In 2020, Alberta Blue Cross® furthered our commitment to championing diversity, equity and inclusion by increasing our community impact investments to support organizations who champion them while addressing social justice issues.
While Alberta Blue Cross sponsored events held by YW Calgary in the past, we saw a new opportunity to support programs they offer directly to vulnerable individuals. This led to our partnership to support YW Calgary’s Transitional Housing program for women experiencing housing insecurity, domestic violence, mental health struggles, addictions or other barriers. Having provided 41,000 nights in a YW bed for women and children seeking shelter and safety, YW Calgary saw the prolonged economic downturn coupled with the pandemic pushed women even further out of the workforce—a phenomena known as the she-cession.
The Transitional Housing program provides safe and affordable housing for women in crisis or transition, as well as individualized supports, including helping them recover from trauma, focus on healing, develop financial stability and find secure, permanent housing. YW Calgary connects program participants to community resources to further support them in their personal growth journey, building independence and self-reliance. While in the Transitional Housing program, women have 24/7 access to client support, counselling and other life-skill building resources offered by YW Calgary, such as employment and budgeting workshops and walking and meditation groups.
Community engagement activities are also a key component of the program. One such activity is the Inglewood Community Garden initiative, which supports the emotional health of residential clients and helps them build skills for personal interest, healthy eating and possible training for future employment.
The Inglewood Community Garden provided this opportunity to YW Calgary at a low cost—they only needed to purchase seeds and provide staff while Inglewood supplied everything else required for the program from program development, training and schedules to garden beds, water and tools.
The program team created a workbook to guide participants through planting and garden maintenance for the summer. The workbook is designed to help keep the gardeners on track and support their continued learning, with a place to record types of plants, care instructions and more.
Starting with 10 women of various ages and skill levels, the program soon welcomed a few more participants as word spread about the community garden. All participants have some experience gardening, but eagerly looked forward to participating and learning from past gardening mistakes. They were most interested in getting outside, being in nature and collaborating on a common goal.
“I work all day long on personal things, so this is a great escape from it all.” – program participant
One participant was excited to make friends and another is excited to grow sage and sweetgrass for Indigenous smudging ceremonies. Growing one’s own plants gives greater spiritual and symbolic meaning through personal connection to the land.
“I’m just so happy to let my thoughts go. Gardening teaches patience, but also how to be in the moment. I’ve been feeling really isolated lately, so being here and making friends is a plus.” – program participant
On the first day of the program, participants planted spinach, carrots, cucumbers, peas, beets, onions, potatoes and flowers. During the second week, they learned how to properly transplant tomato plants and planted kale and marigold.
The second and third week of the program saw beautiful, warm weather and participants appreciated being in the garden. Volunteer gardening expert, Diane, is an inspiring leader for the program and an active volunteer with the Inglewood Community Garden. She has provided participants with many useful tips on “cram” gardening, how to keep soil healthy and how to properly transplant seedlings. Participants also helped with weeding the flower beds and berry bushes.
“There’s nothing quite like ripping out a tall weed from its roots!” – Freshia Corpus, YW Calgary
This garden initiative promotes community involvement and connection, while following COVID-19 protocols, as a safe social and recreational activity for residents. The program team is hoping to host an end-of-season harvest meal for program participants if restrictions allow.
We continue to look forward to updates on the progress of their community garden program and wish the group a very happy harvest in the fall.
About YW Calgary
Voted one of Maclean’s Top 100 Charities of 2020, YW Calgary provides preventive and restorative services to women and their families to help them thrive. YW Calgary is committed to supporting people experiencing domestic violence, advocating for mental health, and enabling women’s economic prosperity.
In collaboration with donors, government and other social agencies, YW Calgary provide programs that build a safer and more equitable community. Learn more about YW Calgary at ywcalgary.ca.