September 3, 2019
Are you thinking about moving to Port Alberni BC? You NEED to read this first.
My hometown of Port Alberni has been in the news a LOT lately. Many locals shared with me that the community really needed something positive. When I found out about how local non-profit Bear Necessities is joining forces with Stanfields to raise money to support Alberni Community And Women’s Services Society. my gut told me that THIS was a story that needed to be told.
When I say my hometown of Port Alberni has had a rough summer, it’s an understatement. This has included weeks of upsetting news about two local young men, followed by a damning community profile in the New York Times.
For background, I moved to Port Alberni when I was 6, grew up there, and returned after university. I then taught at the high school (ADSS) and alternative school (VAST, now called Eighth Avenue Learning Centre). My family still lives in the Alberni Valley, as do many of my closest friends. Every time I go back to visit, I see dozens and dozens of people I know and care about.
It’s aptly known by locals as ‘The Community With A Heart’.
In 2016, I was asked to write a community profile for CV Collective Magazine, to encourage people from the Comox Valley to visit Port Alberni. Three years later, these words still ring true:
Port Alberni is no stranger to overcoming adversity. In 1964, a powerful tsunami flooded homes, flipped over cars, and shook up the people who called this area home.
Port Alberni and Alberni were twin cities, which became so intertwined that they amalgamated in 1967. Now singularly known as Port Alberni, the community was a booming mill town that was among the wealthiest in Canada.
Things changed. Many now mourn the drought of our resource-based wealth and are paralyzed by memories of ‘the good old days’.
Not to lose hope, a progressive grassroots movement is reflecting on the past to create ripples for the future. We are challenging our underdog status as ‘the place tourists stop to get beer and gas on the way to Tofino, and capturing the attention of the 10,000 cars that drive through every day.
Port Alberni is undergoing a sea of change as it reflects on the past and creates ripple effects that will build momentum to new waves of development.
We banded together in the aftermath of the tsunami, and will continue to commit ourselves to the belief that, as John F Kennedy once said, “A rising tide lifts all boats.”
Today’s generation has just as much grit, commitment to hard work, and resilience as our predecessors.
To understand where the community is at, we must also check out The Alberni Valley Community Foundation compiles Vital Signs Report. This is created every year, thanks to a team of dedicated board members and a generous bequest by an anonymous donor.
Many of these stats are tough to read. I’ve chosen to include these to provide context of the challenges children are facing in my hometown, what I worked with every day as a teacher, and why I feel its so important to support the work ACAWS is doing.
This is challenging stuff to digest, but it also allows policy makers and front-line professionals to be able to track success in an evidence-based way.
See Alberni Valley Community Foundation Vital Signs Report for more statistics and info on what programs are currently making a difference.
I used to sit on the ACAWS Board as a Director, until I became a single mom and was no longer able to make it to the before-work breakfast meetings.
Instead I helped promote their Burger + Beer Fundraising events on social media and attended with friends and family.
It’s been a few years since I’ve done something to support ACAWS, so writing this blog post seems long overdue.
I was surprised at how emotional I get when I sit down to share what ACAWS means to me. I worked closely with ACAWS when I taught at ADSS and VAST as they supported my students.
To sum it up, I’ve seen ACAWS be there for kids and women when their whole worlds have fallen apart and they’re struggling to navigate trauma. The work they do is emotional, heavy stuff.
ACAWS was there when I sat with a young female student in court to testify against her abusive boyfriend. They were there when I was supporting another with her interview with RCMP Victims Services after she was assaulted. ACAWS was the first to be there for a different student who became a single mom-to-be.
Back then, I had the personal cell numbers of their youth outreach worker— who would drop everything and come help us out when we needed her for an emergency.
I now live and work in Surrey, and find accessing help in bigger centres requires call centres and sorting through anonymous bureaucracy. I miss being able to be on a first name basis and contact youth workers, like I was able to with ACAWS. Small town familiarity has its benefits.
I was surprised to hear that ACAWS works with a wide cross sections of the community.
A former employee told me: “We work with all kinds of women, including some you would never expect, including ones who live in million-dollar homes.”
This struck me. I sure didn’t live in a million-dollar home back then, but I know all too well how quickly living situations and families can change.
Much of the life-changing work that we do at ACAWS incorporates the notion of transitions. Transitions from abusive relationships into the safety of our shelter. Transitions from shelter into independence and economic security. Transitions from the trauma of sexual assault to whole, healed, hopeful futures. Courageous transitions from fear and isolation to empowerment and hope.
– ELLEN FROOD EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
ACAWS offers FREE community programs, including the PEACE (Prevention, Education, Advocacy, Counselling + Empowerment), Youth Support Workers, Community-Based Victims Services, Drop-In Resources Centre, Transition House, Sexual Abuse Intervention and Stopping The Violence Programs.
The Bear Necessities was founded by mom and daughter team (and ACAWS employees), Susan and Jane Roth.
They chose ACAWS for their first fundraiser, but hope to expand to the rest of Canada.
ACAWS offered two counselling programs for children and youth aged 2-18. “They’re for children who have witnessed or experienced violence,” Susan explained. “That’s where the name comes from. We’re raising funds for ‘the bare necessities’ for children and youth in life.”
The idea came about after Susan, a cartoonist, drew a picture of a bear wearing a grey Stanfield’s button top—a popular garment in Port Alberni.
“Stanfield’s saw what I’d drawn,” said Susan. “They said, ‘We love your idea, we’d love to do something with you.’ They really want to be helping out in some way. We didn’t expect such a wonderful response.”
Interview from Alberni Valley News
The first event was Bearfoot in the Park, which took place on August 24 in Blair Park in Port Alberni and had 80 people register and many more showed up.
The event started with a walk around the Kitsuksis Dyke and was followed by food and activities at the park. Children enjoyed chocolate-covered strawberry eating contests, bubbles, chalk art and spray park fun. The special guest for the afternoon was Christina Wiebe, Mrs. Vancouver Island.
100% of proceeds were donated to ACAWS.
They plan to make this an annual event so stay tuned for next year!
As many of you probably know, Stanfields has been making quality clothing in Canada for 160 years. Even though it’s based across the country in Truro, Nova Scotia, Port Albernians have a long-standing love for their Wool Henley Shirts (affectionately just called a ‘Stanfield’).
These gray wool sweaters are known as the Port Alberni Tuxedo because it’s very common to see a working guy don it all day while working in the bush, and wear it right to the local drinking hole where it serves as a sort of ‘dress shirt’. Everywhere you go, you see people donning these iconic grey woolen shirts.
Having grown up in Port Alberni, I can personally attest to the fact that many guys look VERY GOOD in their Stanfields. Ha ha.
Stanfields has generously discounted shirts, as well as their in-house screen printing.
Bear Necessities sells these shirts with 100% of net proceeds going to support ACAWS.
Donations will go to: Helping children in our community lead healthier, happier lives through programs such as our Sexual Abuse Intervention Program (SAIP).
This children’s program uses counselling and psychotherapy as well as expressive arts (including art play and sand play therapy) to support children and youth ages 3– 18 who have been sexually abused, where sexual abuse is suspected, and children 12 years and under who display inappropriate sexual behaviors.
The children may also be taught safety skills.
Education, information, and support is provided to parents and caregivers as well.
This is NOT a sponsored post. ACAWS and the community of Port Alberni are both close to my heart. I volunteered to share the exciting partnership between Stanfields and Bear Necessities and am honoured to share their stories.