Helping victims of violence start over again

Daphne Bourque, the Welcome Home co-ordinator at Bluewater Baptist Church, checks an inventory of household items. Glenn Ogilvie

Cathy Dobson

When Susan left an abusive relationship she and her children arrived at the Women’s Interval Home in Sarnia with little more than some clothing and bed sheets.

Nearly a month later, after some important, life-changing decisions to make a fresh start with her children, Susan had to begin from scratch.

“I wanted to get settled. It was really overwhelming,” said Susan, who is using a pseudonym. “But you have to move on and get back into the living of life because you have kids.”

She had no savings and the decision to leave an abusive situation meant she also lost some of her support network.

“I’m luckier than most because I have a job, but it’s expensive moving to a new place, getting first and last month’s rent, and finding everything you need,” she said.

That’s when an Interval Home worker connected Susan with Bluewater Baptist Church on Wellington Street.  Church volunteer Daphne Bourque initiated a program there in 2012 called the Welcome Home Ministry.

A group of church members have partnered with the Women’s Interval Home to help four women a year transition back into the community.

Late in January, Susan and her two young children were the recipients of the latest effort.

On moving day, a professional cleaning company arrived early in the morning to thoroughly clean the new rental. Soon, the first crew pulled up with furniture that’s collected at the church year-round.

“It was surreal,” said Susan. “They were so organized. Not only did our new place get cleaned top to bottom, they helped me arrange the furniture.

“It’s really hard to accept help. But when you need it, you need it.”

A group of Welcome Home women soon arrived to stock Susan’s cupboards with food and fill her freezer with a week’s worth of home-cooked meals.

They gave her and the children books and toys, even some flowers.

“I could have cried,” said Susan. “It’s nice to know there’s still a lot of kindness and compassion in the world. You see so much nastiness and then this …”

The goal is to provide what’s needed, said Bourque.  “If we don’t have the furniture they need, we’ll buy it from Habitat (for Humanity’s ReStore).”

Most of the Welcome Home women receive donations of $500 to $800 from the church’s benevolent fund, plus furniture and appliances to re-establish a home.

“We don’t just want to provide stuff,” said Bourque. “There are plenty of places in Sarnia where you can get that. We offer more. We offer friendship and a safe place to rebuild.

“Every woman we move surprises us. Everyone has a different story and we learn as much from them as they from us.”

Angie Marks, director of services at the Women’s Interval Home, said there is no other organization that helps her clients like the Welcome Home program.

“It’s just phenomenal,” she said. “I wish we had more support like that.”

When Welcome Home began, the Interval Home trained church volunteers so they would understand the difficulties of a transition, Marks said.

“The biggest piece is feeling alone and that no one is there to help them with the move,” she said. “What the church does is beyond anything we could do.”

The Women’s Interval Home is a 17-bed facility that provides shelter to about 150 women and children each year.  It runs at capacity most of the time.

Donations of furniture or household goods can be made to Welcome Home by contacting Bourque at office@bluewaterbaptist.ca