It is with deep sadness that The 519 announces the passing of one of the most dedicated and longest-serving members of our team – Helen Rykens.
Helen retired from The 519 in 2013 following over 30 years with our organization. An integral part of the community and The 519 from almost the very beginning, Helen joined The 519 as a member years before she was hired on as staff.
She was integral in supporting the creation and administration of the AIDS Memorial, provided support and leadership to the AIDS Vigil Committee and was the central liaison to the community-led programs and user groups that call The 519 home. Helen was the tireless project manager for our 2001-2010 capital expansion project and guided our organization through unprecedented growth – developing often overlooked but absolutely essential new privacy, space use, governance and community access policies and systems. When Helen first joined the team, 20 groups met at in our community centre and when she retired, that community had grown to over 650 community groups, NGOs and governmental organizations accessing our space and our available space grew 45%.
In the years since Helen’s retirement her absence has been real and tangibly felt by our staff, volunteers, members and broader community. A life-long ally and supporter of lesbian, gay, bi and trans human rights, Helen’s commitment to ensuring safe and welcoming spaces in our city where people could truly be themselves was a hallmark of her work with The 519 and the communities we serve.
It seems fitting that she stayed with us long enough for one more AIDS Vigil and one more Starry Night – two events she cared deeply about. At the AIDS Vigil, we “honour, remember and celebrate” those we have lost. Today we do the same for Helen and for her partner Dan.
In partnership with Dan and Helen’s family, The 519 will host a memorial later this summer, further details will follow.