Established in 1977, the Women’s Interval Home of Sarnia-Lambton (WIH) provides emergency shelter, support and counselling to abused women and their children. “WIH was one of the first women’s shelters in Ontario. It was started by a group of people from the community who saw a need,” explains Executive Director Michelle Batty. “One of the highlights of our 40th anniversary celebration was hearing stories from the shelter’s founding mothers and fathers. Our organization’s first home was in the old nurses’ residence on Maria Street. It was run entirely by volunteers and could only offer women safety for three days.”
The Women’s Interval Home moved from Essex Street to Russell Street to Durand Street and, then in 1998, to its current location on Oxford Street. Angie Marks, Director of Services, explains, “The Kiwanis Centre owned the property and sold it to us for $1. We received funds from the provincial government, private donors and fundraising events to build the new facility.” They receive funding from the Ministry of Community and Social Services for 17 beds and some of the shelter’s programs. Several other beds and additional programs are funded through donations and fundraising, including their Walk A Mile in Her Shoes event. They currently operate with 14 full-time and 12 part-time/relief staff.
The WIH offers emergency shelter to women and children 24 hours a day and also has a 24-hour crisis/support line. Their staff receive specialized training to assist women with their housing, legal, financial, and safety planning needs. All of their services are free and confidential. “We understand the safety needs of women and have counsellors who provide support, information and advocacy to women experiencing abuse,” explains Marks. “Our staff receive cultural competency training because we want our services to meet the needs of everyone in our community. If that means providing a smudge bundle or prayer mat, then we can do that.” WIH also equips women for the future. The W.O.M.E.N on the Move Employment program helps women develop new skills, find employment and achieve economic security.
Volunteers are an essential part of their work. “Our volunteers assist with fundraising events, office work, maintenance and children’s programming,” explains Marks. A group of passionate volunteers run the Creative Kids Crafts program where kids learn how to make a variety of crafts, including pillowcases and nightlights. Batty remembers a boy who came up to her after his first night at the program. “He thought he was the only kid to come from a family that fought. He thought he was alone. These programs provide an opportunity for sharing and connection.”
In 2016, the Women’s Interval Home won the Social Profit Award at the Sarnia-Lambton Chamber of Commerce’s Outstanding Business Achievement Awards. “Working in collaboration with local partners is the key to ending the cycle of violence against women in our society,” shares Batty. “That’s a key thing about Sarnia. We really do work together as a community to find the best programs and services for people in need.”