by Jennifer Lavallee
Morinville News Correspondent
The Jessica Martel Memorial Foundation (JMMF) held its third annual Break Free Gala this past Saturday night, on October 28. The event was a success with having raised many tens of thousands of dollars which will ultimately help the organizations pay for its soon-to-be-built safe house in the Town of Morinville.
JMMF revealed several big announcements during the gala; the major report was that the shelter, lovingly referred to as “Jessie’s House,” will likely begin construction as early as summer 2018.
“This community has given 100% since we started [JMMF] five years ago,” said the organization’s President and Jessica Martel’s Mother, Lynne Rosychuk, to the crowd at the Morinville Community Cultural Centre during the event.
The current plan is that the shelter will include ten bedrooms, a communal kitchen and common space, a spiritual/quiet area, and a child monitoring space. According to JMMF, their safe house will be one of only two shelters in Alberta that will also accept victims of domestic violence who are men and also people who are transgendered.
“Hopefully, 2017 will be the last year that Morinville, and the greater Sturgeon County area, will go without a safe house,” announced Kris Porlier, Director of Fund Development and Public Relations with JMMF. Currently, the closest shelters are in Edmonton (there are five in the City and one in Sherwood Park)—these facilities, however, are often full and are forced to turn away many women and children.
Porlier also highlighted several generous local businesses who have supported JMMF along the way in their fundraising efforts for a shelter; this included HIS Trucking, the Morinville Dairy Queen, Home Hardware and Bumper-to-Bumper, the Town of Morinville, AB Designs, and Richlyn Custom Homes, among many others.
JMMF also made special recognition of a significant donation that was made in the name of a long time supporter who recently passed away. The family of Barbara Horricks donated nearly $143,000 to JMMF; Porlier said when the shelter is constructed, the outdoor garden space will be named in her memory.
Rosychuk said it is surreal to see JMMF in a position to finally bring a safe house to the area; something she believes would have saved her daughter’s life if such a facility existed back when Jessica needed help. “It’s been very emotional,” she said, “…but, I’m beyond the moon happy.”
Originally, JMMF had hoped for at least a 2,000 square foot home; now they’re looking at one that could be as large as 9,000 square feet.
“They say a victim has to speak out at least 12 times before anyone will listen to them,” explained Rosychuk, “I hope that with this shelter, those people will feel like there’s finally someone out there to listen.”
Morinville Mayor, Barry Turner, said he finds the Break Free Gala inspiring because it’s a room filled with hope. “The feeling that something great will come out of such a tragic event as the death of Jessica Martel was noticeable and that this loss would not be in vain. It was truly an uplifting event.”
Turner continued, describing the efforts of JMMF as critical. The group, he said, changes Morinville’s story from a community that felt terrible grief because of a horrible act, but turned around and did something about it.
“Domestic violence is unfortunate and tragic and happens far too often. [It’s] a tragedy that not only occurs in your Town, but maybe even on your street, or maybe even next door…The work that JMMF is doing, from outreach to advocacy, to establishing a safe house, not only brings awareness to the issues around domestic violence but also supports in serving victims of domestic violence.”
Morinville has been a consistent supporter of JMMF; the Town donated serviced land to the group for their shelter in 2016, has provided expertise and guidance through their administration, and has granted sponsorship dollars as well.
JMMF has indicated it will be a few weeks before final numbers are worked out regarding exactly how much money was raised from the 2017 Break Free Gala; however, between the silent and live auction, ticket sales, and private donations, the amount is estimated to be a significant win for JMMF. All the funds raised will go towards construction of the safe house.
“My family wants to thank everyone; this will be such a beautiful legacy for my daughter,” affirmed Jessica’s mother, Rosychuk. “[She] would be right here smiling, I’m sure…I just know Jessica is walking beside us.”