Skip To Content
Photo: Sarah Baker/Apt613

Former social workers opt for the simplicity of neighbours helping neighbours

By Sarah Baker on October 10, 2017

Photo: Sarah Baker/Apt613

When you pass the large vintage sign at 290 Kent Street, know that there’s more to this store than meets the eye.

HighJinx has been described as “a second hand store, a showcase of local art, an oddities shop, a donation centre, retro furniture rental location, prop provider, a furniture bank, a picker’s paradise…” Step inside and feel your sense of time shift as you peruse myriad mementos, relishing the familiarity of an old armchair, sewing machine, or a record player.

If you’re lucky, Zeb the cat may jump up to greet you at the front desk, then stuff himself into a box three sizes too small to nap. And if you’re visiting this vintage treasure trove for the first time, you’ll be surprised to see shelves stocked with food and a large kitchen behind the retail floor.

Ask owners Leigh Reid and Karen Nielsen to describe HighJinx and they’ll shy away from terms like “social enterprise”, opting instead for the simplicity of “neighbours helping neighbours.”

L to R: Karen Nielsen and Leigh Reid. Photo: @highjinx/Instagram

The two women are former social workers who grew weary of fighting the systemic obstacles that so often stand between people and supports. A few years ago they took matters into their own hands and HighJinx, at its new two-storey Centretown home, is the beautiful result.

If you get the machine when you call, be patient – Leigh and Karen are likely working out a range of requests, from negotiating a low-income apartment for an evicted neighbour, to helping locate childcare or pet care, to planning and cooking delicious healthy meals for folks who are strapped for cash or time or ability.

Photo: Sarah Baker/Apt613

Let’s be real – who hasn’t felt the sting of the rising cost of living in this city? On top of this, they’re responsible for the decisions that sustain their neighbours-helping-neighbours model, which, by choice, does not receive government funding and relies on volunteers, donations, and the purchase of those sweet vintage items.

Some consider Leigh and Karen’s approach to be so radically effective that they’ve invited the two to teach and lecture as experts, but these ladies say they prefer to focus their energy on what’s right in front of them. “We don’t consider ourselves experts and we don’t consider something like being there to help your neighbours unconventional. It shouldn’t be so unconventional, helping out your neighbours,” says Leigh.

If reading this brings on neighbourly feelings, September in particular was a month when the means of many in Ottawa were stretched from buying school supplies for their kids or themselves. This fall (and all year!) stop by HighJinx to shop, drop off some quality food or gently used items, and show them some love online via Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook.

And if the “spirit” moves you, check out their upcoming event, The Big Reveal November 4th at the Montgomery Legion (330 Kent St), where co-hosts Bytown Paranormal will reveal findings from 5 years of paranormal investigations. All proceeds go back to helping out our vulnerable neighbours.