About Us

Founded in 1993, the Vancouver Friends for Life Society is an innovative wellness centre, built on the belief that no one should have to face the many challenges of HIV/AIDS, cancer, and other serious illness alone. Our mission is to provide emotional, informational, spiritual, and practical support to people living with life-challenging illness and help for their families and caregivers. Our philosophy recognizes the connection between mind, body, and soul with a view towards treating the whole person rather than treating the illness alone. Our programs and services focus on wellness, take a holistic approach to healing, and are intended to complement primary medical care. Offered in a safe, confidential environment, these programs are designed to help our members gain control over their health and to reduce any anxiety, stress, and isolation of managing their illness.


Vancouver Friends for Life welcomes people in Vancouver City Centre facing life challenges associated with HIV, Cancer, and Hepatitis C to participate in specialized support programs.


Our goals are:


  • to support client-members in taking an active and supporting role in their health care and maintenance.

  • to empower client-members with a selection of wellness practices that complement other treatments, and to offer support through a community sharing and participation.

  • to offer physical, spiritual, personal and social support so that our client-members attain their personal wellness aspirations.

  • to help client-members be proactively engaged in their well-being, as they look forward to a future of wellness and active participation in our community.

Click here for a copy of our constitution and bylaws (updated December 2017)

Diane Pepin

Acting Executive Director

Robert Ablenas

Robert Ablenas is an activist and knowledge philanthropist. He has worked on Vancouver community-based health initiatives that most recently include, but are not limited to, membership on Community-Based Research Standing Committee, Positive Living Society of BC (2012-15); moderator of the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR) Café Scientifique “Employing HIV Peer Research Associates: Are we providing enough support?” (2013); collaborator on the CIHR-funded health research project “PRA Plus: Building a mentorship program for Peer Research Associates working in HIV research” (2013-14); volunteer at Vancouver Friends for Life Society (2015-present); and collaborator on the CIHR-funded oral history research project “HIV in My Day: Reflecting Back, Looking Forward: An Oral History of the First Decades of Vancouver’s HIV/AIDS Epidemic” (2016-present).

Wendy Sarkissian

Canadian-born Dr Wendy Sarkissian spent 49 years living in Australia until mid-2017, when she repatriated to Vancouver. 

Wendy Sarkissian has made many contributions to community health and wellbeing. At a macro level, she holds a PhD in professional ethics and sustainability, asking questions about how to nurture an ethic of caring in various populations. Her focus on caring has guided a long career in community planning and engagement.

For much of her long career, Wendy worked a community planning consultant on projects in every Australian State and Territory. She gained recognition as a principled and agile practitioner and commentator, with a strong bias towards both evidence-based research and community empowerment. That work earned her and her colleagues over forty national and international professional awards, largely in the planning field. 

Wendy is author and co-author of many books on community engagement in planning, as well as social factors in housing design. Four of her books are still in print. 

Creativity is a hallmark of Dr Sarkissian’s practice. Large-scale and complex projects in disadvantaged neighborhoods generally took prominence in her career, but she also contributed to housing and social policy debates in many contexts, notably housing plans for municipalities and engagement strategies for municipal and senior governments. 

Wendy has recently completed a book about healing grief and trauma, which is  available as a blog at: 


Sameer Ismail

Sameer is a Financial Consultant with IG Wealth Management. He has prior background advising on issues related to governance of non-profit societies. He has volunteered extensively in Canada and the United Kingdom with charities providing services to marginalized communities and people living with HIV/AIDS. Sameer strongly believes in the value of a holistic approach to care and well-being, an area where Friends for Life excels.

Sameer holds degrees in Political Science and Law.

Sheila Giffen

Sheila Giffen is a PhD Candidate in the Department of English Language and Literatures and a Sessional Lecturer in the Institute for Gender, Race, Sexuality and Social Justice at UBC. Drawing on a transnational archive of literature from the U.S. and South Africa, her research analyses literary responses to the HIV/AIDS crisis. Formerly the Museum Manager at Roedde House Museum, and the Executive Director of Canadian Women in the Literary Arts, Sheila has several years of experience in non-profit leadership, grant-writing, fundraising and volunteer coordination. She started volunteering as a host at Friends for Life in December 2018 and is honoured to be joining the board. 

John Dub

Friends for Life has always held a special place in my heart. I’ve had the opportunity to help out here at the house in various capacities over the years - I’d consider myself a long time community activist and volunteer.

Former board member, retreat team member and treasurer at Positive Living Society of BC, along with numerous other volunteer projects within the agency.
I’ve also been involved with the Queer Film Festival, Health Initiative for Men (HIM), and took part in the HIV in my Day oral history project. I participated in the Troublemakers film project with Reel Youth, sharing my story of living as a long time HIV survivor.

Currently, I am a Trainer with the Positive Leadership Development Institute (PLDI) affiliated with the Pacific AIDS Network (PAN). Also serve as a board member with the West End Coal Harbour Community Policing.
I am the proud recipient of the 2018 AccolAIDS award for peoples choice.
It’s a true honour and privilege to be a part of the board team here at Vancouver Friends for Life.

John Horodyski

John Horodyski is a Managing Director with Optimity Advisors, a global consultancy firm, with executive management strategy experience in Information Management including Content Strategy, Metadata, and Governance.  John is a world leading metadata and DAM expert and has provided strategic direction and consulting for a variety of Fortune 10, 50, and 100 clients. John is also an Adjunct Faculty at San Jose State University where he teaches a graduate course in DAM. John is a Board Member / Editor of the Journal of Digital Media Management, and is a monthly contributor to CMS Wire, and recently published his first book in May 2016. John is a lifelong local resident of Vancouver and graduated with two Master's degrees from the University of British Columbia. As a father of two children in Vancouver with one at UBC, and the other at Point Grey High School, John lives and cares for his community with previous board work with libraries and schools, and supports local LGBTQ+ initiatives. John believes the best way to live is to give back to your community through experience, and dedication to making a difference, and is honored to be a part of the Board team at Vancouver Friends for Life.  

Vice President
Past President