Westview Center 4 Women tightens purse strings after region withdraws funding

Jane LaVacca, Executive Director of Westview Center 4 Women in St. Catharines, celebrates the centre's 15th anniversary.Jane LaVacca, Executive Director of Westview Center 4 Women in St. Catharines, celebrates the centre's 15th anniversary.

A place where women go for help, need help.

Westview Center 4 Women, located at 124 Queenston Street in St. Catharines, will not receive the regional funding it used for its “pre-employment” program in 2023.

Executive Director Jane LaVacca explained that the scheme pays women who might otherwise have difficulty finding employment to take on entry-level jobs, with the goal of gaining experience.

She said many of the women they help have never been employed before or have not been employed for a long time.

“The majority of my employees are employees who would struggle to find traditional employment elsewhere. They are on disability. Money is tight. They are trying to make ends meet,” she said. “The idea is that they do the dishes here for a while. They fix all the bugs… show up on time, dress appropriately, watch your language, do a good job, that sort of thing. And as we brainstorm with them, myself and my program director, they turn around and say, “OK, so I’m going to leave now and apply for another job.”

The program was funded through funding from the region’s Niagara Prosperity Initiative. LaVacca explained that the funding was withdrawn to be allocated to more regional initiatives, rather than just one specific area.

In an email to Niagara this week, Lori Watson, the region’s director of welfare and employment opportunities, clarified that the NPI program is a one-time annual grant that organizations apply for. She said there was no guarantee that organizations that had received funding in a previous year would get it the following year.

“They decided to go in a different direction…we’re not upset because they’re more looking to help the area as a whole with housing and stuff like that,” LaVacca said. “We totally understand. We totally understand.

But while Westview understands the reason for the funding withdrawal, they are still short nearly $100,000 a year.

“We don’t have government funding, so we rely on organizations and private donors to fund our programs,” LaVacca said, adding that they will work hard not to cut the program, but are concerned that other services don’t suffer.

Since the start of the pandemic, LaVacca said the number of women using the center has tripled, with up to 150 women visiting each day.

“We see people we’ve never seen before,” she said. “Usually we just helped low-income women. Now we have low-income women, we have homeless people. They sleep in tents. We have those who are dealing with substance abuse issues… You have people with mental health issues. It’s not just some women in the Queenston neighborhood anymore.

Westview Centre4Women opened its doors 15 years ago and LaVacca has been working there for 14 years.

She said women often come to them for help when they are most vulnerable.

To learn more or to donate, visit westviewc4w.com.

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