Women in Crisis opens doors for first community open house in 15 years

GUELPH – Guelph-Wellington Women in Crisis (WIC) held an open house on Nov. 22, offering a glimpse of what goes on inside the heavily secured building.

The building at 38 Elizabeth St. in Guelph is headquarters for the agency, which provides emergency and transitional housing, assistance with court, a sexual assault centre, an anti-human trafficking program, an around-the-clock crisis line, the rural women’s support program, and trauma counselling for women and their children leaving abusive relationships.

It offers programs and administrative services from Elizabeth Street; operates the emergency shelter Marianne’s Place with its own staff and services; and has offices in Mount Forest, Palmerston, Fergus and Erin to bring services closer to rural populations.

Attending the open house were staff, volunteers, regular donors, a few politicians, and anyone who ever wondered what it’s like inside.

For starters, it’s deceiving – it’s much larger inside than it appears from the outside.

Counsellor Tessa Campbell, left, offers a tour to members of the Canadian Federation of University Women who have supported WIC since its inception in 1977. Photo by Joanne Shuttleworth

There’s a community room that’s used for all sorts of functions, including holding refreshments on this evening. There’s a donation room where women can select clothing, small housewares and grooming items for themselves and their kids.

There’s also a small food pantry, although the agency has strong ties with other emergency food organizations in the city and usually refers folks to those services.

There’s a library, a group room for workshops and programs, and a playroom, where children can be safe and supervised.

And there are counselling offices where women can talk to trained professionals about their options.

“We try to meet women where they’re at,” said transitional housing counsellor Tessa Campbell as she led a group on a tour.

Campbell said food and housing are the first priorities for the agency as they help women get out of dangerous situations. And if court is involved, the agency can help through that process too.

“Once housing and court are settled, we hope they would do the deeper counselling piece,” Campbell said.

Of course, the pandemic affected WIC and the way it could offer services.

Workshops were offered online, counselling sessions were virtual and there just wasn’t the buzz in the office like there usually is with a constant flow of clients.

Now that services are back in person, “the groups have been large lately, (going from) four to 13 in a group,” Campbell said.

“Seeing women connect with each other is better than online. It’s been phenomenal.”

It was a busy place at Guelph-Wellington Women in Crisis on Nov. 22 as the agency opened its doors for an open house. Photo by Joanne Shuttleworth

There’s also an army of volunteers who do everything from setting the room for functions to sorting clothing donations to accompanying women to court.

“It’s such a good cause,” said new volunteer recruit Aracelli Hadarits.

“I’ve only been volunteering for two months but I can see this becoming a long-term volunteer commitment. It’s just so positive around here.”

Public educator Cindy McMann said this is the first time WIC has held an open house since the Elizabeth Street facility opened in 2008.

There is no fundraising campaign or volunteer drive or any special project for which WIC is seeking help.

“We just wanted to invite people to come and see what we do,” she said.

“We want to de-mystify what happens here. And we’re grateful for our donors, volunteers, and sponsors who have allowed us to grow all these years.”

Here are ways to connect with Guelph-Wellington Women in Crisis: