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Relief funds keep B.C. Friendship Centre open after wildfire

April Thomas, Jamie Thomas, Charles Joseph and Frankie deliver the centre’s new Stemete7uw’i sign. Charles, a master Kwakuilt carver, designed and carved the sign which features a male and female bear at each end.

March 26, 2018

By Mike Ziemerink

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Last July, a lightning storm sparked wildfires in British Columbia that led to the evacuation of approximately 14,000 people. That included all 2,000 residents of 100 Mile House, where the Stemete7uw’I Friendship Centre at St. Timothy’s Anglican Church offers holistic support to all people in a welcoming, safe and inclusive environment. This First Nations centre is vital to the well-being of the surrounding community and has made a notable difference since opening its doors in 2015.

PWRDF provided relief funding to the centre through Diocese of The Territory of the People. Were it not for the generosity of PWRDF donors, the centre would have had to close its doors.

After the wildfires the monthly dinners hosted by the centre doubled in size, largely due to the mental, social and emotional trauma that the fires caused. These dinners are a great stepping stone to get those in need to come into the centre during regular weekday hours, where the centre is able to facilitate referrals to other agencies to get the appropriate support for those affected. The dinners also help create a sense of hope and support within the community, helping to heal after the tragedy.

Irene and Gerry Charley (middle) display their master crafts following their traditional storytelling performance at Stemete7uw’i. Their presentation included teaching the audience how to play a traditional stick game known as lahal. They are joined by Mary Thomas, (Secwepemc Cultural Revitalization Project Manager) Oceana Thomas (left) and Rev. Rob Diether, (Friendship Centre host and coordinator) and Joey Seiler (right)

Before the fires, the centre offered First Nations cultural programs such as elder luncheons, drum making, baking and music workshops. Since the fires, the attendance of these programs has been rising. Members of the board of directors, as well as the centre’s program coordinator, believe this is due to an increased need for community support. These programs are a great way to keep youth in the area engaged during tough times. Since the fires the centre has also received independent funding to produce a short documentary.

In a letter to PWRDF, The Rev. Dr. Keith Dobyns, a member of the board of directors and Rob Deither, the program Coordinator said, “We are proud of the growth of the Centre and how we have been able to respond to community needs in the wake of last summer’s wildfires. It was the emergency funding that we received from PWRDF that allowed us to continue to grow our program.”

The Centre also runs a free store that PWRDF’s emergency donation helped to keep operating at a crucial time for the community. The store was a major hub during and after the fires, allowing those in need to get necessary supplies. It also became a source of social interaction for visitors to the centre, allowing community members to shop together and socialize. The store became so popular it now has a constant donor base, many of whom have very little themselves, but are pleased to give and help redistribute wealth among the community.

During the week the Centre is open for community members to drop in, socialize, grab some coffee or even a small lunch. The Centre prides itself as being a safe place free from any mental health stigma and is open to everyone. Community groups have also begun to use the centre for programs like a substance abuse recovery program, a sustainability society and a poverty reduction coalition, all helping to improve the community.