Jan Damery has been working exclusively for three years to build the new YW Hub in Inglewood. While she says this is the greatest project she’s worked on in her career, she admits that it did have its challenges. Developing and creating a trauma-informed space for women to heal needed much attention and administration.
Damery has worked for other non-profit organizations, such as the Aga Khan University and United Way. However, she “felt right at home” with the YW. Damery became the vice-president of YW Calgary in August 2016 and “hasn’t looked back,” focusing on building its new location.
Past buildings have relied on donations and hand-me-downs, but this time they took a different approach.
“In a not-for-profit sector, you always have your hand out. The reality, currently, is we need infrastructure. In the story of our women, they deserve better. They deserve new,” says Damery.
With a project of that size, Damery knew there would be challenges ahead for her and her team.
In 2015, the YW sold its downtown property and used those funds to start development on the new Hub. This project was to be 100 per cent funded by the people of Calgary, and the YW was able to raise 20 million dollars through personal donors and everyday people. They are still looking to raise four million dollars to complete the project for a total of 60 million needed.
The Hub isn’t just for emergencies — it’s for people outside of crisis to enjoy as well. It includes a communal kitchen, state-of-the-art fitness facilities, and a drop-in daycare. With an open design concept and natural lighting, the Hub is a welcoming space for all.
“We have designed this space to be a real community hub, people coming together, supporting each other. We’re helping people get the skills and the tools they need to have a really great life. And our fundamental goal is to break the cycle of violence,” says Damery.
Damery and her team scouted locations that would integrate women into the community and protect them as well. They chose Inglewood because it is an “eclectic and welcoming community.”
“We wanted to move our women into a community, away from where we were. [The old location] was not a residential sort of setting. It was a block and a half away from a drop-in centre. We wanted to move them into a safer neighbourhood, one that was going to keep them.”
In this case, Damery wanted a neighbourhood that would support women once they left the Hub.
“Women will do a lot not to be homeless, meaning they will stay in bad relationships, they’ll couch surf. It’s not usually safe to be on the street. You’re preyed upon, so it’s often hidden.”
The power of art
Damery and her team have been working extensively to create a welcoming space for women in crisis. They’ve created a sanctuary devoted to healing by making the building feel inclusive, using art as an integral part of its environment.
“Art is a great healer. Art actually gives it its soul,” says Damery.
Mary-Beth Laviolette, who worked as one of the artist-curators, says they mainly focused on bringing in fibre and textile artists. These 19 artists worked in mediums that included quilting, rug hooking, and Indigenous beading.
“Fibre is a really nice way of connecting into that whole idea of creating a place that’s not as institutional looking. That just kind of gives it some personality. Materials like fibre are warm and welcoming,” says Laviolette.
Laviolette has worked as a curator for less permanent installations but found the experience with the YW rewarding.
“This whole idea of installing original works of art in an institutional building like the YW was done with the idea that this work should be long-lasting,” says Laviolette.
Alongside the YW, the team has put aside funding to redevelop and expand the Sheriff King Home, also located in Inglewood. Gutting it from its brutalist aesthetic — a style consistent with small windows and concrete walls — and turning it into a more trauma-informed area where women can heal.
Many women have benefitted from the Sheriff King Home and felt like it was a place to find themselves once again. One client, who asked not to be named as she is fleeing a terrible home situation, says when she first arrived at the shelter, she felt hopeless.
“Staying [at the Sheriff King] made me feel like I was worth something, that my life was worth living and that I was not alone in my situation. I needed to feel wanted and deserving of love and I found it here,” she says.
“For the first time in my life, I felt okay and that things might turn out okay.”
Damery sees the struggle that many women face in our society and the Hub is there to help them.
“It’s powerful to say that your community believes in you so that actually changes outcomes and lives. Hope is huge,” says Damery.
“I think a measure of a society is how you treat the most vulnerable. And that's the game we're in.”
- By Tess Kotsibie