Women's centre in Courtenay celebrating before closing

Romana Frey presides over the closure of the Women
Romana Frey presides over the closure of the Women's Resource Centre.
— image credit: Lindsay Chung

As the Comox Valley Women's Resource Centre empties out in its final days, it is planning a celebration.
After 30 years of delivering programs and services to women in the Comox Valley, the North Island Women’s Services Society (NIWSS), which runs the women's centre, is closing at the end of the month.
The Comox Valley Women's Resource Centre will close its doors May 31, and this Saturday, it will celebrate its 30-year history in the community.
In 1980, a group of women named themselves the Women's Self-Help Network and received a grant from Health and Welfare Canada and the Secretary of State to create, distribute and evaluate the Women's Self-Help Educational Kit on North Vancouver Island.
The NIWSS was incorporated as a society Jan. 23, 1980.
The society's original constitution, written in 1980, states, in part, "the purposes of the society are: to establish and co-ordinate a network of services for women; to encourage and foster the development of self-help skills for women; to promote the development of resources for rural women."
The Women's Resource Centre was born from the first Women Changing course in Courtenay.
Most of the 12 women who participated in the course and other interested women in the Valley worked for two and a half years, and they opened the doors of the centre on May 15, 1984.
The Comox Valley Women's Resource Centre has been located at various places in Courtenay in the past 30 years, and the NIWSS has provided a variety of services through the years.
"It's helping to connect people with resources," said executive director Romana Frey.
The closure is a result of lost government funding. Status of Women Canada funding and funding from provincial gaming grants have been discontinued after the NIWSS failed a government audit.
About two years ago, there was an incidence of misappropriation of funds when funding that was to be spent on facilitators and workshops was used to renovate the facility, and the NIWSS was audited, explained Frey.
"About two years ago, the old board was ousted, and a new board came in," said Frey. "When I started here in November, it became clear that neither of the funders were willing to continue funding the organization. We were lucky because we didn't have to pay money back, but we weren't going to get any more."
The centre will close its doors May 31 at 2:30 p.m., and the society will be dissolved in the next few months.
Since the closure was announced, Frey has heard from many women whose lives have been impacted by the Women's Resource Centre.
"I've had people say they came to the community 10 years ago with two small kids and no job, just coming here and meeting other people, finding out what's in the community," she said. "We help them to get settled, help them get the confidence to look for work. I always find it surprising that so many people are isolated. There's a lot of lonely and unconnected people, and I guess that's the goal of an organization like this, to bring people together in different ways."
The celebration will take place Saturday at the Comox Valley Women's Resource Centre at 1-1491 McPhee Ave. from 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m., and there will be entertainment, food and cake.
During Saturday's celebration, the NIWSS will present a bursary to Christina Epp, who is studying education at Vancouver Island University and has done a lot of work overseas in developing countries and in First Nations communities in B.C.
The Comox Valley Women's Resource Centre joins a list of women's centres in B.C. that have closed this spring, as the Vernon and District Women's Centre, Cranbook Women's Resource Centre and Kelowna Women's Resource Centre have all closed their doors in the last month.
The Campbell River Women's Centre is still open and is still sustainable, noted Frey.
Frey has been meeting with a group of "grassroots" women who believe it is important to keep these types of services and resources for women.
"We're talking about possibly running it out of somebody else's space," she said. "We're also looking at having more of the resources online, more of a virtual women's centre. We're brainstorming around different models of what we could do so we could still reach women."

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