The Rainy River District Women’s Shelter of Hope is expanding the services it offers to local women with the opening of a new outreach office in Fort Frances.
Located in the downstairs portion of Family and Children’s Services at 240 First St. E. (old high school), the office hopefully will mean more women in the district can access the shelter’s services, explained Donna Kroocmo, executive director of the shelter (formerly known as the Atikokan Crisis Centre).
“We’ve been criticized from almost day one for not offering enough services in the west end of the district,” noted Kroocmo.
“Without the partnership and the secure spot that FACS is able to provide, I don’t know that we could do it,” she admitted.
“But we’re definitely going to try and hopefully reach more women that way.”
The new outreach office is open from 9:30-11:30 a.m. each weekday except Thursdays, when the outreach worker holds art therapy sessions featuring scrapbooking, beading, and other crafts from 1-3 p.m. over at the United Native Friendship Centre (616 Mowat Ave.)
Services offered include such things as long-term sexual assault counselling, therapeutic one-on-one counselling for any issues a woman might present, or the worker there being the link for anyone who wants to sign up for a child witness group or camps, noted Kroocmo.
“[The worker] can provide accompaniment for women who want to, say, apply for welfare or [if] they have a court case coming up,” she added.
“So she’s the local resource person that can do that kind of thing.
Kroocmo said they’ve always had to send a worker from Atikokan to Fort Frances in the past.
“So with her there right there—and that’s usually where courts cases are held—it’s just so much easier, and in the end will probably save us money,” she reasoned.
By having this outreach service available, Kroocmo hopes this will mean more people understand and know about the many services the shelter offers—whether it’s providing free transportation or putting a woman up in a hotel for emergency purposes.
“I just hope that there’s more awareness of the services that we provide, and the public education that we do,” Kroocmo said.
“People are still amazed that we do that kind of thing.”
And as part of this new outreach program, weekly support groups also will be available on Tuesdays from 7-8:30 p.m. at Rainy River High School and Thursdays from 7-8:30 p.m. at Fort High.
The first run of these support groups will focus on self-esteem building, explained Kroocmo, lasting 10 weeks and with a certificate at the end.
“It’s on self-esteem building for all women, not just abused women—so we’re hoping to get more than just a few out to it because it’s for everybody,” Kroocmo stressed.
“I don’t know any woman who doesn’t need some self-esteem building,” she added. “I’m hoping we’ll get people out.”
Meanwhile, Kroocmo called the new office location alongside FACS an “excellent mix”—although the services they are offering are not associated with Child Protection Services.
“However, if a woman is involved with child protection—and often times when it’s abuse they are, that family is involved already with that agency—we can provide accompaniment to those appointments, as well,” she noted.
Being there can mean the outreach worker can be a resource, as well as help educate child protection workers about what pressures these women are facing, such as if there is the possibility their children could be taken away because of abuse, Kroocmo explained.
At the same time, Kroocmo said the outreach worker can reiterate what the child protection workers are saying about ensuring the safety of the children “without the threat of the big stick of taking away their children,” and help that woman get into “a healthier place in her life” so she’ll be able to keep her children—something that is beneficial in the long-term for the youngsters.
“We’re just hoping that it’s going to create some mutual respect and understanding, although we’ve always enjoyed a good working relationship with FACS—and they do have the toughest job that anyone would ever do,” added Kroocmo.
Having the outreach office located next to the supervised access area in FACS—an area that requires a code in order to get through the door—also means a woman who is seeking help can feel like she is in a safe environment.
“And right there is the supervised access, which has a nice toy room for the children to play with the toys in and be distracted while mom talks,” Kroocmo explained.
“And then mom also knows that if she makes the decision to leave at that point, we can get her to a place of safety, and her children can still have access to their father through a safe venue of the supervised access program,” she noted.
“To me it’s a really great fit because the first thing women say when they come into the shelter is ‘Am I going to lose my kid?’ That’s their greatest fear,” said Kroocmo.
“And so I think with us being housed there, we can really help alleviate that fear—that as long as she continues to do the right stuff, and keeping the children safe and herself safe, then she doesn’t need to fear losing her children.”
Appointments for the outreach office can be made by calling 276-4537. Registration for the support groups can also be done by phoning that number, or dropping by the outreach office when it is open.
Visitors who have not called ahead of time will need to check in with the receptionist upstairs.