By Stephen Dafoe
Sturgeon County – Like its namesake plant, the Sunflower Community Resource Program towers over the community offering its assistance in a variety of ways. The program covers Sturgeon County and the municipalities within it. It is operated out of an office in downtown Gibbons that is open Monday to Friday from 10 a.m. until 2 p.m. to assist those in need as well as the Family and Community Support Services departments of the municipalities.
Sunflower Program Coordinator Ruthann Weeks said the organization provides an information and referral service for rural and municipal residents. “It’s a pretty big county and there’s lots going on,” she said. “We are funded by Child and Family Services as a one-stop shop for information on programs and services that are found within the county.”
Weeks said the referrals often come from agencies in the municipal offices as well as local libraries. “If someone calls FCSS in a municipality and they either don’t have time to find the resource, or are not sure what the resource is, they will often call us. It helps alleviate some of their workload.”
In addition to the agency calls, Sunflower also receives calls from clients directly, something they welcome as part of their role to offer help to those who need it. But the organization is also trying to get their existence and message out to those who can benefit from the services. “We are trying to utilize social media as much as possible, and really get people to turn to our website if they’re looking for something to do that weekend or if they need to reach us outside of our business hours,” Weeks said.
Family violence one of several resources
Weeks said family violence is a concern in Sturgeon County and its municipalities. “Family violence is huge,” she said. “I know at the inter-agency table I’m hearing it from the police services. We’re hearing it from child and family services. We’re hearing it from the government agencies that family violence is taking up a big portion of their workload right now. Ironically enough, we’ve recently had a provincial funding cut on the Sturgeon Family Violence Intervention Program. So there is a real disconnect between the need and what’s out there for sustainable funding.”
School supplies and food
The program coordinator said the agency is also currently dealing with residents who have been hit hard by the pressing demands on back-to-school budgets. “There’s a lot of need for clothing,” she said, adding the food bank numbers usually go up at this time of year.”
To assist in some of these needs, the Community Closet is slated to be open the third week of September offering a free opportunity for people looking for clothing.
The Sunflower program’s office has recently been renovated, allowing two other key programs to be run from the same building. Sturgeon Family Literacy and Sturgeon Adult Literacy moved to the Gibbons office over the summer.
Adult Literacy Coordinator Chris Giles said the program, which is offered free to participants, is currently looking for adult literacy tutors. “We’re looking for tutors to work with adults needing help to work with their basic reading and writing skills or English as a second language skills,” Giles said.
The program is funded through a grant from Alberta Enterprise and Advance Education. Giles is employed by the program 19 hours a week and works to promote the program to both those who need the services as well as those who can help people learn to become better readers. “I think the most important part of the job is to find those who need the help,” she said. “They don’t always come out of the woodwork. You kind of have to go to a lot of things and ask. The libraries have been really good in finding them for me. I’ve found three through the libraries over the summer.”
Tutors are required to make a 90-minute to 2-hour time commitment each week for a six month period. During that time they work with an adult learner in a public setting, often a local library or coffee shop. Giles said the public place is to ensure safety and protection for all involved. Those offering to tutor the learners are put through a criminal record check. Once the check is completed, Giles then trains and asses the tutor, matching them with a client.
Help also available for younger readers
Sturgeon Family Literacy, the third program operating out of the Gibbons office, offers two programs: The Building Blocks Program and Rhythm and Rhymes Program.
Family Literacy Coordinator Cathy Proulx said one program is an in-home program, the other operating outside the participants’ homes.
“The Building Blocks Program is an in-home program where a literacy builder comes to your home and works with you and your child one hour a week for 15 weeks,” Proulx said, adding the government-funded program requires participants have some barrier to conventional learning. “It could be a transportation issue where there is one vehicle in the family. It could be so much as you feel your child is a little bit behind and you want them to be better prepared for school,” she said.
Rhythm and Rhymes qualifications are the same , but it is a group program taking place at a specific facility, often partnering with local libraries. “The facilitator works with children zero to six using songs and rhymes in an ABC format,” Proulx explained.
There is no cost for either program for those who qualify.
Proulx, who has been involved with the programs for the past two years, said she had funding for 10 participants last year and an enrollment of nine. “The need is there,” she said. “Every year we have about 10.”
For information on Sturgeon Family Literacy, contact Cathy Proulx at 780-578-3330. Those looking for information on Sturgeon Adult Literacy can contact Chris Giles at 780-578-3331. Those wishing to contact the Sunflower program can do so at 780- 923-2374 or toll-free at 780-413-9153 then 923-2374.
The Sunflower Community Resource Program office is located at 5015 50 Street in Gibbons. Their website can be found at www.sunflowerinfoline.ab.ca. The three programs will be holding an open house Oct. 1 from noon to 3 p.m.