Highbanks: 20 Years of Foresight & Hindsight

Posted by Jasen Robillard on

As we approach Mother's Day and the 1-year anniversary of our tag-team release of Queen Bee, we asked MaryWyatt SindlingerCommunity Developer at the Highbanks Society to provide us a bit of background on the Highbanks Society and the impact they've had on our Calgary community for the last 20 years. MaryWyatt welcomed the opportunity to guest blog, and we couldn't be happier to share this with you. 

The Highbanks 'Queen Bee' Backstory

Founded in 2003, Highbanks provides deeply subsidized housing and wrap around life supports to vulnerable pregnant and parenting mothers aged 16-24.  The caring and supportive community at Highbanks is a safe haven for our moms and kiddos to grow and build healthy, hopeful futures.

Hanging on the wall at Highbanks is a whimsical painting of a large blue bear sitting beneath three aspen trees, a field of oversized wildflowers surrounding her robust body, the sun shining overhead.  The painting, titled “Queen Bee” by its creator Kari Lehr, is warm, inviting, and joyful just like Highbanks itself. 

Queen Bee by Kari Lehr


Looking more closely at “Queen Bee”, intricate lines and shapes emerge on the painting’s surface.  This beautiful art piece is a jigsaw puzzle comprised of the most unique and mind boggling puzzle pieces imaginable. 

Much like the jigsaw puzzle, the Highbanks’ story is made up of hundreds of unique stories that fit together to create a cohesive whole - the stories of our founders, donors, employees, volunteers and, of course, the hundreds of women and children that have called Highbanks home over the past twenty years.  Each person and organization that has been a part of Highbanks over the years has contributed in their own way to where we are today.  Here are a few of their stories. 

Founder Sparks Life: Bette Mitchell

In the early 2000s, Bette Mitchell and a group of like-minded people recognized the need for both housing and familial-like supports for young single mothers.    Together, they raised the funds to buy a small residential building with main floor commercial spaces in West Kensington.  With the help of many suppliers and contractors who donated their time and services, the building was spruced up and made ready for the first four Highbanks families.   Bette remains involved with Highbanks to this day by providing mentoring to our leadership, inspiration to our staff, plus a lot of elbow grease and time to prepare units for new families.  

Founder Bette Mitchell with Gus and Brant 

Volunteer Leadership & Modeling

For the past two years, Dana has volunteered alongside Kathryn, to prepare homemade meals that serve not just as sustenance, but as a setting for building natural supports and deep friendships. 

With a deep rooted belief in the power of food as a universal language of love, she views her culinary contributions as more than just nourishment-they are expressions of care and solidarity. Dana has a Red Seal in baking, and volunteering at Highbanks is a great way for her to translate those skills into a tangible way to give back to the community. In her own words, what resonates most deeply with Dana about Highbanks is the genuine and intentional spirit in every interaction. She describes the experience akin to cooking for her own family, having developed meaningful connections with both the staff and families. The deliberate cultivation of a welcoming and supportive atmosphere at Highbanks makes it a truly special place. 

Volunteer: Dana Robertson

Ongoing Sustenance through Community Partners : Soroptimists 

The Soroptimist Society is an international charitable organization that supports other organizations that support women and children.  For over 15 years, the Soroptimist Society in Calgary has been a part of the Highbanks family through two initiatives. 

The first is the Sharing Closet.  Highbanks moms live on very limited budgets out of which they must pay rent, utilities, school fees, transportation fees, clothing, diapers, groceries, etc.  To help alleviate some of the financial stress and burden, the Soroptimists keep a storage closet at Highbanks stocked with general household supplies including shampoo and conditioner, dish and laundry soap, baby Tylenol, cleaning supplies and toilet paper.  The Highbanks moms can help themselves to the supplies in the Sharing Closet thereby freeing up part of their budget for other necessities (which these days is mainly groceries).  

The second Soroptimist initiative is the Holiday gift hampers.  Each mom provides a wish list for holiday gifts both for themselves and their child.  The Soroptimists are the special elves who choose some items from the wish list, wrap the gifts, and provide them to the families a week before Christmas.  For our moms, these are often the main gifts that they receive at the holidays and one of the few times they get to receive.  It also allows the moms to be the giver to their children – they can label the gift as from the mom or from Santa or from whomever they want.   

The Kindness of Strangers & Generous Donors 

Two stories to tell here.  First, an individual recently came to Highbanks wishing to learn more about our organization.  We love sharing the Highbanks story and, over lunch, we talked at length about our history, our moms and families and the challenges they overcome, the Highbanks approach, as well as our needs and dreams.  After an extended conversation, she made a large donation on behalf of her recently deceased parents.  

It was an extraordinary experience given that there was no historical relationship or connection with the donor, and it all happened so quickly.   It was also representative of many of our donors – people who seemingly come out of nowhere, hear our story, share our desire to support, and step in to help in any way they can. 

Many of our donors have personal experience with the challenges faced by our families either because they were themselves young mothers or were the children of single mothers.  For over five years, another anonymous donor has made a monthly donation of $50 as a tribute to his own mother who raised four boys by herself.    

As a small not-for-profit, Highbanks relies on private donations for over 75% of our revenues. All donations to Highbanks have a direct impact on our ability to provide services to our families.  Very bluntly, without the on-going support of private donors, we could not offer our program in any meaningful way.  Our donors are also our best ambassadors as they share the Highbanks story with friends, family, and colleagues.  Increasing awareness both of Highbanks and of the issues and challenges faced by young mother lead families grows support for our mission through increased donations of time, resources, and talents.  It also helps break down stigma and discrimination so often felt by young mothers.     

Caring, Committed Staff

May Dulay joined the Highbanks team as a practicum student from Mount Royal University.  May was in her first year of the Child and Youth Counselling program when she joined as a Family Support Worker for one semester.  May quickly connected with the moms and families and resonated with Highbanks philosophy and mission.  Following her practicum, May was hired as a staff member and has been at Highbanks for three years.  May values the relationships that she has built with the moms and is dedicated to  helping them build healthy, stable lives.  It fills May’s bucket when she helps moms create new and positive relationships and natural supports they can rely on.  

The StumpCraft Collaboration   

One day in the spring of 2023, Cory Krieger stopped by Highbanks to say hello.   For several years, Cory had worked in the building beside Highbanks but had never been here before.  Cory introduced himself as a co-founder of StumpCraft and spoke about the company, its puzzles, and its mission of creating connected people and communities through art and puzzling. 

StumpCraft is a visionary company that elevates both the artists whose works they use and community organizations to whom they donate.   We were overwhelmed when Cory said that StumpCraft had worked with Kari Lehr to create the “Queen Bee” puzzle and that they wanted to donate a portion of the proceeds of sale of each “Queen Bee” puzzle to Highbanks in perpetuity.  It is an excellent example of a company thinking creatively about how to marry all aspects of their business -creative, corporate and philanthropic – and thereby create community, connections, and help everyone rise to their fullest potential. 


Sustaining Support for Mother and Child

The wide community of donors, volunteers, and staff at Highbanks are here for one reason: the mothers and children we support.   From our varied pasts, we have come together with a shared desire to wrap our families in a community of care as they find their path to a secure future.  Each momma has a unique story yet there are three common elements: a traumatic past whether through domestic violence, poverty and homelessness, or addictions; the courage and determination to work hard every day to be the best parents they can be; and, hope for a strong, joyful future for themselves and their children.   

“Queen Bee” is the perfect puzzle to represent Highbanks mommas – they are both the large, robust momma bears protecting their cubs and the gently embracing mother and child joined together in two of the puzzle pieces. 



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