October 25, 2010

Jeananne Kirwin

RAMON GONZALEZ
WESTERN CATHOLIC REPORTER

EDMONTON – Catholic Social Services is hoping to raise enough money from its annual Sign of Hope campaign to expand a support program for women with complex needs, including addictions.

Begun 15 months ago, the Alpha for Women program operates in an apartment building in the Virginia Park area. It provides clients with affordable accommodation as well as addictions counselling and therapeutic counselling.

Currently eight women live there and pay a $400 a month service fee. While some are attending school, others are working or looking for jobs.

Jeananne Kirwin, a city lawyer and chair of this year's Sign of Hope, said most of the women in the Alpha program "have had addiction issues, substance abuse issues and some of them also have incarceration in their background.

"They are emerging from either a rehab situation or possibly a jail situation and they are trying to put their lives together."

Some of the women have had their children taken away from them because of their addictions and CSS works with them so they can be reunited with their children, Kirwin said.

The Sign of Hope is attempting to raise $2.45 million this year to fund more than 100 programs. The Alpha program, which has been around for 15 months, receives 50 per cent of its $90,000 operating budget from Sign of Hope.

Kirwin kicked off the campaign Oct. 19 at St. Andrew's Centre.

"(Alpha) is a wonderful program that needs attention and needs funding," she said in an interview prior to the kickoff.

Every single year the campaign has exceeded its goal and Kirwin is hoping that will happen again.

EVERY DOLLAR COUNTS

"We need every dollar," she said. "We never take our donors' generosity for granted. We are very grateful for every dollar and every new donor that we attract and the more involved that I become with Catholic Social Services, the more I realize how very important these dollars are."

Kirwin, a St. Joseph's Basilica parishioner and mother of four, has been volunteering with Catholic Social Services for 15 years.

CSS spokesperson Marc Barylo said, "If we had not opened (Alpha) when we did, these women would have been on the streets or living in the river valley because they had nowhere to go.

"So we opened the doors and started providing some programming for them so they would not be on the streets. Now we are trying to enhance the programming so that we can help them turn their lives around."

Women can stay at Alpha for up to two years, which is how long it takes them to get back in the workforce, develop a steady income and have solid ties with support agencies such as Alcoholics Anonymous or Narcotics Anonymous.

When women are ready to leave the Alpha program, CSS helps them find affordable accommodation away from the temptations that brought them into the program in the first place.

The program has one dedicated staffperson, but "we have staff from the other programs that come in as required," explained Barylo. "So we bring in different people depending on what the needs are."

Alpha is a self-governed program. The residents get to decide who comes to live there.

"It's based on the Oxford model, where these women, in order to get into the program, are screened by the existing tenants," Barylo pointed out. "They help screen who should be accepted into the program with support from our staff as well.

RESPONSIBLE FAMILY

"So they take responsibility for that apartment building being their home. They are given different responsibilities; they support one another like a family. They monitor if anybody is coming in late or bringing in guests or using alcohol or drugs. Essentially they are accountable to one another for their actions."

Barylo said if the Sign of Hope campaign exceeds its goal, CSS would be able to expand Alpha for Women.

"We need more funding so we can provide more services to these women and we can help more women," he said.

"We are limited. We haven't opened up all the suites in the building because we don't have the dollars. Right now we are using eight suites and we have capacity probably for 11."