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Women's Centre celebrates 25 years

The Howe Sound Women's Centre is wrapping up its 25th year with an enormous feat looming on the horizon.

The Howe Sound Women's Centre is wrapping up its 25th year with an enormous feat looming on the horizon. By the end of the 2007, the centre will have to be picked up by its beams and moved to a new location to make room for a waterfront residential project by Westmana Development.

But an even more arduous task has been finding a new location for the structure. Although Westmana has offered to pay for the moving costs, the centre has no land on which to start again.

"We need a place that is downtown, visible, safe and long-term," said executive director Allison Twiss.

Since taking on the position in August, Twiss has been searching in vain for an ideal piece of property.

"It's really soon," she said of the Dec. 31 move date. Even if land were found, the centre would have to come up with funds to cover site servicing and a new foundation - a tall order for a non-profit organization.

Mayor Ian Sutherland says the district is trying to help the centre find a new site, but the real estate climate creates a challenge. "We've been working very closely with the Women's Centre in trying to find a solution. It's hard because land is relatively tight and relatively expensive," said Sutherland.

This uncertain future hasn't stopped the centre from celebrating its past, however. On Nov. 3, there will be a 25th anniversary party at the Eagle Eye Theatre with live music, appetizers and a silent auction.The event will shine light on an organization that helps more than 7,000 local residents a year.

"We're a significant and quiet presence in the community," Twiss explained, noting the centre provides youth counselling, legal advocacy, educational programs and countless other services to local families.

A number of Squamish women started the centre in 1981 by renting hotel rooms for women and children leaving an abusive relationship. The group later acquired apartments and eventually a home, known as Pearl's Place Transition House, where women and children can stay for up to 30 days. The centre recently received provincial funding to staff the house round-the-clock.

The location of the home is kept anonymous to protect the families who use it. However, the Howe Sound Women's Centre will be raising its profile when counsellers step into local classrooms this fall to launch the program Violence is Preventable (VIP).Maureen Mackell, children's program manager will head VIP by speaking to students at Howe Sound Secondary and Stawamus Elementary. "It's trying to help kids learn to deal with their feelings," she said.When speaking with elementary students, she will focus on constructive ways to deal with peer conflict. With high school students she will also touch on romantic relationships, where she said self esteem can easily be eroded.

"Verbal abuse is one that kids accept and don't realize."

According to BC/Yukon Society of Transition Houses about three to five students in each B.C. classroom have been exposed to domestic violence. To help teens deal with the emotions that emerge from these experiences, Mackell has started a Writers' Studio where youth aged 14 to 18 can share creative writing.

"When I was a kid I know one of the ways I got through the difficult years was writing. For some kids, it can be a real saving grace," she said.

For information on the writers' group or to buy tickets to the anniversary party, call the Howe Sound Women's Centre at 604-892-5748.

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