A society that helps women in abusive situations has always had a big place in its heart for Okotoks. Now there is a physical place in the community for the Rowan House Society.
The society has opened its street-front Okotoks Community Office to help serve its staff and those living in the northern portions of the Foothills area.
There was another big factor.
“I think one reason was just to give back to Okotoks,” said society CEO Timmi Shorr. “The community has always been so supportive of Rowan House.
“Twenty years ago, when we were building the shelter (in High River) we had an office in Okotoks and we were really well received.
“When we left for High River, Okotoks people were saying ‘When are you coming back?’”
The Okotoks office will be used for programming, accepting donations, and donor meetings and counselling for women and families – it will not be used as a shelter for families escaping an abusive situation.
“We wanted to have something that was more accessible for Okotoks, Black Diamond, Turner Valley, MIllarville, the northern area,” Shorr said. “It’s not that Okotoks and High River are that separate but when you are in crisis that 15-minute drive... some people don’t have the capacity to get to High River.
“And with the new transit system in Okotoks, it makes it a lot easier to get around Okotoks now.
“In the past if we were doing a case management and the client disclosed there is domestic abuse and they wanted to come and see our counsellors, they would have to go to High River or our outreach team members would travel to meet them out in the community.
“This way there is just a physical place that people can come to that is safe... referrals can happen a little bit more seamlessly.”
The pandemic amplified the need for an office in Okotoks.
“The need for this office space became even more apparent this past year when all those traditional meeting places were closed down and we had to significantly reduce traffic and capacity to our emergency shelter to adhere to COVID-19 health and safety protocols to keep our residents and staff safe,” explained Shorr.
The new Okotoks office may also provide much more than an ounce of prevention.
“Our goal is to support families before they have to come to shelter,” Shorr said. “If we can be reaching out to people farther upstream in an outreach capacity, maybe we can do the safety planning, and the education planning and the supports, the advocacy so they don’t have to come to shelter.
“To be physically in Okotoks and be able to meet them where they are at, I think, is going to be huge."
Unfortunately, Rowan House Society hasn’t been able to meet with clients at the new Okotoks facility due to COVID-19 protocols.
“Our outreach worker started going there last week (April 5-9) and our volunteer co-ordinator is there four days a week, we were rolling along to do in-person meetings and then the restrictions came down,” Shorr said. “We have gone back to virtual right now.”
Individuals seeking the Rowan House assistance can call its crisis line and they will be referred to the High River office, she said.
“We do have existing clients in Okotoks and are servicing them virtually at this time,” Shorr said.
The society is looking to possibly set up an office in other communities it serves.
Shorr said while it wouldn’t be fiscally responsible to rent office space in all of the communities served by Rowan House, the shelter will be exploring partnerships with like-minded/referring agencies to share office hours based on need.
The opening of the Okotoks Community Office was made possible by the society receiving a two-year-grant from the Alberta Community Initiatives program.
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