Creating a safe, supportive community for women

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Russell committed to providing programs, workshops to give women more independence

By Lia Renaud

Editor's note: This is the third column in six-part series exploring the lives of people having a positive impact on Colchester County.

Since 2011, Heather Russell, executive director of the Central Nova Women's Resource Centre (CNWRC), has been initiating new and exciting programs and services for women of all ages.

Understanding gender equality and women empowerment, Russell is committed to providing programs and workshops designed to give the women of Truro more autonomy to manage their own lives.

Russell started working in human services after she graduated from university. She remembers fondly her first job working with adults with varying mental and physical disabilities in a residential setting. Everyone needs community and Russell's goal is to create a safe, supportive community for women surrounded by people who care at the Ginger House at 676 Prince St.

The CNWRC was established in 1999 as a non-profit agency offering programs, services and resources for women free of charge. Currently, programming runs for an eight-week period and requires pre-registration.

"We offer programming on self-esteem, time management, communication, healthy lifestyle, anger management and healthy relationships," says Russell.

The Conscious Living Now program is new and helps women feel better about themselves by working through blockages to bring emotional, mental, physical and spiritual resolution to their lives. The centre is staffed by two support workers Monday to Friday from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.

"Besides programing, we provide social advocacy and outreach. Our support workers may accompany and support women when dealing with the legal system, family services, medical appointments and other services," says Russell.

The centre is looking to partner with different organizations to collaborate on workshops that focus on economic empowerment, educational empowerment and political empowerment. All women, regardless of their socio-economic status, age, race, religion, ability and sexual orientation, are welcome.

Russell recognizes the need to educate the community on gender-based violence and the profound effects on the community - directly and indirectly.

"This (gender violence) is something that needs to be discussed by both women and men. We cannot promote a culture of silence and denial," Says Russell.

In December, youth worker Josie spearheaded the first ever "Take Back the Night" event in Truro, an event Russell had wanted to share with the community since she was hired. The walk brought awareness to gender-based violence as a major human rights concern and was well supported by a group of women and men of our community.

According to Amnesty International, at least one out of every three women has been beaten, coerced into sex, or otherwise abused in her lifetime. More shockingly, of these crimes, less that 50 per cent are reported to police.

CNWRC has initiated a Sexual Assault Response Team with the partnership of the Colchester Sexual Assualt Centre.

"There needs to be a community support network set in place," says Russell. "Right now, sexual assault victims go to Antigonish or Halifax. We are mindful of the intrusiveness of the process and want to provide best practices for short-term and long-term support of the individual."

Russell and the group have identified a need for a sexual assault nurse examiner in the Colchester region.

To help educate youth about gender violence, a 12-week Healthy Relationship Program was developed. The program is peer led and students and teachers receive training from the coordinator, to be delivered in school.

The centre is drop in and Russell encourages women to come in socialize or just come in and curl up on the couch in a safe place.

"I want the centre to be a home base for women. We help as much as we can, but we also refer and work with community partners to create a safer community," she said.

If you are looking for a way to give back to your community, volunteers and student placements are welcome. The centre is also in need of a computer for the drop in area. Please call 902-895-4295 or visit http://www.cnwrc.ca/ for more information.

Lia Renaud is a recent graduate of Western University in London, Ont., and is happy to be now living in Colchester County.

 

Organizations: Ginger House, Amnesty International, Colchester Sexual Assualt Centre Western University

Geographic location: Truro, Colchester County, Antigonish Halifax London, Ont.

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