Whether it’s Vancouver’s downtown east side or Williams Lake, women suffering any type of abuse need a clean, calm, safe place to meet with other women, says local Salvation Army Corps Sergeant-Major Dina Kennedy.
Motivated by that philosophy, Kennedy opened the Great Room at the Williams Lake Salvation Army Drop-In on Borland Street on Nov. 2.
The venue is a place where women who have been sexually abused, battered, have drug and alcohol addictions, or suffered traumatic experiences can find haven.
Similar rooms have been opened in Vancouver where Kennedy has volunteered, mostly working with prostitutes. Last March she was encouraged by the Salvation Army to open up a similar spot in Williams Lake.
“We do have prostitutes in our town and young girls that sell themselves for food and drugs or even just a ride home,” Kennedy says.
The Great Room is a safe place to come and share what’s going on in your life, support and encourage each other with no judgement.
Just getting into each other’s lives and supporting each other, Kennedy explains, can result in “great” things.
“I think great things come of it because you walk away with a better understanding when someone cares and isn’t condemning or judging you.”
During a tour of the venue, which is located in the lower level of the Salvation Army drop-in building, Kennedy showed off a nicely painted room, furnished with couches, a bookshelf, a place to light candles, and a table for doing crafts.
In an adjacent room a computer has been installed for women to create resumes, hunt for jobs, or correspond with friends because many of them don’t have computers at home.
Alcoholics Anonymous, and in the future Narcotics Anonymous, share the space.
Kennedy opens the Great Room every Wednesday from 2 until 4 p.m. On one wall there’s a map depicting the faces of the women who have gone missing on the Highway of Tears.
The map is on a poster board where Kennedy is hoping women will share their feelings by writing them down.
“Ladies do come here and pray and light a candle,” Kennedy says as her hands points to the map.
Recently she has appealed to the community for donations because she wants to furnish the room with new things, such as couches, a CD player, and an area rug.
“Many of the women that come here, because they are addicted to drugs and alcohol, come from a background of dirt.
“A background of being shabby and not feeling good about themselves.
“Even though the furniture we have is good and I’m going to clean it, it’s still used,” Kennedy observes, adding that women will come in and feel valued if the place is nicely furnished.
Kennedy said her own life experiences involving sexual abuse enable her to sit down with women and tell them she’s been there.
“I’m living proof that they can overcome adversities and these horrible things that have happened in their lives. I tell them ‘I value you and, you know what, this does not define who you are and there’s hope for you.’”
Since 2008 Kennedy has worked with women involved in human trafficking in Vancouver and Bangkok, and while she will continue to work in those cities, she forges ahead with the program in Williams Lake.
Her dream, she says, is to gather a group of local women and take them to a journey in Roberts Creek where they will be “pampered to death,” and she also hopes a similar experience could happen here where women could visit a hair salon, receive a massage, and be made to feel special.
“These women cannot afford anything like that so I’m hoping some of the local businesses will get on board,” Kennedy says. Last week Kennedy accepted a donation of $300 in gift cards for the project from Canadian Tire manager Matt Stefan. Kennedy will use them for a rug and a CD player.
“It’s a very inspiring story,” Stefan said during the tour of the facility. “It’s very welcoming here.”