Formerly homeless children pay tribute to their mothers

A Toronto-based non-profit organization is helping formerly homeless children pay tribute to their mothers. It is a special project for Mother’s Day organized by Up With Women, which is dedicated to helping recently homeless and at-risk women.

'We see the pride in these mothers and the pride in the children,' says Up With Women CEO

A special project for Mother’s Day helps formerly homeless children honour their mothers 5:19

Three years ago Livity Lawson was a homeless kid living in a shelter with his younger brother and mother after a broken marriage. Today, the seven-year-old is paying a tribute to his mom.

"Mom, you're loving and you're strong and you're caring and you pray for us day by day," he said.

Livity's tribute is part of a project organized by Up with Women, a Toronto-based non-profit dedicated to helping recently homeless and at-risk women.

'Mom, you're loving and you're strong and you're caring and you pray for us day by day,' Livity Lawson, 7, says when asked to deliver a message to his mother. (CBC)

The project is helping kids record messages to their moms to celebrate Mother's Day and show them how much their children love and support them.

"I wanted to give the kids a chance to really help their mom see just how much they honour them," said Up with Women CEO Lia Grimanis, who is formerly homeless.

What the kids say

She said she was expecting the kids to make little tributes and was surprised by how much the children also shared on what was it like being homeless.

Angie Vozinov, 11, was homeless when she was eight years old. She says she didn't want anyone to know because she was afraid people would judge her. (CBC)

"I didn't want anybody knowing [I was homeless] because I felt like I was going to be judged by that," said 11-year-old Angie Vozinov, homeless at the age of eight. "I didn't want to be that kid, I just wanted to have a normal life."


Facts about women and children in shelters

According to Statistics Canada, there were 7,969 women and children staying in shelters across Canada in the spring of 2014.

  • 78 per cent were there primarily because of abuse.
  • 22 per cent were there primarily for other reasons.

Angie's mother, Helen Vozinov, fled a violent husband with her two children to stay in a shelter. She said one of the hardest things was when her oldest daughter lost faith in her.

"It really motivated me to want to be somebody that she wanted to look up to again," she said.

Helen Vozinov was living shelter three years ago. Now she runs her own company. She says she wanted to be someone her daughter could look up to. (CBC)

Vozinov now runs her own company teaching kids by drama and play. She is also part of Up with Women and says she is "on her way."

Up with Women started as a promise Grimanis made to herself when she was a homeless teenager.

Pairs women and business coaches

"I would come back and be a role model for other women to help them to believe that they can become successful as well, that homelessness is not a dead end, success belongs to everybody."

The organization pairs up women with business coaches who help them through career and business development.

"I did it took me 10 years to rebuild my life because I didn't have anybody to rely on," she said.

Up with Women CEO Lia Grimanis, once homeless herself, organized the Mother's Day project so kids can pay tribute to their moms. (CBC)

"We see the pride in these mothers and the pride in the children. We wanted to show people it's not about what happened to you — it's about how far you've come and that's what those kids are celebrating."

This network of support helped Livity and his mother, Lola Lawson, launch a children's book they wrote about how to cope with feelings.

Children's book a family project

"My boys and I struggled through our own emotions experiencing a family breakdown and so emotions, feelings, all that stuff, was like a very big topic in our home."

Their children's book is also filled with colourful drawings and illustrations, courtesy of Lawson's youngest, her three-year-old son.

"I decided that you know maybe it would be nice to do something for the boys that incorporated them," said Lola. "They're so intelligent and so beautiful they inspire me and that's what drove me to do that."

Livity Lawson kisses his mom, Lola, as she reads from her children's book, which they wrote as a family with the support of Up With Women. (CBC)

Lola Lawson and her sons sold more than 200 copies of the book to date. They have given more than 15 readings and workshops in schools.

"I know how I'm living my life now is right and it feels amazing, it really does. It feels like a big accomplishment."

She said being part of this project and writing a book with her children made her feel confident in herself as a mother.

"It made me believe in myself and say you know what I can raise young men to be successful."