. She was battling HIV, Hepatitis C and heroin addiction.
She told Blakeway about the three-month-old daughter, Paige, she had given up for adoption nearly 30 years ago.
"I just needed to know what became of her life. And I wanted her to know that the choices I made for her were choices I made out of love," Cadwell said.
'It makes me feel extra loved'
Armed with only a first name, scant details and the power of Facebook, Blakeway helped Cadwell reunite with her daughter.
"It was pretty amazing," Blakeway said of the emotional reunion in June 2013. "It was neat to see how similar they were."
Despite not having seen each other since Paige was a baby, the two shared the same laugh, mannerisms — and struggles with addiction.
Blakeway said that, since then, she has seen Cadwell improve physically and mentally. Although Cadwell still battles addiction, it's not on the same scale as before.
"It makes me feel extra loved ... knowing that there's people somewhere out there in the world that think about me, and I them," Cadwell said.
But it's not just Cadwell who has benefited from the relationship. Blakeway considers Cadwell a friend who inspires her daily.
"We found each other for a reason I think, right?" she says to Cadwell, smiling across their eggs benny.
Blakeway recently spoke at the Women's Collaborative Hub 2017 Women Influencer Awards, where she noted Cadwell as one of five women she called "unsung heroes."
"They are my constant reminder that each one of us has the power to connect a community," she said in her speech. "And that it's the smallest acts that make the biggest difference."
Blakeway estimates she has helped at least 600 family members reconnect since she started her project.
But she also thinks about the 200 or so Christmas cards that she hasn't been able to send. Often all the information she and her volunteers are given is a name and a city.
Sometimes, despite weeks of searching on social media, online phone books and other avenues of the internet, they're not able to find an address to which to send the cards.
But Blakeway persists in finding them — with Cadwell acting as one of many reminders why.