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Women and Girls: Shifting the conversation

The executive director of Faye Peterson House and owner of Modo Yoga has been and continues to stand up for women across Thunder Bay.
Debbie Zweep
The executive director of Faye Peterson House and owner of Modo Yoga, Debbie Zweep. (Supplied photo)

While sitting at the Scan House Restaurant for her typical Saturday morning breakfast, Debbie Zweep discovered a newspaper ad for director of Faye Peterson and her life hasn’t been the same since.

“Everything in this advertisement spoke to me as a young feminist wanting to make lasting change around women’s rights and injustices I had seen or experienced all my life,” Zweep says.

Since this experience, Zweep has been shifting the conversation about women and social service.

“While I have a degree in business and adult education, ending up in a social service field like violence against women wasn’t in my plan when I graduated high school, but equal rights and women’s rights were always part of me, as was social justice, likely instilled from my mother who taught me at a young age to always be independent and able to be self-sufficient.”

Merging two paths

Zweep has been with Faye Peterson for more than three decades, and she's been leading a holistic lifestyle for even longer as a marathon runner and vegetarian. During this time she was able to discover the healing and meditative effects of yoga, not only for herself but for her clients, too. 

“I found yoga when I had been working within the shelter for a year and began to experience vicarious trauma from the work we do, so I began to practice and with the support of my Board began teacher training to bring yoga and meditation to the staff to reduce vicarious trauma and to work with women experiencing trauma.”

By combining her two passions and talents, Zweep has brought a holistic approach to helping women work through their trauma in two environments created for the safety and health of women.

Adapting to constant change

While Zweep’s career has expanded and succeeded over time, like most business owners, COVID-19 created hurdles she had to adapt to.

As a business owner Modo Yoga experienced a shift requiring a more virtual practice. The shift has resulted in a permanent virtual studio and streaming of classes. Zweep also hopes to expand their joint offering with Lakehead University to have spin and yoga classes, as well as yoga in the parks and stand-up paddleboard with a new deck to deliver yoga on the lake.

“I also hope to engage in research on the lasting positive impact the Modo Yoga practice can have for people who experience trauma and adding in a wellness clinic,” Zweep says.

While Modo Yoga has adapted, so has Faye Peterson, albeit a harder shift during COVID-19.

“We certainly have a much higher and more intense level of violence being experienced by the people we serve and so cases are far more complex and now we have less access to the courts since COVID.  For people needing the protection of the courts [criminal, family, and child protection] it just isn’t happening,”

While adapting to these changes, Faye Peterson redesigned the shelter for social distancing and started using motels as a second option to provide shelter to survivors and their children.

Taking care of the community

While Zweep has made it her mission to care for the community, she does so by taking care of herself, especially during times of uncertainty.

“The pandemic has made me more aware than ever of my privilege and I practice gratitude and giving back daily.”

While she stays grounded, she has also instilled these practices in her two children that are now grown with children of their own.

“I have always said raising boys to good men in our world takes love, patience, effort and consistency… Justin and Myles were always held accountable for their behaviours and as hard as this was for them it was harder for us as parents.  We had lots of challenging conversations with the guys about media, politics (the importance of voting and understanding the different platforms) and how choices we make impact our future.”

Through her longstanding career and promising future, Zweep has conquered milestones that remind every woman to dream big and go full steam ahead. With success and the support of her family and community behind her, Zweep continues to speak up and work for women who need it most.