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A bittersweet anniversary: YWCA Sudbury marks 60 years of serving community

Staffers reflect on Princess Diana's visit and more during breakfast marking anniversary

YWCA Sudbury, which runs Genevra House, an emergency shelter for women and children fleeing abuse, among other services, is celebrating 60 years of serving the community.

But the organization's executive director, Marlene Gorman, said it's a bittersweet anniversary.

“We wish we didn't have to have the service in 2018,” she said. “As much as things change over the years, a lot of things stay the same.

“We know that we've got so much more work to do towards women's equality. We seem to take a couple steps forward, one step back. It looks like the service will be needed for quite some time. We operate a 32-bed shelter. We're full.

“We just heard about an incident last night involving someone who was shot in our community just down the road from one of our staff (Marlene was referring to this incident in Garson).

“So a lot of things don't change. We're going to fight, we're going to keep working toward changing the things that need to be changed — policies, attitudes and behaviours.”

On the occasion of a breakfast held Sept. 13 to mark the anniversary, Gorman asked those in attendance to share their “memorable moments” of the organization.

They wrote their memories on paper leaves and stuck them to a tree of life that will be displayed at Genevra House.

A couple of staff members also picked up a microphone to share some touching stories.

Every year, a man in his 30s visits YWCA Sudbury to make a donation, said Bonnie Cushing, YWCA Sudbury's finance and personnel clerk.

This year, he was a bit more talkative, and told Cushing he and his mother used to stay at Genevra House when he was a child.

He said he always felt safe there, and it was a good experience. 

“He remembers being there at Christmastime, and there were so many presents underneath the tree,” Cushing said.

The man said one time when it had come to the point where they had to return to the shelter, he was very excited, and ran outside and told his friends “We're going to Genevra House!” only to be shushed by his mother.

“The one thing that he said at the end of his story is as a child, is you don't realize the severity of the situation. You only know that the place you're going is a place of good memories and feeling safe, and that's really important to a child.”

The now late Princess Diana also visited Genevra House in 1991, and Lise Armstrong, a transitional and housing support worker who's been with YWCA Sudbury for 31 years, shared her memories of that visit.

“The kids all presented her with a rose,” said Armstrong, who was a child and youth worker at the time.

“One of the kids was bossing her little sister around, so Princess Diana — you could see that human side to her, you forget that — she grabbed one of the roses she'd been given, tapped her on the head, and said 'Hey, quit being so bossy.'”

Princess Diana answered questions from the children and accepted the invitation of women living in the shelter to visit their rooms.

“She chatted with the women, and she wanted to know about the kids,” she said. “It was a very genuine interest.”

YWCA Sudbury, which launched in the mid-1950s, and was incorporated in 1958, started out as a women's rooming service for students and others who needed a room to stay in in the city.

“The leaders and founders that started YWCA were noticing that women had a number of needs,” Gorman said. “One of them was the need to escape domestic abuse. So we started up the emergency shelter.”

That emergency shelter, named Genevra House after YWCA's first executive director, Genevra Richards, opened in 1983.

It's operated in a number of different locations, and moved to its current location, on St. Raphael Street, in 2004.

Besides Genevra House, YWCA Sudbury also operates a number of other services.

That includes second-stage, affordable housing for women getting back on their feet, educational programming for young teens and advocacy against gendered violence.

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