Jennifer Gbadebo wanted to help give young girls in the community a place to go where they could be themselves.
That’s why she began teaching at a weekly drop-in sewing group as part of a larger program run through the Family Support Centre in Hay River. Two programs, one for adult women and one for youth, run throughout the week at the centre. They began more than three years ago to help create a safe safe for women to come, share, socialize and learn from each other, said the centre’s executive director, Michelle Schmitz.
On a bright Tuesday afternoon at the centre, Schmitz quickly scoots into another room and returns with a bag full of items: colourful felt moccasins, mitts, bags and wall hangings, all of which have been made this year. The programs began in early November and usually run until the end of the year, or are extended into the new year.
“I want women to feel they can come here anytime and that it’s safe and confidential,” she said. “That’s such an important thing in a small place. Depending on the situation, women can feel very cut off from the community.”
Schmitz, who is going on her sixth year at the centre, said she began the programming to also reach out to women in the community and let them know what resources are available to them. She said knowledge of the program is usually passed around by word of mouth. Last year more than 350 women passed through the centre’s doors to participate in the drop-ins.
Schmitz said it can be challenging for women in Hay River and the territories who are trying to build their lives back up after leaving a violent relationship. If a woman relocates to Hay River from another community, she must wait six months to be put on the waiting list for housing. The maximum stay at the shelter is six weeks.
There are five family support centres in the NWT. Last year, 57 women and 55 children stayed at the local centre, coming from Hay River and surrounding areas. The centre refers women to other community programs like community counselling and victim’s services.
After years of under-funding, Schmitz said the centre finally receives adequate support. It has been able to undergo renovations in the past five years, adding much-needed upgrades to the kitchen, bedrooms and backyard. The centre is a non-profit, non-governmental organization, yet is funded mostly through the Hay River Health Authority. The enhancement funding has also allowed the centre to offer programs like the women’s and youth sewing programs, as well as an elders tea held once a year in December.
“We are open 24-hours and we try to make it a comfortable atmosphere,” she said. “These programs have made a positive difference. Women can come here, leave with something they made and share stories with each other.”
by Angele Cano