SUMMERSIDE, P.E.I. - Andy Lou Somers helps people in Prince County make it through tough times, and 2018 was a busy year.
The executive director of the East Prince Women’s Information Centre (EPWIC) said the organization is the first stop for many women – and a few men – who are having a hard time navigating the government departments to find the help they need.
“We usually don’t let them leave until we’ve found a connection with someone,” said Somers.
The centre doesn’t receive any core funding, so Somers applies for grants and raises money to keep the doors open.
“We operate on a shoestring budget, but we try to operate full-time services,” she said.
She works hard just to keep the office open Monday to Friday.
It makes it hard to budget year-to-year, but a surprise bonus from the province in 2018 gave Somers some breathing room.
EPWIC was able to hire staff, so Somers could apply for more grants.
“We have become very busy mostly because of the #metoo movement. So many more women this year have come forward with issues that they’ve kept inside for so long.”
All EPWIC services are private and confidential.
“They’re more open to come and talk about it now. And not that it happened any more than it has in the past, it’s still happening, but I’m finding that it really helped women to not feel so embarrassed about coming in or scared to come in and talk about it.”
"I’m finding that it really helped women to not feel so embarrassed about coming in or scared to come in and talk about it.”
EPWIC held the popular Women's Employability Program again this year. Offered by EPWIC since 2012, it prepares women to re-enter the workforce and combines eight weeks of classroom training with four weeks of on-the-job experience.
Many women come in with a set idea of what they want to do, but the program helps open new opportunities. The program has an 80 per cent success rate, said Somers. Most graduates go on to jobs or more education.
“Many of the women come in with so many talents, but they don’t think they’re talents because they think they’re something they just do at home, like a hobby.”
Some women change their plans and go on to be entrepreneurs, and Somers and EPWIC help with that.
“(The Women's Employability Program) opens the door to a lot more opportunities than what they would get if they were just home looking for work, and it gives them a support network.”
Easing the burden
A two-year project on cyber violence, which wrapped up in 2018, saw EPWIC host sessions for parents and students about how to stay safe online.
And while not directly connected to EPWIC, a new addition to the Prince County Hospital has eased some of the burden on its resources.
“Another big highlight is the women’s wellness clinic opening up at the hospital. I think that’s very big,” said Somers.
Somers and the EPWIC were involved in the early stages of the movement to secure a wellness centre on P.E.I. around 17 years ago.
“We fought to have abortions on P.E.I. available for women. We would help many women who would come in that wanted them that had to go to Halifax, and it had to be approved through a committee of doctors here, and it was quite a struggle for women on P.E.I. They weren’t getting the same choices they could make if they lived in another province.”
It’s also helpful for women who have a reproductive health issue but don’t have a family doctor, said Somers.
Looking ahead to 2019, Somers will be working to get a charitable organization number so that EPWIC can issue charitable donation receipts and access new funding programs.
“It would be increasing our capacity to do more things and building up more programs in the community.”