By Vicki Melville Bathurst
I met up with Marj during her four hour shift at The Cridge Transition House for Women (hereafter to be referred to as The House). Unlike the open door policy that I was becoming accustomed to, this is a gated home whose whereabouts is kept strictly confidential. It is a massive, stately old home built in 1912 and was once the grandest in the area. With 12 bedrooms, in a pinch it can house up to 18 women and children, with cots squeezed into corners for the little ones. The house was quiet this afternoon, unlike the two weeks prior when I was told it was “packed to the rafters.”
If you’re lucky, you’ve never heard of this place. But if you or someone you know needs it, you will be forever thankful it exists. The House is a safe haven, offering housing and support to women and their children fleeing domestic violence. Recently an abused woman from Ontario jumped into her car fleeing violence and she kept on driving until she hit the B.C. coast and couldn’t drive any further. Fortunately The House is well known within the community of first responders who work with these women, and it is always open. It is here that she finally found safety.
So what exactly is The House? Purchased by The Cridge Centre for the Family in 1991, it provides safe, emergency accommodation, support and information for women and children escaping an abusive relationship. It not only provides up to 30 days refuge for the women, it can also be the stepping stone towards independent, transitional housing on The Cridge Centre for the Family’s main property for up to 3 years.
The House requires a minimum of 12 active volunteers to operate. Volunteers assist with all routines from meal preparation, baking, taking care of children, picking up and organizing donations, fueling The House vehicles and driving to appointments. To volunteer here, you must commit to volunteer at The House 4 hours a week for a minimum of 6 months. In turn, The Cridge Transition House for Women has an extensive training program that recognizes the importance of dealing with such a vulnerable group of people, and goes above and beyond in providing a meaningful and rewarding volunteer experience.
For the past 5 years, Marj has come to The House once a week to bake and help the women with dinner preparations. She knows that the wonderful smells of fresh baking often draw the women to the kitchen where she is able to offer them her listening ears and caring heart. Having watched women arrive at The House in the back of a police car, she is passionate about her job and her ability to bring some light into the lives of these women and children. Marj tells me how much she, personally, gets out of her work here. She says “it makes her heart sing” – to be able to listen, to offer a few kind words, or to teach some new skills in the kitchen. From our very first conversation on the telephone, Marj’s philosophy is “where there’s a spark, there’s fire.” She explained to me what she means by this – she believes there is a volunteer job for everyone, maybe not with The Cridge, but somewhere in the community. Why? Because in connecting with others in the community, not only can the volunteer go away knowing they made a difference to others, but Marj also knows how rewarding it makes the volunteer feel about themselves and their role in strengthening their community.
In honouring, but not celebrating, 25 years of history for The Cridge Transition House for Women, The Cridge Centre is launching a Courageous Women Campaign. The goal is to raise $25,250 to allow them to grow and strengthen their supports for the women and families of The House, to continue to help women find strength to recover, overcome and launch violence-free lives.
The following words were written by a woman at The House and vividly describe the horror of domestic abuse: My husband threatened he would kill me with his bare hands if he ever got wind of my plans to leave him. He said, “If you leave me, I’ll find you. No matter how long it takes, I’ll track you down…… I’ll kill you, the children and then I’ll take my own life”.
Click here to learn more about The Cridge Transition House for Women