Sledding through the Swedish Arctic in support of Youth Services Bureau

Jen and Ami pose for a photo next to a pine tree outside in the winter.
Jen Stewart and Ami Jarvis, who are both on the Diane & Jen team at Engel and Volkers, are heading to the Swedish Arctic in March to raise money for the Youth Services Bureau. Photo by Charlie Senack. 

By Charlie Senack 

Two local realtors are leaving Westboro’s hot housing market for the frigid temperatures of the Arctic. 

Jen Stewart and Ami Jarvis, who are both on the Diane & Jen team at Engel and Volkers, are getting set to head on a 200 kilometer dog sledding trip through the Swedish Lapland to raise money for the Youth Services Bureau (YSB). 

The pair will first fly to Kiruna, the northernmost city in Sweden, where they will then travel 145 kilometers into the Arctic Circle. Without any running water, electricity or amenities, the two adventurous women will live off the land and care for their own team of sled dogs. 

“It’s pretty extreme,” said Hintonburg resident Jarvis. “There are a few trees, but it’s quite open. “We will be sleeping in Sami tipis on reindeer skin. We will each ride our own sled, and will need to care, love, and feed the dogs.” 

While the Charity Challenge trip will be a new experience for Jarvis, Stewart is no stranger to taking on a challenge. The local broker, then with Royal Lepage, trekked 100 kilometers through Iceland for charity in 2017, and made her way through the deserts of Morocco two years later.

During that trip in 2019, Stewart was able to raise $8,500 for charity. Lanark County Emergency Shelter and the Interval House of Ottawa’s pet sanctuary project received 80 per cent of the funds, while the other 20 per cent went to the Royal Lepage’s Shelter Foundation for its educational programs around domestic violence.

Stewart said while both previous challenges created obstacles and were sometimes scary, the opportunities were life changing. But with this trek taking place in the winter, she said the conditions will be different. While temperatures can go as low as -40 C in the peak of winter, the average temperature for March in the Swedish north is -8 C. 

“Sleeping outside in the winter is going to be different than sleeping in the desert in Morocco. That was quite comfortable weather-wise, and when I went to Iceland it was July,” said Stewart. “The winter camping aspect might be a little more challenging and I don’t know what to expect. Also caring for the dogs. We have to get up in the morning and feed them before we feed ourselves and then attach them all to the sled and drive it. That’s called ‘mushing’.” 

For Jarvis, she said her current feelings are more excitement than nervousness. The sales representative is no stranger to being in the wilderness. In her younger years, she did extreme hiking with the boys and girls club near Banff, Alberta for about five years. 

“We even used to do horse trips up the mountain as well. But it’s been 20 years since I’ve done anything that extreme,” said Jarvis. “We can see this as something that hopefully grows and our company does more of. Other Engel and Volkers realtors from other parts of Canada have heard about what we are doing and have reached out to show interest. We are the guinea pigs.” 

Jen poses for a photo on top of mountains in Peru.
Jen Stewart hiking through Peru in 2015. Provided photo. 

Supporting the community 

The Diane & Jen team said a big part of their company’s mission is to give back to the community. They have set a goal of raising $10,000 for the Youth Services Bureau in Ottawa, and are about 25 per cent of the way there. 

A portion of their regular transactions already go towards supporting an LGBTQ2S+ long-term housing building the YSB runs. They also donate money to Interval House and the Ottawa Distress Centre, among other charities. 

“Times are tough right now. Mental health issues are on the rise. It’s alarming to see how many kids are struggling. We want to be part of the solution in any way we can,” said Stewart. “My family has had some personal experience with YSB and they are a wonderful organization.”

Suzanne Fraser, who is the director of communications at YSB, said the money Stewart and Jarvis raise is expected go towards updating a kitchen in a female shelter and will also be used for the community development team who work with youth to help them live independently. 

“As someone whose background is in communications and with words, sometimes it’s hard to find the words to express how grateful we are,” said Fraser. “People in this community care so much about the youth in Ottawa. They recognize there is a lot of struggle and hardship. Our clients work so hard, they have so much hope, they believe in themselves. We recognize and see their support and how far it goes.”

YSB has been running in Ottawa for over 60 years and employs 350 staff members who, on average, help between 3,000 and 3,500 struggling youth every month. The organization focuses on four key areas: employment, mental health, housing, and youth justice. 

Ottawa is in the midst of a homelessness crisis with at least 1,340 people experiencing homelessness in the city, according to 2021 statistics. YSB is operating at over 100 per cent capacity, noted Fraser, who said even their overflow spaces are full. When that happens, they work with key partners such as the City of Ottawa to find accommodations. 

“Ottawa is not a good place to be homeless. It can be particularly tough in the wintertime. We want to make sure that everyone is warm, safe, fed, and that everyone has someone looking out for them,” she said. 

The dog sledding trip is self-funded with all money raised going to YSB. The full trip will last 10 days, with six days in the Swedish Lapland.  

Click here if you wish to donate.

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