GUELPH — One might think that an organization devoted to helping women and children affected by domestic violence might include an angry, militant group of staff and volunteers, but as Guelph-Wellington Women in Crisis celebrated its 35th anniversary Monday evening, there was much humour, good-natured teasing and love in the room.
“It’s not easy work,” said Laurel Broten, Minister Responsible for Women’s Issues, who was a special guest at the event. “But you can feel the love in the atmosphere. And never have I arrived at the tail end of a business meeting to hear clapping and cheering.”
Broten praised the organization not just for being active locally and helping countless women and children escape violence, but for its involvement provincially and federally in shaping policy and drawing attention to gaps in the system as well.
Broten said Sly Castaldi, Women in Crisis’s executive director, gave counsel to her as she framed the provincial rape crisis action plan. Women in Crisis was also active in the Ontario-wide Draw the Line campaign.
“Your team has brought systemic change, and I thank you,” Broten said.
Guelph MPP Liz Sandals also congratulated the team for its important work.
“You have punched way above your weight-class,” Sandals said. “You have impacted provincial policy and influenced this community. I’m so proud of you.”
Lesley Hannell was one of the founders of the organization, and she marvelled at how far Women in Crisis has come in 35 years.
The original concept was to operate a rape crisis phone line for University of Guelph students, but it wasn’t long before women in the community were calling for help because their husbands were beating them, Hannell said.
“So we broadened our focus and decided to open a shelter,” Hannell said, adding that it was an uphill battle. “We were told, ‘This is Guelph. That doesn’t happen here.’ But we got a government grant for $36,000 and hired an executive director and three other staff.
“Now you have a $2 million budget and 45 staff. You’ve come a long way, but you’re still here, and there’s something special in that.”
Numerous awards were given to long-serving staff and volunteers as well as community partners. Marla Reid, who took care of Women in Crisis’s finances for 20-plus years, is retiring and she was given a fitting send-off.
A retrospective film of Women in Crisis’s history included several milestones like opening services in Wellington County for rural women, developing protocols with Guelph Police on how they approach domestic violence calls, opening a sexual assault centre at Guelph General Hospital, expanding services to immigrants and lesbian clients and writing a resource guide.
Women in Crisis now operates a 24-hour crisis line, Marianne’s Place (an emergency shelter), the Rural Women’s Support Program, the Sexual Assault Centre and the Transitional Housing and Support Program.