Town of Morinville donates land for women’s shelter

by Jennifer Lavallee
Morinville News Correspondent

The Town of Morinville is giving a piece of land to the Jessica Martel Memorial Foundation (JMMF) so that, eventually, that organization can build a women’s shelter there.

The property, whose location will be kept secret to protect victims, will also be serviced by the Town.

This announcement was made during JMMF’s 2nd Annual Break Free Gala on October 22 at the Morinville Community Cultural Centre. Kris Porlier and Andrea Duncan, the event’s MCs, made the announcement; initially, they said, JMMF was faced with purchasing a property, which would be a significant cost for the group.

“We just found out on October 18, after a meeting with Morinville’s Council, that the Town was gifting us a lot…when we found out, there wasn’t a dry eye in the room,” said Porlier to a crowd of about 250 people.

Porlier explained the next steps for the JMMF Board would be to re-draft their original construction plans and to strike a formal fundraising committee. Every dollar earned from the Break Free Gala this year will go towards the shelter, noted Porlier.

Morinville’s Mayor, Lisa Holmes, also addressed the crowd and said the Town knew the donation of land was the right thing to do.

Describing herself as “speechless,” Lynne Rosychuk, JMMF’s President, and Jessica Martel’s Mother, said the Town’s offer came as a complete surprise. Not having to purchase land will save the non-profit organization a lot of money.

“I feel really blessed right now,” said Rosychuk in an interview, “…I am truly appreciative of everyone who supports [JMMF].”

She added, “Jessica would certainly be smiling right now. She’d be so touched by the amount of people who still care about what happened to her.”

JMMF’s Break Free Gala a success

The Morinville Community Cultural Centre was abuzz with people—and dueling pianos—on the night of JMMF’s Break Free Gala, on October 22.

Local politicians, Board Members and volunteers, business owners, community leaders, and JMMF supporters filled the venue, listening to the organization’s updates and, also, to some staggering statistics.

Lynne Rosychuk, President of JMMF, welcomed attendees to the event and shared the story of her daughter, Jessica Martel, who was murdered in 2009 by her common-law husband in front of their three children.

Rosychuk described the difficulty Jessica faced when she attempted to leave a situation of family violence for a shelter in the City of Edmonton.

“I never thought how hard it would be to get out,” said Rosychuck, who explained the road blocks Jessica faced and the months-long waiting lists associated with trying to get into a shelter.

Jessica’s death, she said, had a profound impact on her daughter’s family and friends and the community as a whole.

Kris Porlier, JMMF’s Director of Fund Development and one of the evening’s co-hosts, shared some “alarming facts” with the crowd on domestic violence in Alberta. In the Province’s over 350 municipalities, only 32 of those communities have established shelters for women.

“JMMF’s safe house will fill a void in our region,” he said.

Porlier also said statistics show one in six women will be in an abusive relationship at some point in their lives and that it takes an average of ten attempts to leave before a woman can successfully break free from domestic violence.

The Gala event, which was a fundraiser for JMMF’s forthcoming women’s shelter, was organized by a dedicated group of about 25 volunteers, including many from Rosychuck’s family.

Barrhead-Morinville-Westlock MLA, Glenn Van Dijken, was in attendance at the event, saying JMMF was his family’s “Charity of Choice.”

“We really need to highlight the work of this Board, they have done so much,” he said in an interview. Van Dijken remarked once JMMF constructs the safe house, it will take the efforts of the entire community to keep the organization going with its mission. “Sometimes building the building is the easy part. It’s the work afterward that takes the hardest work.”

Van Dijken, who has been involved with setting up a safe house in the past—he and his family donated a building on one of their properties in Barrhead County as a women’s shelter, up until 2014—noted second-stage support for victims is critical. This post-shelter support, he said, could be where groups like the Sturgeon Foundation come in, for example, providing elements like affordable housing.

Morinville’s Mayor, Lisa Holmes, said Jessica’s story makes the shelter personal for the people of Morinville. In an interview, she commended the Town’s staff, particularly Gregg Hoffmann and Vicky Dodge from the Planning and Development Department, and said they worked tirelessly to identify a way to help JMMF through the land donation for the shelter.

The land could be serviced as early as this Spring, she estimated, and then at that point the Title would be transferred into JMMFs name (the Town of Morinville currently owns the lot). Cost-wise, servicing the land will be about $40,000.

“This shelter will be so important for the entire region,” said Holmes, “people have been so quick to give their support, but that’s not surprising because Morinville always steps up.”

Holmes and the rest of Morinville’s council set up an impromptu fund collection for the shelter during the Gala, which managed to raise nearly $4,000 in just a few hours.

Holmes noted she is meeting with the Minister of Status of Women, Stephanie McLean, in the coming week and will be making a point to discuss JMMF’s future women’s shelter. Violence against women is one of the portfolios in which the Status of Women Ministry has responsibility.

Holmes remarked that Morinville is committed to JMMF and their goals; “our job as Council doesn’t end with the land,” she said.

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