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Port Alberni’s Ellen Frood is busy building a life of service for herself

Executive director of Sage Haven Society credits her mother as her woman of influence
Ellen Frood is in her eighth year as executive director of Sage Haven Society. She agrees 2023-24 has been a pivotal year both professionally and personally. (SUSIE QUINN/ Alberni Valley News)

(Women of Influence 2024 is a special feature in the Alberni Valley News celebrating women in the community who are leading the pack.)

Ellen Frood has spent the past eight years writing what she calls the latest chapter in her personal book of living. The most recent chapter has been a pivotal one for Frood, who is the executive director of Sage Haven Society.

Heading into International Women’s Day, Frood reflected on her past, recent accomplishments and how she is looking forward. “I’ve had many lives,” said Frood, many of them shaped by a childhood modeled in feminism. Her mother was a pioneer broadcaster with CBC in Ontario and Quebec and one of the first appointees in the late 1960s to the National Advisory Council on the Status of Women.

“A beautiful role model for me to follow,” says Frood, who 40 years later was invited to Ottawa to speak in front of the Status of Women Council Committee by MP Gord Johns.

This year’s theme for International Women’s Day is Invest in Women: Accelerate Progress. “When women…are inspired to be included, there’s a sense of belonging, relevance and empowerment,” Frood said.

Investment and progress have been common themes for Frood this year. She and her team at Sage Haven recently delivered a new housing project for women and children fleeing domestic violence. “It’s been a longtime dream of ours to open up the second stage housing and it was something that was spoken about probably 10 years before I even came here,” she said.

Wiiksahiqu?il is able to house 49 people and some pets. This is above and beyond women’s emergency transition housing that Sage Haven has always offered in Port Alberni. The first person moved into transitional housing in 1981.

“We’re creating another option for housing in the community that hasn’t existed before, and we’re looking forward to the next step when we’re going to do some more housing down the road,” Frood said. “The project that we built is just beautiful; we’ve done it once, we could drop that anywhere in this city if we had the right sized property.”

Frood grew up learning to serve her community through volunteerism, and she gravitated to the non-profit sector. “The first time I volunteered, I was 11 years old (as a swimming buddy for developmentally delayed youth). Working within the service sector has always been a big part of my life.”

Her first job she said she got because she could lift a 50-pound bag of dirt. Since then she has worked with animals and birds with an import/ export business, dog training and breeding, and with non-profit organizations in government, education and the medical field. Born in Ottawa, Frood has worked from coast to coast: from Halifax in the east to Vancouver Island in the west. She has worked for Habitat for Humanity, with community foundations and hospital foundations. She has fund raised from events like Coldest Night of the Year (which happened recently in Port Alberni) right up to a mega lottery where over five campaigns she raised $10 million.

Away from Sage Haven, Frood says she lives a quiet life with her husband and adult children. “I’m a pretty quiet person,” she said. “My relaxing is sitting outside. We garden; that’s been a great thing for me, is springtime in the garden.

“I love the fog,” she says. She started spending time outdoors in foggy weather when she lived in Halifax, after meeting a woman in her 80s who swore by standing outside in the Ketch Harbour fog on the Chebucto Peninsula on the Atlantic Ocean.

Frood also has a “bucket list” of vehicles to drive. “For whatever silly reason in my life I’ve had a bucket list of cars I’ve wanted to own,” she said. That list has included an Austin Mini, a Trans-Am, a two-door Lincoln, a Virago motorcycle and an original Toyota Land Cruiser. And she’s not finished with it yet.

“I drove across the country in a four-cylinder Pinto,” she said. “There’s a certain peace for me, being on the road driving somewhere. I quite enjoy it.”

While Frood was born in Ottawa and lived in Montreal, as an adult she has naturally migrated to smaller, rural areas. She said Port Alberni “is the kind of size I like.

“Port Alberni is mighty. We do ‘firsts’ here,” she explained. The local Community Action Team (which she co-chairs) is a role model for others on the Island, and even Alberni Valley firefighters carrying Naloxone kits was a first, she added.

“There’s lots of firsts and lots of innovation here. It’s a mighty place; we’ll achieve great things here.”

Susie Quinn

About the Author: Susie Quinn

A journalist since 1987, I have been the Alberni Valley News editor since August 2006.
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