The Rainy River District Women’s Shelter of Hope will open its first-ever women’s resource centre here in March.
The agency’s board of directors gave its final approval last Thursday night to purchase the building at 330 Scott St. and move forward, and outreach worker Heather Johnson couldn’t be happier.
“I can’t believe that this is an idea that came to mind only four months ago,” Johnson remarked during a tour of the site Friday afternoon.
“The women in this community are what made it happen. They wanted it,” she added.
“The letters of support we got . . . I am still in shock.”
“We are all very excited to finally be able to provide a permanent presence in the heart of the district,” echoed Donna Kroocmo, executive director of the Shelter of Hope.
Johnson noted key volunteers Monica Sus, Mary Martinson, Allene Perusse, and Brian Cousineau have been getting the centre ready, with the aim to open it March 1.
Once open, its hours of operation will be Monday to Friday from 11 a.m.-2 p.m., at least to begin with.
Women of all ages–from any walk of life–will be encouraged to drop in.
Coming in through the front door and to your left is a retail area, complete with glass display cabinets and shelving. This space is for women entrepreneurs to bring their wares and sell them, with a portion of proceeds going towards the operation of the centre.
“The centre is run by donation-only at this time so monetary donations are 100 percent needed to keep us running,” Johnson stressed.
To the right is a seating area, with a large sectional couch, throw pillows, and blankets right beside a south-facing window with the sunshine coming in.
A little further back is an area with a fridge and microwave, where visitors can help themselves to coffee or tea (and, if possible, make a donation) and heat up their lunch.
Across the room, meanwhile, is a “lunch and learn” and meeting area, featuring four tables and room to seat 18 people comfortably.
“If women want to bring a brown bag lunch or bring in take-out from one of the nearby restaurants, they can come and sit,” Johnson noted.
“Or if you’re on your coffee break and want to get away from work for 15 minutes, come down, get a hot cup of coffee,” she added.
“We’ll have some baking for sale.”
There’s also a children’s play area and a library area, where resources such as books and board games will be available for visitors to borrow and use.
“I know people say that there’s nothing in this town for 16- to 18-year-olds to do,” said Johnson. “I really want those youth in here and playing board games and having coffee with their friends.
“It’s a safe place for them to come.”
In the rear is an office area for Johnson to conduct her outreach work. Kroocmo also will be there every other Friday to provide trauma therapy.
As well, the shelter’s transitional housing support worker will be available on alternate Fridays to assist women in finding and maintaining appropriate housing.
The back section also has a bathroom with a shower, where women with no other place to go use safely. This bathroom also will be available for use by the resource centre users.
A kitchen area in the back will be perfect for preparing meals for lunch and for women to learn home-making skills.
In terms of storage, there’s two large shelving sections at the back, which will be used to hold two complete sets of household items (i.e., dishes, cutlery, pots, pans, etc.), so when a woman who has had to leave her home and relocate, they’re right there ready for her.
The basement, meanwhile, will store any overflow of donated items, and be organized with clothing racks and so on to make it easier for women to peruse through donations to find what they need.
“If a woman needs a warm jacket, she can go downstairs and grab a jacket,” noted Johnson.
The shelter will continue to use a storage unit elsewhere for large items, such as furniture and appliances.
“We will run an inventory list here so when people call, we can say, ‘Oh yeah, we have this,'” said Johnson, noting that will be much more efficient than currently.
Further into the future, the two apartments located above the storefront may be renovated and used either as transitional housing for women in crisis, rental apartments to generate revenue to support the centre’s operating costs, or one of each.
These proposed renovations may be done as a sort of “Habitat for Humanity” project, where local volunteers come together to work on it, noted Johnson, suggesting costs could be kept as low as possible if such renovations could be done with donated leftover building materials.
Once open, the sky’s the limit in terms of what the centre will be used for.
In addition to being a place where women can go have their lunch and chat, hold a knitting group, play cards, or host book clubs, they also can attend “lunch and learn” workshops for women to teach other women skills.
For example, Johnson wants to teach women basic life skills, such as how to change a tire, do an oil change, carpentry, and housekeeping.
The centre also is a safe, comfortable place for breastfeeding, and could be a place for girls’ after-school programs.
As well, Johnson and her team of volunteers regularly want to hold planned events in conjunction with community partners.
These could include anything from World Book Day (March 3), National Doctors’ Day (March 30), and National Find Your Voice Day (April 16) to Vegetarian Week (May 16-24), National Picnic Week (June 11-19), and the Day Against Drug Abuse (June 26).
Some events, such as Picnic Week, could be moved out to the new Rainy Lake Square, Johnson suggested.
NCDS has partnered with the shelter to provide job coaching, counselling, and training for women while Curvy Chick is planning to have a “Dress for Success” program.
Through a partnership with Community Living, the centre also will be a training site for females with disabilities to learn job skills.
The centre also will be a placement site for Confederation College social service work students, and a spot for Fort High students to do co-ops.
And outside of its regular business hours, the site will be available for bookings, whether they be sorority meetings, baby showers, wedding showers, or any other kind of “girls’ gathering,” said Johnson.
“Any women’s organizations can use this space,” she stressed. “The cost is a donation towards the centre.
“If you’re a group that has absolutely no money, donate what you can,” she added.
“It’s still here for you.”
As mentioned above, the centre will be run entirely by donations.
Johnson expects these will come in from a variety of sources, ranging from the proceeds from donated items sold there to donations made by user groups who hold meetings or other gatherings there.
Another suggestion is for local workplaces to donate proceeds from their “dress down Fridays.”
Some area businesses, groups, and individuals have donated money and items to the resource centre.
A few examples include the Beta Sigma Phi Alpha Mu chapter, which donated a Bunn coffee-maker, Mary Calder, who gave a quilt she made especially for the site and hangs on the wall there, and Rainy River Hardware, which has pledged to give $100 to the centre each month.
Right now, some items the resource needs include books, board games, and eclectic mirrors and plates (parts of the walls will be covered in a variety of mirrors and plates).
Johnson also would like more women entrepreneurs to sign up to sell their wares there.
If you want to donate money or items, sell goods, volunteer at the centre, or book space for an event, contact Johnson at 271-5644 after Feb. 1.