This January marked an exciting milestone: a year ago, the new Women & Families Centre welcomed its first tenants. We spoke with three staff members—Candice, who heads up Women & Families Outreach; Allana, who leads Aftercare; and Tara, Director of Women & Families Programs—to get a picture of how the year has gone, and what’s ahead for this beautiful space and the women who call it home.
UGM: How would you describe the first year in the Women & Families Centre building?
Tara: It’s been such a full year, but in other ways it’s flown by because there has been so much happening! The biggest thing is the encouragement we all feel as we’re seeing the building start to fill up with women and children. Hearing laughter, seeing people having conversations, watching staff working with community members. It’s been a year of new beginnings, a year of seeing dreams come to life.
UGM: What have been some of the good surprises this year?
Candice: From a personal perspective, it was when the Childcare Centre was finally licensed. Being able to pick up a mum and her toddler on the 4th floor and bring them to free childcare on the 7th floor—how easy and beautiful that was, and how many years of planning it took to have that five minutes of escorting her to the elevator. Knowing that that planning began in 2016 and I was finally doing it in 2022. To see that come to fruition was an incredible moment for me.
UGM: Is there a story from the year that stands out for you?
Allana: The tenants are really building a community for each other: they’ve hosted dinners for themselves, they take themselves out and plan things together, which I think is really beautiful. At Christmas, one of the moms had a Christmas party in her suite. She had this incredible spread of food and there were crafts and it was all decorated nicely; so many of the tenants and kids came. It was so fun! It was a moment where I was like “Yeah, this is your home and you’re hosting in your place.” That was really special.
UGM: What recent milestones are most exciting to you?
T: Our first community meals in this building. Words can’t describe what it feels like to have that meal happening. You have all these unique families—not just enjoying the food, but what I noticed was that they were lingering. You would see people staying at the tables, having another cup of coffee, laughing, joking, interacting with staff, kids running around. That has been really powerful to be a part of and I am grateful we can continue to do more.
A: There have been a number of family reunifications since the building opened. There’s been a lot of re-establishing of what the family is as moms in recovery reconnect with their children. Housing and Aftercare provides spaces for moms and their kids to make new memories together and rediscover who they are: all of the activities we do, whether it’s a barbeque or a going to the petting zoo, support single moms in providing experiences for their children while hopefully lowering some of the pressure of doing it alone. And the number of women rediscovering who they are and going back to school is really cool. They’re dreaming for themselves again, which is such a vulnerable and courageous thing to do.
C: In October, our Eastsiders homework club became a licensed after-school program! For the first time, we can say we have an official after-school program for up to 20 children ages 8 to 12. That’s a huge milestone, to offer that program at no cost. We pick up the children from school at 3:00 and bring them here until 5:00. It’s a much-needed support for the families in the neighbourhood.
UGM: What are some of your hopes and dreams for the year ahead?
A: I would love to continue our growth in celebrating Indigenous culture. One of our interns is Indigenous, and she’s been doing beading, smudging, and drum-making classes. Most of the women have never made a drum before, and for some it was their first time smudging, first time singing and connecting to their culture. It was really beautiful.
C: Childcare is the big one for me. I’m hoping that the Childcare Centre can be fully staffed by June—you can have eight years of schooling and still not be qualified to safely operate a childcare centre! It’s very specific training with a practicum. I also hope that we can see more community programming in our building, supporting a strategic response to the overdose crisis for women and women with children.
T: To me, a big goal is a continued focus on interrupting the apprehensions that are happening in families, on keeping women and their children together. The long-term goal is seeing systemic change which continues to inform the work we’re doing, that we would really see a shift in the pattern that is unfortunately a reality. Seeing generational transformation in families. That’s a huge piece of the vision.
UGM: If you had to sum up the Women & Families Centre with one word, what word would you use?
C: Hope. It’s hope.
The Year at a Glance
• Reception now open 7:00am–11:00pm, 365 days a year
• Infant and toddler childcare open and operational
• Eastsiders After School Program licensed
• Care for women and children via hampers and gift cards has quadrupled since 2020
• Aftercare offering classes including Cooking, Recovery Capital, and Parenting and Trauma
• First ever Transitional Housing tenants living in the building
• Happy Ladies Club hosting weekly gatherings for Chinese seniors
• Weekly family meal for community members on Tuesday
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