Martel foundation looking to turn tragedy into hope

Martel’s aunt, Diane Cantrell, a member of the foundation’s board, said the idea to do something in Jessica’s memory began with family members shortly after her death, but has expanded along the way to include others. “We didn’t want to focus on the actual event itself,” Cantrell said. “About six months ago my cousin and a couple of her friends decided that they really wanted to join us in our endeavours.” The group subsequently formed a board, established its mission statements, obtained charitable status, and actively began fundraising towards the group’s ultimate goal to build a shelter for the area.

Cantrell said the group would like to build somewhere in Sturgeon County, something she feels is important given the situation in Edmonton. “We knew that there was a need in the area,” she said. “There are shelters in Edmonton that women are being turned away from because there just aren’t enough of them.” Citing Alberta Council of Women’s Shelters statistics for 2006, the latest available, Cantrell said 25,000 women and children were turned away from Alberta’s 41 shelters. Locally, Cantrell said Morinville RCMP statistics show police responded to 219 domestic calls in the detachment area in 2011, numbers she feels show the need for what her group is trying to accomplish in the area.

“I think in any community when you start to bring this particular subject to light, and start talking about it, people come out of the woodwork and say, ‘Oh, yeah, I know somebody,’ or ‘I am a victim of [abuse],'” Cantrell said, adding a survey the group conducted at the spring trade show indicated strong public support for the idea of a shelter. “I think even in a small community like ours, you will find people who have been touched by this particular thing.”

Difficult to leave

With women and children being turned away from the province’s shelters due to lack of space, Cantrell knows four walls of safety are needed in this and other communities. But she also knows that while walls need to be erected, others must be torn down.

“I think all of us on the board have such a strong desire to reach out and try to bring public awareness to this,” Cantrell said, noting many people do not understand why abused women stay in abusive relationships. “We can always point fingers and say, ‘Well, why do you stay in a situation like that?’ But until you’ve lived it or know somebody in that situation, it’s really hard to make those kind of judgements because it’s not always easy to leave – especially when you have children.”

It is a situation Cantrell knows all too well. “My niece had tried on a couple of occasions to leave and had approached people who were supposed to be there to help her – [people] that weren’t available to help her,” she said. “Some of the response to that was because she had a family, and they expected her family to foot the bill and help her out. She never wanted to be a burden on her family so she just continued and told us very little. That’s the thing, people don’t usually like to share they are going through that.”

Cantrell believes the more the topic is discussed and looked at in public, the better communities will be able to handle spousal abuse, something she refers to as a societal disease.

Much to be done

But hearing, seeing, feeling and talking about the need for a women’s shelter does not in itself make one materialize. The foundation knows it will take money and labour to make their goal a reality. The group has been encouraged by the story of Sparrow’s Hope, a women’s shelter in Westlock that is fully independent of government assistance. “We decided we were not going to wait for any form of government assistance ourself, and that we would try to use his model,” Cantrell said of the founder of the Westlock shelter. “We are at that point right now.”

The foundation realizes the road between being able to fundraise and being able to open the doors to a shelter that will protect women from abusive situations could be a long one. Cantrell estimates it will cost approximately $1 million to get a place built and operational. The group has set a goal to be operational within 18 months. “It is a lot of money,” Cantrell said of the prospects of reaching that figure within a year and a half, noting the group has raised roughly $10,000 thus far. “We’re aiming high. I don’t think it took that kind of money to get the Sparrow’s Hope open, but it [the amount] is in view of this one place we have in mind. Certainly if somebody came out of the woodwork that decided they have a home for us that they would lease to us for a reasonable rate – if somebody like that comes out of the woodwork, that would be amazing. We would be able to get started sooner than we’ve anticipated.”

But the memorial foundation is not sitting back waiting for a property owner in a cape and tights to swoop in to rescue the day; they have several fundraising initiatives under way to help build towards their financial targets.

The first is a bikini car wash at Rednex on the afternoon of July 28. The local roadhouse pub is a corporate sponsor of the foundation. Additionally, a fundraising golf tournament is being organized by the Duke of Argyll Pub for Aug. 18 at the Legends Golf & Country Club in Sherwood Park.

Anyone interested in learning more about the two events or about helping the foundation with their initiative can contact the group through their website at

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