The Howe Sound Women's Centre showed the breadth of its helping hand with a celebration attended by men, women and children Saturday night (Nov. 3). The mixed group marked a new chapter in the centre's history as its feminist stance gives way to a more inclusive approach. At the annual general meeting before the anniversary party, the group decided men could become full and voting members.
"It's wonderful. It means we're inclusive of the whole community," said board member Lila Gaudry. Membership will continue to be primarily female with a restriction in place that no more than 20 per cent of members are male.
The group also opted to change the centre's mission statement from "We work from a feminist perspective" to "We work from a woman's perspective."
"We need to have any woman of any belief to be able to come here and take part in our services," explained Mina Dickenson, president of the women's centre board.
Close to a hundred people came out to the Eagle Eye Theatre to show their appreciation for the centre's services. With door prizes, appetizers, and music from Kori Rowe, Kate Reid and bagpiper Glen McEachran there was no shortage of entertainment that night. Chamber of Commerce manager Denise Imbeau credited the centre for taking on an issue members of the community once faced on a day-by-day and door-by-door basis. She recalled how her own home in Squamish was used as a safe house by a young mother caught in a cycle of domestic violence during Imbeau's childhood.
"You don't have neighbours knocking on your door all that often anymore and it's not because the problem's gone."
These days, Pearl's Place Transition House, run by the women's centre, offers women and children secure shelter when faced with abuse at home.
As woman after woman gave thanks to the centre, it was clear the services have reached across cultural boundaries. Donna Billy of the Squamish Nation led a drumming circle with the group to share the Women's Warrior song.
"I've seen them help so many Squamish Nation people in this corridor, so from my heart and my grandmother's heart I want to thank you," Billy said.
The event was also a chance to pay homage to Melany Crowston, the centre's former director of 16 years who died suddenly last fall.Longtime coworker Marie McKinney's voice cracked as she described her friendship with Crowston.
"She's a very, very special woman," McKinney said. "She was the rock. And she was the one who organized. And she was the one who kept us all in line when we were all radical feminists."
Having stepped in to take her place, director Allison Twiss said relationships Crowston put in place throughout the community are a daily reminder of her legacy.