It’s safe and secure say women who rely on the Great Room in Williams Lake.
Designed as a “sacred” space for women dealing with physical, emotional, sexual and physiological abuse in a safe environment, the Great Room operates in Williams Lake under the direction of Dina Kennedy, Williams Lake co-ordinator for Linwood House Ministries of Vancouver.
In January the Great Room was relocated from its original location at the Salvation Army to an upstairs office on Oliver Street.
Last week people travelled from as far as Vancouver to help celebrate its grand opening.
Bernice, 42, has been visiting the Great Room since the second week it opened. She lost her husband in 2010 and said she couldn’t cope with the pain and loss.
“Dina came to me years ago as a friend and told me about the Great Room in Vancouver and I said I’d love to see one here,” Bernice said.
So many women don’t know how to open up, she added.
She moved away to be closer to her children, but decided she needed to be close to the Great Room and moved back.
“I’ve learned an abundance of things. To keep my head up high and get my self-esteem back.”
Different speakers visit to teach life skills, and group discussions where the women are encouraged to be open and honest, knowing their stories are safe.
“It’s safe to get angry, cry and vent. It’s spiritual to me and has made me go closer to God,” Bernice said.
Without hesitation she disclosed she’s been a victim of domestic violence with the fathers of her children.
Julia has been visiting the Great Room since it opened, although because of physical problems doesn’t make it every week.
“I like it here. It’s relaxing,” she said with a sigh. “If I’m not interested in the conversation I can listen and do something like bead or crochet.”
It’s safe and secure, and a place without judgement, she said.
After high school Julia moved away from Williams Lake, returning when she was 24 with her son.
Other than visiting the Great Room, she said she’s a “house hobbit.”
“The town’s improving, but not so much for the visually impaired.”
Encouraging other women to give the Great Room a try, Julia suggested it might take three visits.
“We do different things. Once in awhile we go to the old ice cream shop and bake. Holistic speakers come in. We learn from everybody in the community and it’s really nice.”
When asked if she’s been a victim of violence, she nodded, paused, and said, “not anymore.”
Gwen McVicker, founder of Linwood Ministers said she was inspired to open the first Great Room, which is in Vancouver, after a visit to Williams Lake in 2001.
“I was invited up here as a speaker and was a guest of Danielle and Steve Court, who were with the Salvation Army in Williams Lake,” McVicker recalled. While in the lakecity for two days, she went to an interdenominational Christian event, walked the streets with the Courts, was introduced to business people and city hall.
“I saw that Danielle and Steve knew everybody name, whether they were business people, or the needy and poor.”
She was so impressed she thought: “that’s what the Downtown Eastside needs. We need a leader who can connect the dots between business, care workers, church and the poor.”
Two months later the Courts arrived in Vancouver and along with McVicker, started walking the streets in the Downtown Eastside.
“It was hard to get to know people because their defences are up, so we started inviting them to Linwood House on the Sunshine Coast for three day retreats.”
They invited people who everything they owned fit into a garbage bag. If they were in an addiction, they couldn’t use while on the retreat. Business people, church people, caregivers, and artists joined the retreat.
“We built relationships with these women, we listened and shared our stories, and made a personal connection and commitment to journey with them for the rest of their lives to make positive changes.”
Bernice has been there once before and is fundraising to go again.
“We’re hoping eight women can go. It’s going to be called the Williams Lake retreat,” she said. “It’s $300 per girl, but look at it,” she added, showing a photo album of the heritage home’s exterior, elegantly set tables for meals, and smiling women taking an art class making pottery elephants.
Linwood opened the Great Room in the Downtown Eastside, partnering with other groups to teach and train.
Teams of women have also travelled to 15 different countries in the world.
“We discovered when we went globally there are the same issues. Exploitation, domestic violence, abuse, inequality between men and women, and the things that we saw globally were what we saw in our own backyard.”
Kennedy volunteered with Linwood Ministries at the Great Room in Vancouver, and in Thailand, working with women involved with human trafficking.