THE WAY I SEE IT: Women’s centre will be missed

The Women’s Centre played an important role in the community services in Vernon for many years.

Over their 30-year history their focus has been about improving the lives of women.

In 1989, I worked for the Vernon and District Human Rights Committee, which no longer exists, in a rented space in the Women’s Centre above what is now Brenda Hala’s studio on 30th Avenue.

I rented their library, which was this wonderful room with a huge window leading out to the roof of the building. I often opened it and sat there listening to the birds from Cenotaph Park mixed in with the sounds of the city.

The centre offered information and referral services, ran some groups, and did research projects. Robin LeDrew was the coordinator of the centre and Helen Douglas was the chair of the board. They were an organization running on a shoe string then, and it was the reason they closed their doors this year.

I had a history of running a community centre in Banff with many programs for women, and working at a centre in Fort McMurray.

My vision for women’s centres and community centres is that every woman should feel welcome walking through the door and that services should have a broad appeal –– no pun intended.

The focus of women’s centres often is about giving a voice to those women who don’t have the resources and skills to speak for themselves.

I am glad to see that other community agencies will be offering some of the services that were provided by Vernon’s centre.

We owe a great deal to the Women’s Centre for the work they did behind the scenes in order to bring change to our community. They did the research projects, the studies needed as the background work to get funding, grants, or local approval.

A fine example is the People Place.

That extremely effective and well-used community service centre was the brainchild of Helen Douglas and Agnes Sovereign, and I apologize for those I’ve missed.

In 1990 and 1991 they got grants to have summer students do research on such a facility and then expanded that to large committees and hundreds of hours of work done by many. Their most successful decision was to get Tom Foord involved, and history sees a full building and a community asset.

I love to see Justice Park in the springtime, with its flowers blooming in the side garden. It’s an open, spacious park with clear sight lines to all the areas where you can enjoy its beauty and sit for a moment. However, it used to have bushes and trees on the side and a lot of dark corners. A safety audit the Women’s Centre conducted identified how it could become a safer place and it is, and looks far better for it.

The staff and board members of the Women’s Centre have sat on many community committees and provided a variety of support services including advocacy for many, and working to develop and participate in The Gateway, the local shelter. There are many ways they helped develop Vernon.

However, sometimes the name Women’s Centre confused people.

To clear things up, the Women’s Centre, Vernon Women’s Transition House, and the Gateway Women’s Shelter are not the same organization. They each provide different services. In some communities one umbrella organization oversees them all such as the YWCA.

It is difficult to provide community services and to fundraise all the time. Not everyone has the skill set to provide the services to their clients, do the research, administration work and then go knock on doors for dollars.

Our community has many great non-profit services and many of them run on a tight budget. These organizations can stretch a dollar a mile. They can all be vulnerable and if we as a community value their services we have to support them, whether through local, provincial, or federal funding, or through supporting their own fundraising efforts. We all benefit whether directly or indirectly, and they make a huge difference to the fibre of our community.

 

Thank you to all the women who worked at our local Women’s Centre, for their volunteers, their board members, their donors and supporters. You will be missed and you can be proud of the difference you made in improving the lives of the citizens of the North Okanagan.