Calgary’s Brenda Strafford Centre gets help from students

For women fleeing domestic violence, Calgary’s Brenda Strafford Centre is typically the second stop in the steps they and their children will take to escape their abuser.

“A woman may have left an environment in crisis and her first point of entry is typically going to be at an emergency shelter,” explained Linda Mclean, executive director of the Brenda Strafford Centre.

Mclean said that while emergency shelters can provide and accommodate the immediate needs of the women and children they shelter, they can only do so for a limited amount of time.

“You don’t address the issues that come with the impact of domestic violence in 21 days or 30 days,” Mclean said.

“This is something that requires long term investment and long term intervention.

And that’s where the centre comes in. Stays can last up to six months after which, Mclean said, they will “complement that with progressive housing, which goes on for another two years.”

“So we’re offering families a really extended period of time to receive support, to receive counselling to help rebuild their lives,” she said.

The centre receives financial aid from the Brenda Strafford Foundation and from the government but it’s not enough to cover costs.

This is where leadership students from Western Canada High School come in, at least in part.

For nearly a decade, a multi-faceted student-led event has been raising money to help support the centre’s efforts.

The Giving Tree fundraiser incorporates three events, including selling candy-grams, a cookie decorating event and tree decorating events in which the entire student body can partake. The tree decorating event is the big money maker as groups compete to have the best-decorated tree. Judging is done by way of donations so the best-decorated tree is awarded to the tree that brings in the most money.

“The work the Western Canada High School leadership team has done is phenomenal, it’s amazing,” Mclean said.

This year, a record amount was raised through the three events.

“We raised $11,364.62,” said Pelumi Elesin, a third-year member of the school’s leadership committee.

The amount may seem small but it’s significant in today’s climate as demand is currently outpacing the services non-profits like Brenda Strafford are able to provide.

“Your small dollar donation can have such a massive impact,” said leadership committee member Asbah Ahmad.

Last year, more than 7,000 women and children were turned away from shelters in Calgary due to a lack of capacity.

“I do believe that the numbers are too high for that to be something that can just be looked over,” said Peyton Lam, another leadership committee member.

“I think that there definitely needs to be action taken on it and I hope that we are doing our part and I wish that we could do more.”

It’s not just money students are raising. Through their committee, they also educate other students about domestic violence in the city.

“If we’re able to bring more awareness to organizations like this that need our time, our help and the fundraising events that we do in school then it’s just one more way that we’re helping our community,” Elesin said.

Due to the large amount of money raised this year, it will be used to help support one of the centre’s largest fundraising initiatives of the year: the Courage Gala.

“The gala raises more money so it’s a good cycle of raising more money,” Ahmed said.

According to the Alberta Council of Women’s Shelters, Alberta has one of the highest rates of domestic violence in Canada.

Mclean said the gala is a great way for people to connect and learn more about the issue and how they can help support agencies like Brenda Strafford.

“It’s one of our signature fundraising events,” Mclean said.

“We rely heavily on fundraised dollars in order to be able to continue to operate.

“We do receive some systemic funding from the province and from the Brenda Strafford Foundation but we need to make up the balance of that and this is a significant piece of this.”

The Courage Gala takes place on March 5.

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