As a non-profit organization, Fife House looks to the support of our partners and supporters in the community who donate generously to support our mission to provide supportive housing and services for people and families living with HIV/AIDS. Recently, we caught up with one such donor, Aryo, who shares the beautiful and moving story of why he supports the work of Fife House.
Could you tell us a little bit about yourself and how you first learned about Fife House?
My name is Aryo, and I am an American of Indonesian heritage. While residing in Toronto for a period of time, I had the good fortune of meeting my late husband, Sylvanus – a beautiful, kind, giving and enlightened human being – although unfortunately at the time, we didn’t know that he was in the final journey of his life. Our paths and passions connected through music. I am a pianist and composer so it was such an honor to find lots of common threads and enjoyment with Sylvanus – our connection woven through our shared passions for music, dancing, ice skating, choreography, food, cooking and exploring the city.
It was Sylvanus who introduced me to Fife House. His journey was well-known to many within the Fife House community, emerging from a challenging period marked by two episodes of mania/bipolar disorder, during which he experienced over a year of homelessness in downtown Toronto.
Witnessing the profound impact Fife House had on Sylvanus’ life was truly remarkable. He had space to engage in meaningful learning experiences, rebuild his self-confidence, and make a positive difference in the lives of others in ways that continue to inspire me, his friends and family.
Starting from his initial residence near Isabella Street, Sylvanus’s path eventually led him to spend his later years at Fife House’s Jarvis residence. Throughout this transition, he formed profound friendships, received invaluable support, and became an integral part of a nurturing community, all thanks to the folks at Fife House, LOFT (McEwan), and PWA.
Are there any specific projects or initiatives within Fife House that hold a special place in your heart? We’d love to hear about the ones you’re particularly passionate about and why they resonate with you.
Compassion, and an open-minded, non-judgmental approach define the core values of those working at Fife House. They show remarkable effort – encompassing roles as empathetic listeners, keen observers, invaluable resource and, at times, first responders to medical or safety emergencies.
The smallest acts of kindness, whether they prevent individuals from spiraling further into crisis or support them in their journey out of it, hold immeasurable value for those in need. Sometimes, we are the only lifeline available to these individuals, and our support can reshape their whole world or even touch the lives of those around them.
I have had the privilege of witnessing how the universe responded with beauty and positivity to Sylvanus’ unwavering commitment to kindness and his willingness to give back. This became especially apparent during his 15-month battle with cancer. During this time, he embraced the principles of karma, kindness, and selfless giving, and was profoundly grateful for the kindness, and support he received from Fife House and the many compassionate souls around him.
Why do you think it is important to support individuals facing both HIV and homelessness? And why is it crucial, now more than ever, for others to support organizations like Fife House?
My primary motivations lie in practicing empathy and the belief that we can never predict the twists and turns life might throw our way. We cannot guarantee that we won’t face similar or even more daunting challenges. The HIV-positive and homeless community often finds itself in these dire circumstances, and they frequently encounter additional obstacles from societal stigma, prejudice, and harsh judgment.
It’s simply the right thing to do—to extend a helping hand and uplift those in need. Moreover, there is a wealth of socioeconomic and governance research that demonstrates the positive ripple effects of supporting these communities and implementing preventive programs. Such efforts not only improve the lives of those directly affected but also enhance our shared society and communities.
Hidden within every individual are talents and potentials waiting to be discovered. By supporting and elevating them, we unlock opportunities for brilliant art, innovations, patents, and new businesses. In these trying times marked by global challenges like inflation, housing shortages, supply chain disruptions, racial tensions, resource disparities, and climate change, there is an urgent need for all hands-on deck. Supporting organizations like Fife House is not just beneficial; it is essential.
Fife House offers a sanctuary, a nurturing environment for healing, and a non-judgmental space for personal growth and recovery from past traumas. It also cultivates a sense of family and community, serving as a model for a compassionate and supportive network. This model has the potential to be replicated elsewhere.
What advice would you offer to people who are eager to give back and make a positive impact in their community?
I would encourage you to consistently extend a helping hand to others, there is no act of kindness too grand, nor too small. Seemingly modest gestures can carry profound implications. But to me, the true measure of kindness lies in how it shapes the broader cosmic energy and universe, those are critical things that matter the most.
Sylvanus was not only willing but eager to participate in various advisory board committees, such as the Reach Out Response Network Toronto, during the challenging pandemic lockdowns. Sylvanus, or Syl as we fondly called him, understood the immense difficulties faced by gay identifying individuals who had endured lifelong childhood trauma and abuse. Unfortunately for Syl, this trauma manifested into several severe manic bipolar episodes, leading to periods of homelessness in both Montreal and Toronto. Despite the shame associated with these experiences, Syl recognized the importance of personal growth and openly shared his journey to assist others who might be on similar paths. His kindness and willingness to lend a helping hand knew no bounds. Whether it was giving back, offering assistance, or donating his time, extra money, or food to those in need, Syl’s generosity was unmatched. He even extended his expertise in Yoga, Pilates, and Meditation to friends across Canada through Zoom lessons.
What made Sylvanus truly remarkable, was his unwavering commitment to helping others, even at the expense of his own well-being and health. He was non-judgmental and accepting, embodying the spirit of giving back and helping others in the purest sense. This commemoration is a reflection of the person Syl was, and it’s something he would have continued to do, over and over again if given the chance.
Syl expressed his desire to contribute to institutions like St. Michael’s Hospital, Jarvis and Fife House once he achieved affluence, with the sole purpose of improving the lives and chances of survival for others.
This commemoration serves as a tribute to his life, his boundless kindness, and his love for helping others. It’s a way to celebrate the friends and communities he cherished at Fife House, PWA, and LOFT Mcewan; to remember his radiant energy, his beautiful soul, and his enduring presence through acts of giving back and paying it forward.