Pat Carlson, who helped found Fredericton’s women’s shelter and became one of the city’s best known advocates for the disenfranchised, is retiring as the head of a local charity that helps people struggling to stay employed.

Over the years Carlson has been a relentless campaigner for the incarcerated, poor and homeless. She was trained as a teacher, then worked at the adult reformatory in Kingsclear, N.B. — a job that "probably set me on a course to fix things."

She became the first female executive director of Fredericton Emergency Shelters. 

"I will never forget them," Carlson says of the clients there. "And what they taught me about if you’re just given an opportunity what you can do. If you’re shown a little kindness, how life can change.

"Those are lessons you can't buy in a university book. I feel they gave me a PhD in compassion."

During her time there she helped establish a women's shelter.

In 2007 Carlson co-founded Changes, an organization that trains people in job readiness and is devoted to helping them turn around their lives. She is retiring as chief executive this week.

Carlson has never minced words when it comes to the constant effort to get money out of government.

"We lack creativity and we lack vision in this province, and we have for a long time," she said.

Carlson and her organizations have helped many people, including Sheila Bishop.

"She believed in me and it means everything, just having one person," Bishop said.

Carlson plans to write a book about her time at the Fredericton shelter.