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Building a Better Future for Our Community

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Like many of you, I was aware of Unity House, Fort McMurray’s Women and Children’s Emergency Shelter, but I didn’t know much about the society that runs it. Even so, when the job posting for the Executive Director caught my eye last January, I put pen to paper and ventured into a new challenging, yet rewarding realm. Since then, my learning curve has been steep and oh so exhilarating!

Since becoming the new Executive Director, I have learned that working in this type of social work field is not as “dark” as I thought it would be, although there is plenty of pain and tragedy. Staff deal with darkness every single day. However, there are also incredible examples of the strength of people, everyday people, who rise above their circumstances to find a new and better path in life, and to reinvent themselves when they find the resources they need to heal. I am not just referring to the women and children the crisis society serves, but also the men.

Since starting this job, I have been asked, “Does Fort McMurray have more people using the shelter, per capita, than the rest of Alberta?” According to the latest statistics from the Alberta Council of Women’s Shelters, the answer is no, we are average. But average in this business is not good. We are determined to become below average in shelter use. A healthy community is filled with healthy families and individuals, and is able to take quick and effective care of those who become vulnerable. Like a healthy body, when it becomes sick or injured, a healthy community leverages a variety of resources to heal quickly and successfully. The Fort McMurray Family Crisis Society (FMFCS) is one of our community’s resources for tackling the prevention of domestic violence and sexual assault, and the recovery of victims and offenders. As Fort McMurray has grown in size, so has the need for these resources.

I joined FMFCS as it was embarking on a much needed growth spurt. In four years, we will be able to provide affordable housing for community members in need, the homeless, and housing for survivors of domestic violence, who need affordable housing, added security and support programs. We will have a new women and children’s shelter that will ensure we have not only the beds needed, but the privacy needed to begin the physical and emotional recovery process in a safe and supportive environment.

The FMFCS is building a two-phase Family Crisis Recovery Campus. We broke ground on phase one April 1. Casman Construction is managing the construction project while Kasian Architects provides the building design. This initial phase of this much anticipated capital project is a 76-unit affordable housing building with an added-security wing for survivors of domestic violence. Phase two will consist of a new, larger women and children’s emergency shelter, with more beds, private rooms, and a sexual assault treatment centre. This ambitious endeavour is currently the largest shelter building project in the province. We have raised over half of the money needed for the two phases, and we plan to lead the province in reducing domestic violence and sexual assault in our community.

We are offering sponsorship opportunities to businesses and community members to be involved in building our Family Crisis Recovery Campus. We are launching our “Suite Sponsorships” in early September. Anyone interested in becoming involved, is more than welcome to contact Tim O’Rourke, FMFCS Director of Communications and Fund Development, at, or call 587-646-0444.


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