Women’s centre all set to open its doors

Duane Hicks

Whether you’re a mom with young children looking for a place to stop while downtown, a teen looking for a place to do her homework, or an older woman looking to get out of the house and socialize, the new Fort Frances Women’s Centre is here for you.
Located at 330 Scott St., its grand-opening will be held tomorrow (March 8) from 10 a.m.-6 p.m.
A group of volunteers from the community have come together to make the centre a reality. The key ones include Heather Johnson, Monica Sus, and Mary Martinson.
It’s a relief to be opening the centre after the last few intense months of hard work, noted Johnson, who first conceived of the women’s centre back in the fall.
“The input that we’ve had from women in the community is that they’ve wanted this open and they want it now,” she added.
And that vision has been realized “so fast and so seamlessly” thanks to the tireless work of volunteers and generous donations from the community, Johnson said.
Sus said she got involved with the women’s centre because it was something she always had wanted to see.
“I lived in a lot of places when my kids were little,” she explained. “Each of my kid were babies in a different community.
“I was very alone; I had a husband but he was very busy.
“And I always knew in my head, ‘I wish I had a place like this that I could go to,'” noted Sus, who is the lead volunteer, treasurer, and vendor organizer for the new women’s centre.
For years and years she kept looking, thinking of how to start a women’s centre, which she felt likely had to have an affiliation with an agency or organization.
“One day out of the blue, Heather phoned me because she knew I was involved with the hospital, and I said, ‘That’s exactly what I’ve always had in my head.’
“What she was telling me was exactly what I always knew was what we needed in society,” Sus enthused.
“For me, it’s a way to give back to the community,” said Martinson.
She learned about the centre when Johnson made a presentation at Church of the Holy Spirit, to which Martinson belongs.
“That’s when I knew. I went, ‘A-ha,'” Martinson recalled.
“My motivation came from Heather,” she added. “During the presentation that she made, you could just see her commitment to this.
“I thought, ‘This is a good thing,'” Martinson reasoned. “And it’s for the benefit of so many–not just the young, not just the old.”
The trio gave heartfelt thanks to their own “maintenance man,” Brian Cousineau, as well as Ken Rogoza, Andy Peters (Peter’s Plumbing and Heating), and Doug Wright (Doug Wright Designs) for their invaluable assistance in fixing up the location over the past few months.
“This whole place has been facelifted. It’s unbelievable,” Johnson remarked.
“When you walk in here now, it’s overwhelming.”
The Fort Frances Women’s Centre has plenty to offer.
In the very front of the centre is “Melinda’s Unique Boutique,” a clothing store owned by Melinda Wickstrom, who is renting the space within the centre.
Moving further into the building, along the west wall, there’s a section with cubby holes for various vendors to rent to sell their wares and promote their services, and a display case for bakers to sell baked goods.
The rent charged will be used to help pay the centre’s rent and operating expenses.
Vendors so far include Curvy Chick (Jennifer Horton), Bomb Liscious Bath Bombs (Laureen Peters), A&R Serenity Co. (Amanda Caron), Young Living Essential Oils (Pam Edwards), Smashing Tea (Sue Korosec), Pink Zebra (Crystal Lindal), Sweety Cakes (Shelley Wepruk), and artist Kari-Ann Anderson.
“One hundred percent of the proceeds go back to the women entrepreneurs that are set up in the store,” Johnson stressed.
“We are not here to make a profit so everything goes back into their families.
“It’s all local women that are set up in here,” she added. “The rent portion that they’re paying is just enough to for us to pay the rent–that’s it.”
If any other vendors or female entrepreneurs are interested in being involved in the women’s centre, they should see Sus, who urged women to check out the centre in person.
“We find that when people come in here, they go, ‘Ah!’ I have found nobody’s mental picture of this place has even been close,” Sus said.
“No matter who it is, I keep saying, ‘Come and see us. You’ll want to see the place first,'” she added.
“We’re open, and we can make arrangements to be open. We really want people to come in here and have a look.”
Across the room from the vendor area is the “lunch and learn” section of the centre. It consists of kitchen tables and chairs, where users can have coffee and socialize, eat their lunch away from their workplace, or just sit down and take a break.
It’s also an area where women can conduct workshops.
Johnson suggested teens even could come there after school and have a safe place to be, do homework, or play a board game and have a pop.
In the northwest corner lies the family lounge, which includes a large, comfortable sectional couch and a play area for children.
“You could sit down and breastfeed a baby or if you’re walking downtown and your four-year-old has a complete meltdown, come in here,” Johnson said.
There is a washroom available for mothers and children, and the centre will be getting a change table in the near future.
While the focus in January and February has been getting the centre ready to open, and March will be about “working out the kinks” and letting women know the centre is open and here for them, April will see the start of more planned activities and programming, Johnson noted.
“If people want to donate or volunteer, definitely call us [271-2839],” she remarked.
“However, we now want to start looking at giving back to the community,” Johnson added. “That was part of my original plan.
“When you get a group of women together, they are so powerful and they can accomplish anything.
“We are here to make the community a better place by connecting women and creating partnerships with the women of the community,” she remarked.
The centre will be open tomorrow and Friday from 10 a.m.-6 p.m.–extended hours to give as many people as possible the chance to drop in and see what it’s all about.
“I just want people to walk in. They don’t have to stay, they don’t have to buy anything,” said Sus. “I just want them to walk in and have a look, and know that it exists.
“A couple of days later, they may have a friend who needs a place like this, and they can say, ‘Hey, I know where you might be able to get some help,'” she added.
Starting next week, the centre’s regular hours will be Monday to Friday from 10 a.m.-4 p.m.