By CERENA GATILA
It’s flipflops, floral print shirts, lei necklaces and greeting “Aloha” to one another at the Seaway Mall.
For the first time, Women’s Place of South Niagara held Join the WAVE, an acronym for Walk Against Violence Everyone, in which participants dressed up in beach-like apparel and did a five-kilometre walk around the mall and raised approximately $13,165.
“We created this event because we do have a shelter in Welland and Niagara Falls, but most of our events are generally held in Niagara Falls. We do serve all of South Niagara, so we wanted to spread out our presence and host an event here in Welland,” Development Director Amanda Braet explains.
“We thought it was also important to include men, women, children of all ages and abilities because we truly believe it’s going to take the community’s effort and everyone, hence the name of the event, to wipe out domestic violence.
“So, we did do a play on the word wave to make it a fun event,” Braet continues. “We did Hawaiian theme activities, [offered] some wonderful prizes, [have] great sponsors, and are pleased to say that we raised over $13,000 in the first year. We’re definitely hoping this is something that will grow each year and raise more awareness and money every year.”
A Canadian-take on Hawaiian culture came to life as participants aimed for the s-shaped necks of pink flamingos in the a lei toss, showed their “how low can you go” limbo, and relived their childhood prowess in a hula hoop challenge of who could go the longest.
Songs set a beach-like as Hawaiian-garbed people danced to Surfin’ U.S.A. by The Beach Boys, among other songs.
“We want men, women, youth and children to join together because we believe that it’s everyone’s business,” Executive Director Ruthann Brown says, as she sported a purple lei. All staff members wore purple leis to distinguish them from the participants, who wore more colourful leis.
“Women’s Place of South Niagara has two shelters serving Southern Niagara, and that’s Serenity Place here in Welland, and Nova House in Niagara Falls,” Brown explains. “Last year, we served 281 women in shelters with over 8,000 nights in beds, and we received 2,000 crisis calls on average every year. So, there’s a very serious problem about domestic violence here in Niagara.”
For women like 34-year-old Lorena Hebert, Women’s Place means a lot.
“I’ve been going to some counselling at the Nova House for about a year now,” Hebert says, standing with her daughter, two-year-old River Parent, resting happily in her stroller. “They have helped me a lot.”
“I had an internship at the Women’s Place when I took [the] Public Relations [Graduate Certificate program] at Niagara College,” Kaitlyn Samways, a volunteer, says. “I wanted to do something for a non-profit organization and I like what they stand for, so I decided to work with them.”
Similar reasons brought Fundraising Assistant Michelle Stewart onboard. “I wanted to work here because I believe in the cause of helping women in domestic violence.”
She is one of the newer staff members having joined Women’s Place in August.
“I’ve seen it in my own family and I’ve seen it in other families. I thought it was an organization that I could really help out.
My background is fundraising and events, so it was great that they had an opportunity for me, and since I’ve been there, we’ve done different things already. We’ve had motivational speakers because they’ve seen things that we can’t imagine. They’re really motivational and they really care about the people who come to the shelters.”
As the event wrapped up and everyone walked or limboed out, prizes were given to those who raised the most money. Lori Conte won for individually bringing in $660, while Kultur Hair Salon, of St. Catharines, won as top fundraising team.
Some of the youngest participants were 10-month-old Alex Biro and eight-month-old Nya Canniff.
A “inspiring message” board was available on which many people conveyed the message of staying strong. One read, “Tomorrow is gone, tomorrow is your future – live strong.”
Last year, Women’s Place provided shelter to 167 women and 114 children. Outreach legal services handled approximately 239 clients. Over 8,000 bed nights were provided in the emergency shelters and 284 women received counselling through one of its programs.
Statistics show that one in four women will be abused in their lifetime.