Sieuwke (pronounced “shoe-ka”) Stoppel is the Operations Director with Braeside Community Association in Calgary. Prior to joining the organization, she worked with RESET Society of Calgary, a women’s shelter formerly known as Servants Anonymous Society of Calgary (SAS).
Sieuwke is also the 44-year-old mother of two, Max, 13, and Kat, 11 (ages at the time of writing).
Before having children, she decided to put her education on hold so she could help her ex-husband get through college first. She was still figuring out what she wanted to do, and has no regrets for the decision.
“I learned some very valuable life lessons – at home and at work – that have tremendously impacted my ability to love and to lead,” she says.
When she was 25, Sieuwke found her passion. She pursued her Bachelor of Applied Nonprofit Studies from Mount Royal University (formerly, Mount Royal College) in Calgary.
“My mother was very happy as she knew this was suited for me,” says Sieuwke, explaining that her personality has always made her a “servant leader.”
She was able to pay for school by working while studying. She also qualified for scholarships for her academic and community service.
Pursuing the goal of leadership
During her first semester of undergraduate studies, Sieuwke learned about the Master of Arts in Leadership at Royal Roads University. She knew it was her destiny. One day.
Fast forward two kids and “one very sad divorce,” this working mother found herself shut in during the COVID-19 pandemic. Her job, which she loved, was furloughed. So, she decided it was the perfect opportunity to get the master’s degree she dreamed about over a decade earlier.
The road wasn’t going to be easy; her children were home with her and, while government support was helpful, it wasn’t going to cover all the costs of going to university as a single parent.
Receiving help with a full heart
That’s where scholarship and community support became vital.
“I had so much support along the way, and that is what I have always told my children: never be afraid to ask. I needed help, and I asked for it,” she explains.
Sieuwke was awarded the Budh Singh and Kashmir Kaur Dhahan Scholarship, along with another of comparable value.
“This award let my kids see their mom get her master’s. This award taught them that there are always good people to help if you just ask. This award taught them we are in a village and that it does take one to raise us all up,” she says in tears.
The Budh Singh and Kashmir Kaur Dhahan Scholarship was created by Barj Dhahan, founder of Canada India Education Society (CIES), in partnership with Royal Roads University. He named it after his parents.
Sieuwke notes that she also had help from family to carry her through the two-year, distance-education program.
“The day I received this award I told my kids how receiving support shows what a beautiful world we live in, where people help each other to rise up and shine, and I am so grateful,” she continues.
Growing up with gratitude and resilience
Sieuwke was raised in a small oil and gas town in Northern Alberta before her family settled in Calgary, Alberta in the 1990s.
She believes her attitude of hard work and service to others stems from her humble upbringing. She says her parents taught her and her sister that “community is everything.”
“Coming from a working-class family you learned that you get what you give. As I tell my kids. . .you work hard, you do good, you get good. You don’t work hard, you don’t do good, you don’t get good,” she explains.
“I believe there is so much value in working hard, learning where you came from, and seeing where you can go if you dream hard and work hard enough to get there.”
She also points to lessons her Dutch Oma (i.e. grandmother) taught her as a child.
“She was born in Holland and came to Canada in the 1950s after her country had been devastated. She was very proud to call Canada home and was always grateful for everything Canada did for Holland during the war. She taught us to always be grateful and thankful for everything we have in this country,” recalls Sieuwke.
She herself was named after her Oma, Sjoeke Folkinga.
Setting an example for her children
Sieuwke received her master’s certificate in the mail in early 2022.
“I totally cried,” she admits, laughing. “This degree will allow me to do so many things for so many people.”
In addition to her new job, she is now happily remarried, and enjoys spending time with her children, who she says are the “light of a lot of people’s lives.” They were also a major motivating factor for getting her master’s degree.
“Being a single mother drove my determination to get my master’s so I can provide for myself and my children and help all our dreams come true. My children have witnessed what it takes to get ahead in life and that is hard work, fortitude, perseverance, and higher education,” she says.
She describes her son as a “creator.” From video editing, to building or coming up with song lyrics, he never ceases to leave her “always amazed, and very proud.” She even got her own birthday magic show from him!
As for her daughter, she’s a “little social butterfly,” according to Sieuwke. “She is always engaging with others, helping others, and interacting with her world in such a grown-up way considering her age. . .The apple has not fallen far from the tree with that one!”
Her words of encouragement to others
For those who find themselves in Sieuwke’s past shoes, her advice is to “trust the process.”
“Life can be hard, but life can also be beautiful. When you are at the end of your rope, tie a knot, and hold on. But more importantly, tie it on to someone you love and trust, and do the same for them. You can do this. You can do anything. Trust yourself. You’ve got this.”-Sieuwke Stoppel