We are living a hopefully brief moment in history when women’s emancipation is not only under scrutiny, but is being attacked by entitled white males who happen to lead a couple of influential world governments — Russia and the United States. It’s during times like these that it’s essential to remind ourselves that grassroots initiatives remain the bedrock of hope and change within our communities.
I like to quote Canadian feminist and social activist Rosemary Brown during dark times like this; “We must open the doors and we must see to it they remain open, so that others can pass through.”
To that end, I’d like to introduce you to an organization whose door is always open for women in need of a hand up. The Women’s Centre (of Halton) was established in 1989 by a group of concerned women who identified the need for a safe space where women experiencing abuse could receive after-care, support and ongoing services. In 1991 The Centre registered as a charitable organization and moved into offices in South Oakville Centre.
I had the pleasure of sitting down with Martha Barrangan, Executive Director of the Centre, to discuss its evolution and expansion under her thoughtful leadership.
Doreen Nicoll: Martha, what brings women in crisis, distress or transition to The Centre?
Martha Barrangan: The community has come to know The Centre as a safe compassionate place to explore life and relationships. We operate in a “women supporting women” model that provides support, guidance, encouragement and the opportunity for women to express themselves freely while exploring their options.
DN: So, what does that really mean?
MB: We provide programs and services to effect positive change when women need it most. For example, we help women leaving abusive relationships make a safer transition by creating a safety plan, helping them find shelter, and connecting them to support groups.
We counsel women who have been through traumatic experiences, connect them with legal services and ongoing counselling when necessary.
We offer a safe space for women experiencing all sorts of crisis to heal and improve their lives. All women are welcome, even if you just had a bad day and need to talk, you’re welcome here. Sometimes we all need someone to talk with to get through those tough days or when dealing with painful experiences.
The Centre is open for women to drop in and seek support through a mentor or counsellor five days a week. We offer programs and workshops that equip and empower women to find solutions to their own life situation. We do this because we believe each woman is unique, important and what she has to say matters.
DN: Martha, you became Executive Director in April 2016. In less than a year you’ve revitalized the Centre and once again made it a sanctuary for women in Halton who are seeking help. Tell us about the changes you’ve implemented.
MB: Most of the changes were put in place in order to break the barriers that kept women in need from accessing supports. I truly believe that no woman should have to walk through difficult circumstances alone. Life is tough enough on its own, and even tougher when we are isolated.
Because we have no core funding, The Centre faces ongoing financial challenges. Removing programs and services women in our community depend on isn’t an option. So, when we expanded our hours of service in order to help more women we faced a tough budgetary challenge. The Centre relies on fundraising opportunities, partnerships with local corporations, and donations from local community members and they didn’t let us down.
I believe in developing and maintaining community partnerships with other non-profit agencies. When women come through our door they don’t have one particular concern, they have many, and we need to ensure we support women in the best way possible. That takes strong partnerships with other community agencies.
Breaking barriers can’t happen only within given scheduled times of service because it involves issues as diverse as access to transportation, child care during appointments, or even access to emergency food and shelter.
My focus this year has been on reducing isolation within Halton’s community. We have had women come in every day just to sit and have a coffee because they didn’t want to spend the day alone. This led to the creation of groups like our Conversation Circle, a weekly drop-in where women can have a casual, lighthearted chat with other women over tea or coffee.
The Table for Twelve Program invites 12 women to meet regularly over the course of 12 months. A lot of amazing opportunities and friendships have come out of this program.
I can often be overheard saying when we build a woman up, we build a family and in turn, we build community. I see this come to life every day at the Centre.
DN: What programs and services are available at the Centre?
MB: Every program is designed and implemented to equip, educate, empower and encourage women. We have a drop in mentorship program designed for women to access a support person on demand with no wait time. This one to one program can be conducted in person or over the phone.
Currently, we provide crisis counselling and violence against women counselling. We also offer self-esteem coaching and life skills counselling which teaches coping strategies to reduce stress as well as legal, financial, and employment information.
We also offer a variety of group programs and workshops where participants can use their lived experience to help others navigate systems, explore alternatives, and most importantly, offer support. The wide variety of topics covered include support while living with or leaving abuse, hope and healing, self-esteem, life skills, separation and divorce, family law education, and understanding codependency. (A monthly codependency support group.)
DN: Tell me about the volunteers who help keep The Centre thriving.
MB: I truly believe we wouldn’t be who we are if we didn’t have amazing volunteers that help make this organization great. They’re often the first face you see when you come in, and the first voice you hear when you call and you’re in crisis.
Our volunteers are actively involved in fundraising, event planning, serving on our board of directors, or facilitating group workshops. Volunteers take on roles as peer mentors using their lived experience to encourage and empower other women or share their financial planning skills by facilitating budgeting workshops.
Volunteers are vital to The Centre. They put our philosophy of women supporting women into practice. Our volunteers become part of this big Women’s Centre family. Each woman contributes what she can, to make this organization happen and for that, I have a grateful, humble heart.
DN: The Centre is hosting its First Annual Valentines Fundraising Gala on Saturday, February 18. Why is the gala integral to your fund raising efforts?
This is The Centre’s first gala! I’m excited our supporters will be together in one room enjoying themselves while supporting an incredibly important cause!
The theme, “Love Does,” celebrates The Centre’s love for our community and the love our community has for our agency.
Proceeds from the gala will help The Centre expand services. Currently we offer services in Oakville and Burlington, but the need continues to exceed our available resources.
The Centre would also like to offer services in less accessible parts of Halton Region. Milton is the fastest growing community in Canada, yet transportation and accessibility remain huge hurtles for the increasing number of Milton women seeking help.
Guests will delight in the antipasto bar, savour an elegant meal, indulge in treats from the late night sweet table and enjoy a drink from the open bar. There will be musical entertainment and a DJ to get everyone dancing. Every couple will receive a complimentary photo on the red carpet and guests will have the opportunity to bid on fabulous silent auction items.
Every ticket sold to this elegant celebration means support for one woman in our community! Because, that’s what LOVE DOES.
The Women’s Centre will celebrate all the meanings of “LOVE” at its First Annual Valentines Fundraising Gala.
Tickets are $110 per person and available by contacting: [email protected]
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