Published On: Saturday, 11 August 2018

Cowichan Women Against Violence Gets Permanent Home

Cowichan Women Against Violence Gets Permanent Home

DUNCAN - Cowichan Women Against Violence (CWAV) Society is reaching more people than ever thanks to the visionary leadership of its board, management, and staff, and to its new home.

Since 1980, CWAV has been working to provide a safe, supportive environment, especially to women and children affected by abuse. The society operates out of a feminist perspective, offering counselling, advocacy, emergency shelter, community development and education.

For the last four and a half years, Executive Director Jane Sterk has been leading the organization. Its been an era of unprecedented community impact. The impact has been enhanced, thanks to their new, permanent location at 246 Evans Street.

“We took possession of our new building on July 1 of last year,” says Sterk. “It was a pretty big investment, and allowed us to acquire a newly renovated building that better met the needs of our organization. It helped us provide better support for staff and the clients that we serve, and will be a lasting contribution to the community.”

The process of finding their new location began in the beginning of 2017, when an owner of the Evans Street building indicated that they were negotiating with a nonprofit for the purchase of the building.

“The other sale fell through and he contacted us,” says Sterk. “We negotiated in February, 2017, and after a quick and dramatic renovation, we moved in that summer.”

Sterk credits her supportive, forward-thinking board for the short time-frame.

Throughout the months of renovation, the facility was upgraded and reconfigured to better meet the needs of the society.

“Our new space is very flexible, and we’ve been able to ensure that every staff member has an exterior office with a window and natural light,” says Sterk.

“We have two small meeting rooms, and three group rooms of various sizes, allowing us to increase the number of programs we offer. We can now host concurrent meetings, and have a lot of flexibility with the size of the group.”

The building's full kitchen is a major highlight of the facility, which better serves the staff and allows the society to host group celebration events that include shared meals.

“We now have a quiet room reserved for staff,” says Sterk. “The work we do is pretty intense, so our staff now have a great space where they can decompress.”

This new space is one of many significant changes Sterk has helped bring about at CWAV. Before coming to the organization, Sterk worked as a municipal councillor, university professor, small business owner, and eventually became the leader of the BC Green Party. She joined CWAV shortly after stepping down from leadership in 2013.

“The main thing that brought me here was a life-long commitment to feminism and a desire to improve the lives and agency of women,” she says. “At a management level, I like organizational change, and I had a history of doing organizational development work.”

She helped CWAV focus on its approach, its service to women, and to reach out to the community.

“Having a political, history, I’m comfortable with asking people for money, so one of my objectives was to increase the amount of money we received from fundraising initiatives,” she says.

Sterk also helped to find funding for the organization’s first mens program. Men Choose Respect, has received special government funding through a Civil Forfeiture grant .

“Men who use violence haven’t been offered a lot of services in the past. Men Choose Respect comes from a place where a man has to acknowledge his responsibility and desire to change,” she says.

The Society has been able to increase staffing, particularly at their transition house, which is now double staffed during day-time hours six days a week.

“A very significant change is that we were able to get a program through BC Housing called the Homelessness Prevention Program,” says Sterk.

“This provides women with small rental subsidies for relatively short periods of time - up to a year. The program has had a phenomenal impact on many of these women. Many of them feel safe in their home for the first time, and can make some profound change in their life.”