It's amazing what love does. It creates community that supports women through crisis, distress and transition. It provides grassroots services and programs to bring positive change to lives touched by pain and sorrow.
For close to 30 years, The Women's Centre of Halton (The Centre) has been a place where love does wonders. This safe space for women and their children offers support, services, programs, and even a cup of tea and willing ear when needed.
But, 2018 is a very special year. This is the year of hope, celebration, and love. Expectations are soaring as women from every walk of life courageously speak out about the abuse and inequalities that intersect every part of their reality. The difference now is that women are optimistic, moving forward with confidence to initiate the sweeping changes needed to ensure gender equity. And, The Centre is the heart of the movement in Halton.
According to Martha Barrangan, Executive Director of The Centre, "The Centre is open for women to drop in and seek support through a mentor or counsellor five days a week. Our wrap around programs and workshops equip and empower women to find solutions to their own life situation."
Often called the 'Month of the Blues,' January can prove challenging for many women. That's why the mental health program at The Centre is so crucial. Unfortunately, funding for this important program ends in March and the criteria laid out by the funder has changed so significantly that The Centre no longer qualifies.
This program is vital for women going through trauma, experiencing tremendous stress, or those with mental health issues. Unlike the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH), The Centre is able to focus through a gendered lens to arrive at a better understanding of the needs of women experiencing mental health issues.
As Barrangan observes, "The Centre has created a safe and comfortable space that makes is easier for women to walk through our door. Unlike CAMH, no stigma is attached to coming to The Centre. A woman could be getting job counselling, taking a class to reduce stress, or just joining a coffee and conversation group. And, since we use a feminist counselling lens, women are more comfortable and more likely to disclose mental health concerns."
Access to the mental health counsellor also ends in March, leaving The Centre looking at developing supports for the women leaving the program. Whatever those next steps look like, it's important that they remain in house where the women feel safe and secure and have established essential connections with staff and fellow participants.
Leah, a mental health counsellor at The Centre, believes,
"The mental health program is transformative. Women find an outlet through The Centre that enables them to process and develop coping capacity. Our holistic feminist approach has led to many 'aha' moments that women are comfortable sharing within our communal group. That community is essential because it gives women a much-needed opportunity to celebrate their breakthroughs and successes. My role is to be the cheerleader for both individual women and the entire group. It's unfortunate the women will lose these indispensable supports when funding ends."
The Centre offers extensive wrap-around services women with mental health issues can access for themselves and their children. The Centre has also nurtured important community partnerships with agencies and non-profits offering additional resources.
Because they have never had core funding, The Centre faces ongoing financial challenges. Gaps are bridged through fundraising, partnerships with local corporations, and donations from local community members. But, this financial precarity means employment opportunities remain largely contractual and programs and services often tied to funding directives instead of client needs.
Insufficient funding means The Centre is unable to offer competitive wages in what is primarily a highly educated, female dominated field. Overall, that means staff have no financial security and service users often experience a lack of continuity.
It's incredible to believe that after three decades, the 30 Women's Centres across Ontario that provide welcoming spaces, outstanding programs, services, and outreach receive absolutely no core funding.
These Centres help approximately 500,000 women across the province annually, and that number does not even take in to account the children that are helped nor the positive impacts that ripple across each community that's home to these grassroots organizations.
We know that women's issues are everyone's issues. We also have various levels of government claiming to be feminist and assuring the public that they are acting in the best interest of women. Well, now it's time for government to put their money where their mouths are so these vital, innovative centres can finally thrive rather than just survive.
Until that day dawns, The Centre continues diligently raising money to help women in Halton access the services and programs they need to re-establish and improve their lives and the lives of their children.
On February 10, The Women's Centre will host its second annual 'LOVE DOES' Gala at the Oakville Conference Centre. Guests can graze the antipasto bar, savour a fabulous five-course meal, and sip a drink from the open bar while enjoying the musical sounds of Scott and Julian. Then, dance the night away before enjoying a late-night savory and sweets table.
According to Barrangan, "Love Does celebrates The Centre's love for our community and the love our community has for our agency. This year's goal is to raise $30,000. It's vital we meet this goal so programs we introduce to women do not have to be removed."
A mere $30,000 may not seem like much, but thanks to the hard work and dedication of The Centre's staff and volunteers it will be transformed into so much more because, quite frankly, that's what LOVE DOES!
For more information and to purchase Gala tickets click here.
Image: The Women's Centre of Halton
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