Pilot college program lauded

Heather Latter

Two area women are taking part in a pilot college course being offered by Toronto’s George Brown College at the Rainy River District Women’s Shelter of Hope in Atikokan.
The women’s shelter was selected as a satellite location for the Northern Anti-violence Counsellor/Advocate College Certificate, which is being delivered through a partnership between the college’s Assaulted Women’s and Children’s Counsellor/Advocate Program (Toronto) and Negahneewin College of Academic and Community Development (Thunder Bay), which is part of Confederation College.
“There’s never, to my knowledge, been a certificate specific to this kind of training, so this is pretty exciting,” enthused Donna Kroocmo, the shelter’s executive director.
She indicated the program is for aboriginal and non-aboriginal women who are involved, or becoming involved, with women’s organizations or groups that work with women and their children in the north.
It would certify these women to work in shelters or with crisis phone lines.
“It’s great that [George Brown College] is reaching out to women in Northern Ontario,” Kroocmo stressed, citing because it is a pilot project, the tuition was waived for this year.
The two Atikokan participants, one of whom is aboriginal and the other non-aboriginal, travelled to Thunder Bay last month for a one-week orientation session, with all expenses paid by the college.
“They recognize that for a lot of these women, cost is a barrier for higher education for them,” said Kroocmo, noting the content of the program has a strong aboriginal focus.
“They recognize that the majority of women accessing the women’s shelters are from remote communities because of lack of resources.”
She added the program encompasses a northern and rural component, which “is good for us because they face different issues.”
The classes, which got underway in recent weeks after some technical difficulties at other northern sites caused a slight delay, are delivered via videoconference.
And each student also was required to have the support of a women’s shelter since their field placements are done on-site.
“The students are enthusiastic and fully-engaged,” said Susan Hanson, transitional and housing support worker with the Women’s Shelter of Hope, who is the students’ field placement supervisor.
“They are adapting really well to being taught via videoconference and using e-mail,” she explained.
“It’s a really, really awesome opportunity for them.”
Hanson said the course was condensed from a two-year program into a one-year one.
“So I think it’s going to be fairly heavy for them but there’s going to be a lot of opportunity for open engagement and feedback,” noted Hanson, saying their instructors include some “real heavy hitters” like Margaret Alexander from Springtide Resources.
Alexander, who has been an activist and educator in the women’s anti-violence movement for more than 12 years, is the students’ field seminar co-ordinator.
“In our sector she’s like a rock star,” Hanson chuckled.
“It’s an honour to be able to learn from a group of women who are highly-educated in this field,” noted Kathy, one of the students, who always had been interested in women’s issues and learning about traditional cultural information.
She said she feels the instructors are on an even plane with the students—that they are very down-to-earth.
“I’m really enjoying it. I’m finding I’m getting a lot out of it so far,” she added, citing she particularly enjoyed the week of orientation in Thunder Bay, where they met all of their instructors and fellow students.
“We participated in a lot of cultural activities, such as talking circles, ceremonies, and I found it very emotional and touching,” she remarked.
Kathy is happy to be participating in a program geared to native culture, and she is learning what she wanted to know about the impact of residential schools.
She hopes stay in Atikokan and find employment in the field.
“I’m learning a lot more about myself and the role of women,” Kathy stressed. “And I’m really happy George Brown College was able to reach out to women in the north where everyone is really secluded.”
Kroocmo said the idea for this pilot program had been in the works for a few years, with her sitting on the advisory committee for setting it up.
“I wasn’t really sure it would ever come to fruition, but it has and it’s very exciting,” she enthused.
She hopes the program will continue in Atikokan beyond this session, but realizes tuition would be charged although fees have not been determined yet.
“It’s just so great to have this one-of-a-kind program here, with a focus on aboriginal women,” Kroocmo said.