If you consistently follow the news, there’s a good chance you’re in dire need of some good news. Some happy news. You know, the kind that makes you think the world isn’t so bad after all?
I’m talking about the stories that highlight people or organizations that dedicate themselves to helping those in need. About not-for-profits that devote themselves to charitable causes.
Well, to find that, you need look no further than the tip of your nose. Because right here in this city, the Women and Children’s Shelter of Barrie works tirelessly to provide support, encouragement, and resources to vulnerable women and children in our community.
Founded in 1981, the Women and Children’s Shelter is a not-for-profit agency committed to ending the cycle of violence that so many women and children endure every day. For 40 years now, it has been providing a place of safe refuge and emergency support services for abused women and children in Barrie and the surrounding area.
Not only does the agency offer shelter, but also counselling, legal aid, referrals to community and social services, and local public education. It consists of a 27-bed crisis shelter in addition to the Outreach services provided onsite. Assisting nearly 1,000 women and children every year, I think we can say that the Shelter is one of Barrie’s most important agencies.
Through speaking to Katie Taylor, the Shelter’s Development Manager, I came to a greater understanding and appreciation for the Women and Children’s Shelter. And that’s what I’m going to share with you today. This is an organization that deserves your recognition and support, so read on!
One of the Shelter’s most inspirational components is its Survivors Group. The Survivors Group is a collection of women who started out as victims coming to the Shelter seeking support and, after journeying for months or even years along their path of healing, are now offering their own help and guidance to other suffering women.
Katie was eager to talk about the Survivors Group. “It’s inspiring because they all have lived experience and now are in a place to reach out their hand to other women.”
A couple years back, the Shelter created a documentary about this Survivors Group called “Shelter Me.”
“It [the documentary] highlighted six women in our survivors group,” said Katie. “These were six women in our community, six women who have been clients of our agency, and they tell their stories, each of which are vastly different. But the commonality is that each was in a relationship where they were physically, mentally, spiritually, or financially abused.”
The documentary, which can be found on the Shelter’s website and on YouTube, shows the incredible strength and perseverance of these 6 women. And, while they might be the only ones in the documentary, it is inspiring to know that there are thousands of others like them that have found healing through the Shelter.
“It’s a very powerful resource for us and for the community,” said Katie.
As a charitable and not-for-profit agency, the Shelter also faces a unique set of financial challenges when it comes to generating enough income to continue their mission.
“We’re not a business,” Katie emphasized. “But we still need to generate revenue, we still need to fundraise and collect fundraising dollars in order to provide the services and the supports that we do.”
Katie went on to describe some of the hurdles this poses. Think of all those services listed above that the Shelter offers: food, beds, counselling, legal aid, and so on. Katie also mentioned that the Shelter’s building, which is fairly old itself, is in constant need of upkeep and repairs. When added together, providing all of these is not cheap.
“We need to constantly grow and adapt,” Katie said. “Everything the Shelter offers to the women and children is offered for free. It’s for them. But, on our end, it costs money to provide these things.”
So how does the Shelter manage? Through sheer ingenuity. Everything the Shelter does is aimed towards raising awareness for and helping the vulnerable women and children in our community. However, since the Shelter also needs money to keep up this mission, they invent fundraising campaigns that both raise awareness and funds.
Speaking of which, on August 28th, the Shelter is launching a book that is likewise called Shelter Me. The book will feature a collection of stories from women who are both part of the Survivors Group and also other women in our community who have volunteered to tell their stories.
“These women are telling their stories through art,” Katie said. “It really is a powerful thing.”
All in all, the book will feature more than thirty women relating their own experiences and journeys of healing. But, as Katie said, these women are all using different forms of art to do that. Some have written song lyrics. Others have used poems or journal entries to tell their stories. And others have chosen to take the highly artistic route of creating sketches or paintings.
“It’s however they want to depict their story,” Katie explained. “Some women explain their story from the very beginning. They go through the history of abuse, and then say, ‘Look at where I am now!’ And other women choose to just touch on where they are now.”
The book will not only serve as an artistic testament to the strength of these survivors, but it will also act as a fundraiser for the Shelter. The Shelter’s need to raise money in order to continue its amazing work cannot be stressed enough.
And, just like the documentary, the book will also become a resource for suffering women who are seeking help.
“Our hope is that women in abusive relationships will find this book and read one of the stories or look at one of the paintings, and say, ‘Oh, wait. That’s me! There’s hope after all! I can do this.’ Because, at the end of the day, that’s our mission. That’s what we aim to do.”
Aside from these resources, the Shelter also offers an “abuse checklist” on its website, which helps struggling women determine if they are stuck in an abusive relationship and, if they are, how they can get out. The Shelter also provides a 24-hour crisis help line that is operated by frontline staff who are trained to meet the women where they’re at.
In other words, the Shelter works tirelessly, leaving no stones unturned, in its mission to ensure that the vulnerable women and children in our community have access to the help they need. Every day, they are changing lives for the better. So, if you haven’t seen the “Shelter Me” documentary yet, I encourage you to visit the Shelter’s website and do so. And keep an eye out for the Shelter Me book, too, which includes even more stories of survival.
And most importantly, Barrie, let’s keep supporting our amazing Women and Children’s Shelter.
Written by Peter Wilson