A women and children’s healing centre is once again offering residents the chance to experience the joy of the great outdoors by spending time at Camp Alexandra in South Surrey.
Talitha Koum Society is a non-profit organization based in Coquitlam that helps women overcome addiction through a 12-step program during their stay in the society’s housing units, by “loving them back to living.”
If the women are mothers, they have the opportunity to bring their children with them to the centre.
“I want people to understand the strength and the courage it takes for a woman to walk through the doors to come here,” Mary O’Neill, board president of Talitha Koum Society told Peace Arch News.
“It’s a difficult journey that they’re on… They have to do all the heavy lifting and the work and we’re here to support and assist as they go through that.”
According to the society’s website, the facility is open to women 19 or over, who have completed a detox program and are drug- and alcohol-free.
Those who are accepted into the program undergo different forms of therapies and workshops. These range from trauma therapy to inner-child healing, boundary setting, conflict resolution and more. At the halfway point of the 12-step process, the women move from the program house to the second-stage house, each one holding nine people, including children.
A large component of the program is camping, but that has taken a backseat for five years now, with clients itching to get back to the outdoors. Being with nature is ideal for the group to “get back to the land,” said O’Neill.
That opportunity will come in mid-September when they attend Camp Alexandra.
In the meantime, they are seeking donations of camping gear or money to help purchase the equipment that will allow them to get back to camping consistently as soon as possible.
“We support women from many different backgrounds, from (prison), homelessness, problems with addiction. Our Indigenous population is about 65 per cent of the women that live with us,” said Kimmie Jensen, program director of Talitha Koum Society.
“The youngest client we’ve had is 16 and the eldest we’ve had, since I’ve been here, is 72.”
To best support their significant Indigenous population, the society participates in cultural events often and invites Elders to the organization twice a month to speak to the group.
“It has been Talitha Koum’s experience that a high percentage of the women and children who come into our homes have a lot of ‘firsts’ with us such as celebrations of holidays, birthdays, accomplishments and unconditional love,” Jensen said.
“A lot of the time, this is the first healthy and real holiday the women have ever had.”
Many of the women who go through the program stay or return to Talitha Koum to work and help other women who need support. Nobody else understands the experience better, O’Neill said.
Jensen was once a client of Talitha Koum, first stepping through the facility’s doors in 2007, after coming from “the streets and prison.”
Where she was once apprehensive about camping, she now advocates for it. The experience allowed Jensen to learn more about herself, improve her mental, emotional and physical health and gain techniques to handle different circumstances.
As the centre struggles to accommodate all the women who need their support, a fundraising effort is underway to add a third housing unit, in this case, apartment buildings, O’Neill said.
Oftentimes, Jensen said, the centre has to turn away women because they don’t have space for them.
“They can stay up to two years in our homes… if our women tend to stay longer, we don’t have room to bring in more women… sometimes you can be waiting quite a while, sometimes we can get women in pretty quickly. It’s really not a cut-and-dried situation,” O’Neill said.
Talitha Koum’s staff work to set up the women in permanent housing after completing the 12-step program as a part of their transition, which is posing an increasingly difficult challenge, especially as the cost of living continues to rise, O’Neill said.
“They were saying ‘we want to move out, but there’s no place to go’,” she said.
“We are finding partnerships for the women to go to, but it’s a struggle and we have to look for places that are recovery-focused and drug-free so that’s always a tough one.”
Talitha Koum Society is open to all sorts of donations in addition to money, including clothing, toiletries, stationary and more. To learn more, call the centre at 604-492-3393.