Helping transform lives for over 40 years
Sonshine Community Services
by Joyce Rempel
The most dangerous time for an abused woman is when she attempts to leave her abuser. Emergency shelters in Calgary offer 21 days of support to women and children – but what does one do on day 22? This is where Sonshine Centre steps in. Motivated by their Christian faith, Sonshine Community Services helps women and children transform their lives.
The Sonshine Centre is an integral part of Calgary’s collaborative response to domestic violence, housing women and children who are at a high risk for serious injury or fatality, and providing the counselling and support needed to navigate the practical and emotional complexities of leaving an abusive home. In a video interview with Southview Alliance Church, Executive Director, Joy Johnson-Green, reports that Alberta has one of the highest rates of domestic violence in the country. “With the downturn in the economy, calls to the police increased by 20 percent,” she says. “Domestic violence has no respect for race, creed, colour, religion or socio-economic status. It is the face of our sisters, our mothers, the person working in the cubicle next to you, or sitting beside you in the congregation.”
Sonshine’s shelter provides a one-year residential program for women and women with children leaving an unsafe situation, followed by a six-month program for safely transitioning back into the community. It is a secure facility, in a quiet neighbourhood, where highly qualified, dedicated staff and volunteers walk alongside clients on their journey to healing and wellness.
“Witnessing domestic violence is the single largest indicator that a child will grow up to be abused or be abusive,” Johnson-Green explains. “We actually had to get to the children to break the cycle of violence with the next generation, otherwise, we were going to see them or their spouses back.” So, in faith, Sonshine opened the first facility of its kind in Canada, a full-time therapeutic care centre for children impacted by trauma. The Children’s Centre exists to stop the intergenerational cycle of domestic violence from continuing on to the next generation. The Centre puts interventions right into the children’s play through TheraPlay and, where needed, includes occupational therapy and speech therapy. “We know from the research,” Johnson-Green says, “if you can put the right intervention in their preschool years, you will positively affect the trajectory of those children’s lives.” The Centre maintains an enhanced staff-to-children ratio, with highly-qualified staff who partner with parents, Child Trauma counselling, and Parent/Child Theraplay to provide the support needed for children to heal.
Outreach Counselling is another integral service Sonshine provides to its clients in the community. Community Counselling provides services to individuals, couples and families with family/marital conflict, depression, stress, grief, anxiety, low self-esteem, communication difficulties, or lack of boundaries. The confidential counselling is client-centred, trustworthy, ethical and nurturing. They provide seminars and workshops to groups, organizations, and businesses on stress management, anxiety, family violence awareness, dating violence, children and trauma, boundaries, or self-care. Since the program aims to remove barriers to professional and ethical counselling, services are provided at no charge.
Another way Sonshine supports families is by operating a regulated and accredited family day home agency in Calgary. Sonshine Family Day Homes enable children to participate to their fullest potential through day home routines, activities and play experiences. The agency has been operating since 1985 and oversees nearly forty home daycares in Calgary, visiting the homes every month to provide training, resources and support. For more info about the day homes, go to www.sonshinedayhomes.ca.
Sonshine Community Services has 38 employees and is governed by a volunteer Board of Directors, men and women with impressive credentials who are committed to leading with integrity, quality and compassion. The organization began in 1978 when River Park Church established Sonshine Centre and Counselling to serve homeless individuals and families in their community. Sonshine became a registered charity in 1981 and has since expanded its services city-wide to women and children fleeing abuse. As an organization, they “envision a community where women and children live safely in healthy families.”
Partnerships, volunteers and donors are essential to delivering vibrant, successful programs. Monica Ercolessi, Director of Resource Development, explains that as a non-profit organization, fundraising is essential. “We have recently seen some partial funding from the Government of Alberta for our operations,” Monica says, “but we must still find a way to cover the remaining balance. In order to maintain operations, the annual budget for fundraising exceeds one million dollars. Part of this amount is raised through the annual Hope Gala each fall, but donations are welcome at any time. You will receive a charitable tax receipt for financial contributions or gifts-in-kind.
Sonshine relies on the generous practical support of organizations and individuals just like you. “We are blessed with volunteers,” Monica smiles. “We have a great volunteer program with a large variety of job descriptions on the website.” For more information, visit www.sonshine.ca, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 403-243-2002.