Town loses women's job counsellor

Chantelle MacIsaac
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June 28 marked the last day of work for Sherry Hefferman at the Gateway Women's Centre in Port aux Basques.

Sherry Hefferman with Susanne Ingrams help takes down the sign on the Women’s Centre to the entrance of the Women’s Employment Services office which officially closed on June 28.

Hefferman is just one of many concluding her term as an Employment Assistance Service (EAS) counsellor.

Although the EAS worker is taking leave, Susanne Ingram, executive director for the Women's Centre wants people to know it's not their doors they are shutting, it is just one part of their services they are losing.

In March of this year, the provincial government announced it would close the centers and spend the money it received to fund them in other ways.

Of all the Women's Centres across the island, the Gateway Women's Centre was the only one that had an employment counsellor through the EAS program.

Burgeo - La Poile MHA Andrew Parsons still disagrees with the government's decision to cut this much-needed service for the rural communities.

"This is a sad day for Sherry, and a sad day for a lot of the people she has helped over the years," said Parsons.

There was never any consultation with the Women's Centre and no explanation or rationale behind the decision, he said.

The services were not just about resume building or job searches, they were much more personal, said Ingram.

"Quite often, women would call but wouldn't be able to come to the centre," said Ingram. "Sherry would meet with them personally, in their own homes."

The relationships that the centre has made over the years is not something that can be replaced by online assessments or "1-800" numbers, said Hefferman.

The loss of the center's EAS worker could be detrimental to local women said Ingram. They knew the centre was a one-stop shop for many issues including legal aid, housing, financial, and referrals to professionals, etc.

"The services were here, and the knowledge is here," said Hefferman. "All the necessary steps for helping a woman get her life together and back on track were right here."

The loss to the community also contains the loss of partnerships between community organizations.

The Career Information Resource Centre office is now closed, and Marine Mountain Zone Corporation lost their funding and the three of these organizations worked closely together on the job links, job creation projects and the tools provided to clients such as resume building, computer use and free information.

Ingram said she can remember back to March of 2000 when the centre put in a proposal for the EAS worker.

At that time, a large number of women coming into the centre were interested in getting a new, fresh start in their lives and wanted help with their resumes and job interviews.

Ingram said the workload was too much for her to take on by herself, so the proposal went in and they were approved very quickly.

Since January of 2001, 1705 women have walked through the doors of the Women's Centre for employment counselling.

Hefferman has been providing these services to women on the southwest coast since 2006 and had a yearly caseload of around 130 people.

The newly renovated Women's Centre also provided complete confidentiality on all levels.

If someone had an appointment with Hefferman they had a separate entrance, waiting room and office.

Local reflection

Shawnda Kane is just one of the many clients that came through the doors of the Women's Centre.

Kane reflects on her life and states she has no idea where she would be today if it wasn't for the help of the ladies at the Women's Centre.

"It was hard for me to start over and I felt so lost in my life," said Kane. "The day I decided to go to the Women's Centre was by far the smartest decision of my life."

Kane feels that she owes a great deal to these women, including Hefferman, who offered Kane her services and was a part of her personal growth every step of the way.

The centre offered her assistance with housing, lawyers, help at Christmastime, and were also able to provide her with emotional support as well as financial assistance.

"The centre became a safe haven for me," said Kane. "A place to go and relax, and made to feel confident in myself once again."

She accredits Hefferman with giving her the confidence to return to school.

"I was so unsure of the unknown but with her mentoring and guidance I built the courage to do it and finish it as well," she said.

After school was done and the great unknown returned to Kane, it was again Hefferman that helped her with the next steps.

"She helped me with my job search, resume writing, and even did mock interviews with me," said Kane.

She said the women at the centre made her feel so comfortable, and that she didn't get that from anywhere else.

"They didn't make you feel like they had to do this because it was their job," said Kane.

Kane has hopes of once again returning to school to further her education to be able to advance in her work place but says she is not even sure where to start now.

"Sherry will surely be missed by me and so many more, I am sure," said Kane. "She is a great mentor and an asset to our community."

Kane feels as though the government has done a great injustice to the community by extracting the funds that provide the employment services to the Women's Centre.

She feels that she owes a big part of who she is today to these ladies and words cannot explain how it has impacted the success in her life.

"They were a godsend to me, and from the bottom of my heart I want to thank each of them for the kindness and support that they still continue to show me."


Organizations: Gateway Women, Marine Mountain Zone

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