Manitoulin Family Resources celebrates 35th anniversary

Manitoulin Family Resources executive director Marnie Hall, centre, took part in the celebrations alongside board members Leslie Fields, Leanne Bentley, Yana Bauer and Valerie O’Leary. Missing from photo are Paul Darlaston and Jillian Peltier. photo by Michael Erskine

MINDEMOYA – Manitoulin Family Resources (MFR) has come a long way over the last three and a half decades, as MFR Executive Director Marnie Hall pointed out during her welcoming remarks at the organization’s 35th anniversary celebrations held over the weekend at Central Manitoulin Public School.

Ms. Hall began by introducing the MFR board of directors in attendance, president Valerie O’Leary, vice-president Leanne Bentley, Yana Bauer and Les Fields. Board member Paul Darlaston arrived shortly after the opening remarks, but board member Jillian Peltier was unable to attend due to family commitments.

Ms. Hall noted that in the past MFR has celebrated its anniversaries with galas and major fundraising events, but this year opted to hold a family and community oriented event. To that end there was a community barbecue, a host of bouncy castles and mini putt to entertain the children and taped and live music as a background score. Fundraising wasn’t ignored, however, as a large number of auction items went under the hammer of auctioneer Norm Morrell (who along with assistant Carol Gilmore donated their time and expertise) later in the day. The auction raised approximately $2,000.

Although unable to attend, the charter MFR executive director Mary Nelder sent a detailed letter that was read aloud by Ms. Hall.

Ms. Nelder noted that while it is unfortunate that there is still a need for women’s shelters and the other services of MFR, “the fact that it’s been supporting women and children on Manitoulin effectively for 35 years is truly a cause for celebration. For women like me, who’ve been around long enough to remember when there was no Haven House (the name of the MFR women’s shelter) it is nothing short of wonderful.”

Ms. Nelder then took the audience through a short history of the organization. She noted that while there had been women’s shelters in larger urban areas in 1984, it wasn’t until “one pioneering Ontario MPP by the name of Frank Dray took a stand and convinced his fellow MPPs that small towns and rural areas of the province were just as much in need of such a service” that legislation was passed that offered a 10-bed crisis shelter for women and children aged 12 and under to small communities.

Ms. Nelder noted that at least one local politician “bravely proclaimed that no such thing as violence against women existed in his community.” Instead of reacting with shock, that statement reflected a general consensus on the Island at the time. “Many predictions were made that, once built, the shelter would become an empty white elephant, and here we are 35 years later, going strong.” It is worth noting that some of the staunchest supporters of the shelter in its early years were the Island Women’s Institutes. “To my great surprise, they were some of our biggest supporters,” wrote Ms. Nelder. “Those, mostly older, women knew exactly what we were talking about when we started to discuss violence against women.”

Ms. Nelder then described the growing expansion of the MFR mandate, including outreach programs (thanks to the Women’s Directorate in 1989) which MFR was one of the first agencies to institute. Then came children’s programs, court advocates and support workers, counselling programs for survivors of sexual assault and an interagency group dedicated to educating about violence against women.

MFR has also lobbied extensively for culturally sensitive services on reserve. “All the while, we helped literally hundreds of women and children every year,” wrote Ms. Nelder.

Ms. Hall offered special recognition of the planning committee, which included board member Valerie O’Leary, Food Security Program Coordinator Linda Gilchrist, Children’s Services Program Director Diana St.Pierre and Executive Programs Assistant Denise Leblanc, all of whom were all on hand at the event, offering their services by either barbecuing or helping to oversee the auction.