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highJinx in Ottawa: it takes 2 women to raise a village.

Ever meet someone who immediately inspires you without even trying? I had the distinct pleasure of meeting not one, but two women with this ability recently…and as fate would have it, these two work as a dynamic duo. World, meet Karen and Leigh of highJinx Ottawa.

highJinx, nestled in the heart of Ottawa’s Chinatown village, is a funky little second-hand shop full of furniture and housewares. For the average Joe, it’s a great place to stop in and find a treasure, whether that’s a porcelain mushroom-theme condiment set (hands off–it’s mine), or a plush velvet settee. This tiny house is more than just a shop, though: it’s a means to an end for owners Leigh and Karen, who use their store to help the homeless and downtrodden. By donating furniture and housewares directly from their shop, and using their proceeds for other expenses, Leigh and Karen work tirelessly to get as many people off the cold streets of Ottawa as possible…in fact, they’ve helped over ninety people and counting.

I met these ladies a few weeks ago and they told me stories of their work, heading out at night to meet the impoverished under bridges and in some of the worst parts of town. These two women, neither of which admits to having a black belt in ninjutsu, head down into areas of the city that are rarely visited by even the most seasoned outreach workers. And once down there, Karen and Leigh do something that no outreach worker gets to do: they make friends with the people they meet.


 Following the dreams and direction of the individual, this duo helps each person figure out and strive for the things that will help them progress in the steps they need to take towards a better life. On their facebook page, the ladies share some of their history: “We baked cakes, attended school graduations, sat in the ER for endless hours, spoke at memorials, moved furniture, cooked dinner, extreme-cleaned, reunited families, hugged, dropped in at 2am, sat in doctors waiting rooms, advocated, intervened in crisis, attended court, stood up when others would stand down…and most importantly, loved each and every one of them.” For two years before opening their shop, Karen and Leigh fought the good fight and helped 66 people get back on their feet; since opening their storefront just in May of 2011, they’ve added about 30 more people to their list of successes.

As a social service worker by trade, I was speechless when I learned of highJinx and the women who run it. Workers have office hours, so we don’t generally get to make 2am phone calls or bake a lot of cakes. We’re also held to a strict code regarding how ‘friendly’ we can be with clients, and while these boundaries are there for many good reasons, I will admit I found myself envious of the freedom these women had to practice their outreach with their hearts on their sleeves. I think there’s a need for social services, of course, or I wouldn’t have gone into the field…but I truly believe that if there were more people like Karen and Leigh—actively supporting their fellow humans, working to better their community with their own sweat and tears—I would be happily out of a job. It takes a village to raise a child, and it takes a village to help an adult back onto his feet.

I’m proud as a peacock that UsedOttawa and the UsedEverywhere team is helping highJinx grow their good work. So far, in my role as marketing coordinator for UsedOttawa, we’ve been able to:

-gift the women with a stack of business cards and signage to promote their new UsedOttawa seller’s list

-outfitted highJinx with a souped-up seller’s list including a photo of their shop and a writeup about their business

-provided them with a hashtag (#highjinx) that can be used on the UsedOttawa.com site to help connect highJinx supporters with Leigh and Karen

-supported their online selling with upgrades to ‘Top Ads’

-continue to spread the good word about highJinx and help the women drive traffic to their shop (thank you to the entire team)!

We’re encouraging people to help out highJinx in a few different ways; you can read about them by checking out their seller’s list here.

Karen and Leigh started highJinx as a means to continue their work; after finding dead ends when they sought traditional social services funding, the women made their own solution and built this great shop to help raise the money they need. Their work is being recognized, with an Leadership & Community Building award from the City of Ottawa mayor, and a recent nomination for recognition at the CelebrateHer 2012 celebrations. highJinx has a dream for expansion, including “programming, community outreach, supporting community artists, and providing a community meeting space”, and without a doubt, I believe these women will achieve their goals.

I’m grateful that Leigh and Karen have provided a way for the well-housed of Ottawa to support the less fortunate in so many easy ways. Shop at the highJinx shop and on their UsedOttawa seller’s list; donate proceeds from your UsedEverywhere sales; or donate your housewares and furniture straight to the store. There are so many ways to support the little shop that could. I’m excited to see how the women grow their dreams with a little time and a lot of support. As a person with over a decade of experience working with the homeless population, I can tell you that, truly, the world needs more highJinx.

Jordan Kent-Baas is co-author of the award-nominated blog Project: Priceless—The Free Wedding Experiment, and Project: Priceless—the NEST (the newlywed experience). The wedding experiment harnessed the power of social media to create a 140-person wedding for virtually no cost, while the NEST chronicles Jordan and Brian’s experience as frugal newlyweds. She is a social media fanatic who works in marketing and communications, and aspires to one day be a full-time author. Jordan lives with her fat senior pug and her sweet handsome husband, Brian; she has a passion for crafting, and exploring new activities around the city. Jordan has a dream of one day being a really good cook…in the meantime, she keeps a frozen pizza on hand just in case. You can connect with Jordan via her blogs at www.projectpriceless.com, on Facebook at www.facebook.com/projectpriceless, or on twitter, under her handle @projectpricelss.

7 Responses to “highJinx in Ottawa: it takes 2 women to raise a village.”

Kent Nielsen

A wonderful article about two wonderful women. I am prejudiced – Karen is my Daughter and Leigh is my great friend.
I hope Ottawa continues to support their efforts.

Reply

    Jordan Kent-Baas

    Kent, your daughter and Leigh are wonderful women, doing wonderful work here in Ottawa! I, too, hope that Ottawa (and beyond!) supports highJinx and the efforts of these women!

Mary Catharine White

What an amazing article ladies and I am so happy that I was able to donate my unused end tables to your shop! Special thanks to Karen’s dad for driving them up there! Keep up the fantastic work you both do and I look forward to reading more about your future achievements!

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Larry Corrigan

As Leigh parents we are delighted to see them afforded recognition by the City of Ottawa. As a local municipal politician I would hope you and others can help leverage additional funding in order to provide them the remuneration they deserve.

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    Carol Forbes

    Dear Mr Corrigan
    I met these 2 ladies about a year and was so excited to donate all kinds of things.Now since the of June I have tried 3 times to reach them & no call back including asking for a call back one way or the other for a pickup.I did place another call in Sept & spoke to Karen & gave her a list
    .Her driver was taking time off to move & she would call me back.Well the donations are taking up a lot of space and I am at a standstill because I truly believe in what they are doing.Also I always include they can sell so they can also some profit Is it possible that they are no longer in business?I know you are a busy man but I would appreciate it if you would enlighten me.
    Carol Forbes 613 746-0307

Mar

These girls are a special. They pay it forward every day and inspire everyone they meet to do the same.

Visit their shop in Chinatown. I dare you not to find something you didn’t know you needed in your life.

Follow them on Facebook @OttawaHighjinx for new arrivals!

And I’m NOT related to either of them.

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Lori Burns

What a heart warming article! Just when I thought people stopped carrying about others and focused exclusively on themselves, I read a story about two angels that have proven me wrong.

Thank you, ladies, for your hard work and for inspiring me to find new ways to contribute to folks in my community.

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