Nicole Bichard

Building bridges for West Shore women

Longstanding support group looking to attract more area clients

Making the trek to downtown Victoria to take part in programs is not uncommon for clients of Bridges for Women.

Taking the bus in from the West Shore or even Sooke was, until May, the only option for women looking to use this valuable service, which helps women who have suffered abuse or trauma overcome barriers to self-esteem, education and job placement.

Bridges, established 26 years ago, opened an office in Langford about two months ago next to the West Shore Chamber of Commerce. Staff hope to spread word of their existence to potential clients in the area, especially those for whom going into town was yet another barrier to receiving help.

“It’s great to be able to be closer and more accessible,” says Nicole Bichard, counsellor and program facilitator at the West Shore office.

Among its offerings, Bridges hosts group and one-on-one counselling sessions including specific work with those who have suffered trauma or abuse, pre-employment preparation and career assessments. While many programs are offered on a regular basis, Bridges also has a continuous intake that allows women to come in and see if a particular program is a good fit for them.

“This is about being able to help empower women,” Bichard says. “And recognizing that survivors of abuse and trauma are tremendously resilient, we help them recognize those skills and abilities are within themselves and help them build the future they want.”

Bridges is partnering with Worklink, the province’s employment services centre, in working with clients on career related programs.

Jenny Holder, director of programs for Bridges, says the downtown office would help roughly 20 clients a year from the West Shore and Sooke areas. About half that many have already connected with the new office, she says.

As well, Bridges hopes to work closely with other service providers in the area to give clients their best chance at a bright future. “We want to contribute to the network that already exists here,” Bichard says.

As a specialized employment service provider, Bridges offers what is referred to as a “trauma informed employment readiness program.”

The experiences of trauma, abuse, neglect and violence have an effect on all areas of a woman’s life, Bichard explains, and there can be various ways that experience shows up.

“One important area is employment,” she says. “We can help women understand the psychological and physiological effects of that in the workplace. There may be something that happens at work that makes her feel particularly anxious; that triggers experiences of abuse or trauma. We help her look at that and develop healthy coping strategies to be able to find work or stay in a job.”

One program being offered touches on practical topics, such as determining ‘what is the ideal workplace?’ This week’s class will focus on getting grounded, while a previous one saw participants do the Myers-Briggs test, to understand where their personality and character fit into the workplace.

While the new office has available virtually all of the services available to women as the downtown office, Bridges is still assessing what will be the most useful and most effective programs to offer on the West Shore.

A bank of donated computers was recently set up to be used in the classes and as a resource for women looking to update their resume, search for job listings, or find related information.

“It’s nice for them to come in and get some grounding and some information,” says Dianne de Champlain, office co-ordinator and facilitator.

The response has been good so far, she says, with two or three new people per week inquiring about the programs. But there’s always room for more.

Arrangements can be made for child care and transportation for those who need it. For more information, call the new Bridges office at 778-432-3790, stop by 2830 Aldwynd Rd. in Langford, or visit bridgesforwomen.ca.

editor@goldstreamgazette.com

Did you know?

• Bridges for Women in Langford has been open since May and has benefited from donations from the community to outfit its office. However, the office is still in need of a few items of furniture for its counselling room.

If you have a spare easy chair, throw rug, plants or lamps you would like to donate, contact Dianne de Champlain at 778-432-3790.

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