Above: The JMMF Board of Directors and a JMMF Outreach Worker stand in front of the Foundation’s newly revealed logo during the 2015 Break Free Gala, an event that raised over $10,000. JMMF’s 2016 Break Free Gala (which features duelling pianos) is happening on October 22 at the Morinville Community Cultural Centre (MCCC); tickets are currently available at Morinville’s Home Hardware and at the MCCC. – JMMF Photo

by Jennifer Lavallee
Morinville News Correspondent

After four years of waiting, the Jessica Martel Memorial Foundation (JMMF) has finally struck a housing committee, getting itself closer to realizing the dream of establishing a safe house in the Morinville area.

The formation of the Committee, which met for the first time this past May, is step one of many.

“Our intent was to [officially] get started in March 2016, but with several other items coming our way, it turned out the first meeting was held on May 17, in St. Albert at a Tim Hortons,” said Kris Porlier, the Director of Public Relations with JMMF in an interview. Porlier says the Committee is made up of seven sitting members; however, he says there is also “great participation” from representatives of the Town of Morinville, Sturgeon County, and businesses in the area.

Additionally, two individuals Porlier mentions in particular—Rick Lamontagne, from Richlyn Custom Homes, and Andre Bourgeois, an Architect with AB Design Inc.—have been key members in developing the committee’s plans; “both have done great things for the Foundation with bringing their ideas and motivation to the group.”

“I would say that Greg Hofmann from the Town of Morinville has [also] been great in helping to advise us when it comes to the municipality and bylaws. We have also had some great Town and County Councillors come to advise us, as well as members of the Morinville RCMP detachment.”

The non-profit group has wanted to see a women’s shelter or safe house established in the Morinville area since JMMF first formed back in 2012. In the past, the organization has said other pieces of the puzzle had to come together first before they could focus on their ultimate goal of bringing the safe house project to light.

Porlier explains, however, the idea of a shelter was always looming in the background.
“…[People] wanted to know what plans we had for a shelter. They were asking a lot of really great and applicable questions that we couldn’t answer,” he said, “…but we have that answer now.”

Currently, in the Capital Region, women’s shelters are only located within Edmonton’s boundaries (except for one, which is in Sherwood Park). Women and children who try to access those shelters are sometimes faced with long waiting lists and are given the advice to try a shelter out of town.

Establishing a women’s shelter or safe house in the Morinville area would be a big deal.
JMMF Housing Committee members looked to start the project on a solid foundation; they worked goals and logistics, and they asked themselves what could they realistically achieve.

Throughout the summer, the group committed to getting this project off the ground, once and for all. They wrote more than a hundred letters and invited groups of people to talk with them.

“We invited stakeholders and subject matter experts to meet with us…government officials, industry experts, and [other] interested parties, and we discussed different aspects of the project,” noted Porlier.

“It went from Board Meetings to talk about what we all envisioned, to inviting more than 20 people to our group to talk about what would work, what might not, and what we should take into consideration.”

JMMF also consulted with folks representing numerous shelters from around the Province to understand what their challenges are and what their successes look like.

Porlier says the project has taken off, even more so than they first envisioned.

Floor plans and mock-ups for the safe house are developed; however, those plans may now be revised, according to the JMMF representative. He assures that this is good news because the change is related to a new development in the project, which is allowing the committee to dream bigger.

Staying tight lipped on any elaborations or additional details, such as where the project scope is heading or even in which municipality the group foresees the shelter being established, Porlier says all will be revealed in October during JMMF’s annual ‘Break Free Gala.’

“We are hoping to make some pretty amazing announcements at this year’s Gala that will cement our path to achieving the goal of a Safe House to service victims of domestic violence in the Sturgeon area, as well as the larger Alberta population.”

The Gala takes place on Oct. 22; all profits from this year’s event will go towards the shelter project. Tickets are currently on sale and can be purchased at Home Hardware in Morinville and at the Morinville Community Cultural Centre. More information on tickets and sponsorship opportunities are available on the JMMF website.

There are more than 350 municipalities in Alberta. Of all those communities, only 32 of them currently have shelters for victims of domestic violence.

In addition to its goal of developing a safe house in the Morinville area, JMMF also works tirelessly to raise awareness on domestic abuse, organizes self-defense classes, and offers vital outreach services to people in the area who face family violence.

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