Feature

Connecting with the Community to Help Women in Need

Karen Fisk

In Hastings-Prince Edward the Elementary Teachers’ Federation Teacher Local (ETFO H-PE) has become more than an organization for its members – it is an integral part of the community. The ETFO office, known as Federation House, is a 150-year-old house purchased in partnership with OSSTF, District 29. It is located in a residential area and offers meeting space to the Labour Council, Workers’ Help Centre, United Way committees, affordable housing groups, political action groups, and many other organizations that assist the community. ETFO H-PE also supports local groups through charitable funding to Coats for Kids, United Way, People Helping People, women’s shelters, and food banks.

As a result of our central location and connection to many organizations, the ETFO H-PE local has become known for its willingness to work on community issues. This is what led Shawn Susan Doyle, a registered social service worker and facilitator of adult learning, to request a meeting with me last March. The meeting was the beginning of a unique undertaking to address the issue of women and poverty in Belleville. Shawn wanted to establish an outreach program directed at empowering marginalized women. “Downtown Chat” would involve reaching out to women who frequent Belleville’s downtown core. Women would be invited to a safe non-judgmental (downtown) environment where they could come together, talk about their hopes and dreams, and share their stories. Shawn would facilitate the program and help women recognize the skills and abilities they have acquired through life experience.

Support from ETFO

Intrigued by Shawn’s desire to learn more about how to help these women, I applied to ETFO provincial office for funding. As identified in its constitution, ETFO is committed to promoting social justice in the areas of anti-poverty, non-violence, and equity. This project fit these ideals to a T. The funding helped Shawn to carry out her investigation. For the next 32 weeks, she gathered assessment data. In November, when she was finished, a summary report of the project,  Downtown Chat: A Community Scan of Marginalized Women in Downtown Belleville , was submitted to ETFO.

The results of Shawn’s work were overwhelming. The stories the report told were poignant and motivating. Shawn used her skills creatively to reach street-involved women. She approached them with respect and acceptance. She said she learned that what was required was “inclusive thinking and action and not a mentality of ‘us and them’. This group of people is not going away and are an important part of our community. An anti-bias inclusive ‘we’ attitude needs to be adopted by all service providers and members of our community in order to find solutions to problems experienced by street-involved women.”

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