I want to start out by saying thank you very much for being selected to receive your generous donation. I think what 100 Women Who Care is doing in this community is absolutely phenomenal and I want to explain why.
I think our stories are somewhat parallel. Women in Crisis started in 1977 with five young women at the University of Guelph. Women between the ages of 16 and 25 are at most risk of sexual violence and these young women wanted to do something about the sexual violence happening on campus. One woman’s boyfriend was president of the University’s Central Students Association and he provided them with a room and a phone. As soon as the rape crisis line opened they were receiving calls. They soon realized they needed to do something about women being assaulted in their own homes. They found someone to provide them with an apartment and started hiding women in this tiny little apartment. One of the first women they hid was Marianne, who our shelter is named after, and her children. They could only house one family at a time, so as the need started to get bigger they got a house. They applied for seed funding, hired a staff member and started to become both a sexual assault and a domestic violence service. Then they started getting calls from women in the county and they realized women who live in the rural areas of Wellington County face particular kinds of barriers. Again they sought out funding and started providing the Rural Women’s Support Program.
I wanted to tell you our “her story” – of how the organization came about, because five women cared and started to do something that turned into what we have today – Guelph-Wellington Women in Crisis.
I don’t always like to refer to ourselves as a charity because I believe it is a right for women and children to live a life free of violence and to live to their full potential. So I am resentful of the fact that every year we have to fundraise 15% of our budget just to keep the doors open to serve the 1500 women a year who walk through our doors. The Transitional and Housing Support Program, which was showcased here, is the program that sees the largest number of women. We provide services to anywhere between 600 and 700 women every year in that program area alone. Not all women need to go to Marianne’s Place, but they need help figuring out how they’re going to leave, how they’re going to support themselves, where they’re going to live and we provide that support so at some point they can make those decisions. Even if the women have left the abuse does not stop, it just gets more sophisticated. We are there if they need help with custody and access, help with finance, help with housing, help with the family, help with trying to rebuild a family outside of what they knew. They may need support with Family and Children’s Services, because if you have children, you are forever tied to your abusive partner.
The interesting part about our organization is it’s unique in Ontario and it’s unique in Canada as we provide fully integrated programs and services. We don’t ask women to separate their lives and go over here to deal with sexual violence and over there to deal with domestic violence. Chances are they have experienced violence on that continuum and we work with them on what their needs are at that time. We don’t ask women to make a choice, to leave, to do anything. We don’t make their choices, it’s their life. We respect the choices that they make because they are the expert of their own life. Our slogan is “You don’t have to be hit to be hurt. You don’t have to leave to get help. You don’t have to be in crisis to call.” This resonates with women in our community.
Today we are comprised of a 28-bed shelter called Marianne’s Place, a Sexual Assault Centre, a Rural Women’s Support Program, a Transition and Housing Program, and a Family Court Support Program. We provide services to 1,500 women a year through our organization. Our 24-hour crisis line responds to between 3,000 or more calls every year. That’s in this community, that’s in your community. Those five young women who wanted to do something about sexual violence had no idea what they were about to create and build for this community.
I want you to know the story of our beginnings, because it’s a brilliant story. It’s a story of survival, it’s a story of meeting needs, it’s a story of caring, and we should care for our sisters. So, 100 Women Who Care, think about what you are doing in this community. From that perspective I say to you “thank you”. You have no idea the difference your group is making to all of the charities in this community. You have no idea how many women that $100 cheque you wrote helps in this community. On behalf of my Board of Directors, on behalf of all the women who walk through our doors, or who may walk through our doors, or those who never have to walk through our doors, but are grateful to know it is there for anyone, I say “thank you”. Thank you for what you’ve done, thank you for the support you have given to my organization. I wish I had thought of this 100 Who Care idea. It’s brilliant, and congratulations. I really, deeply appreciate what you’ve done for us. Thank you.