By RYAN KING
PORT AUX BASQUES – Part of the holiday spirit is giving back. Many community groups work to help those in need, particularly around Christmas, including the Gateway Women’s Centre.
Megan Bateman has been the Executive Director of the Centre since late August, and brings an impressive educational background as well as experience in helping those who are marginalized by society.
Originally from Port aux Basques, Bateman attended the University of New Brunswick, where she achieved a Bachelor of Arts in Psychology with Honours. She then completed a Bachelor of Social Work at the University of Victoria, and is currently finishing a Masters of Arts from Memorial University.
“In my work history and volunteer history, I’ve worked in a lot of different areas, with a lot of different marginalized groups, but most specifically I’ve worked a lot with women and girls, 2SLGBTQ+ folks, and more recently, in Yellowknife, I also had the privilege of working with Indigenous homelessness and addiction, including working with residential school survivors, and a lot of really fantastic stuff like that in terms of, you know, very rewarding work,” shared Bateman.
At the Gateway Centre, Bateman’s role includes providing direct service provisions for clients, such as peer support, helping with referrals, helping fill out applications, and résumé building. She also helps with programs to empower women.
“We cover a lot of different ground here, but I specifically cover like, a supervisory role of the center, and other than direct client service provision, I’m also behind the scenes helping or running like the planning of fundraisers, events, like our Take Back the Night. Right now, we’re in the full swing of Christmas, doing the Christmas Families and our Sister Santa program,” said Bateman. “I do quite a bit here, right from the top to the bottom.”
Before taking the position at Gateway, Bateman worked at the YWCA in Yellowknife, which works with women and their families to move from crisis to stability. There she worked with girls aged 8 to 17, running a program called Girl Space.
“Which is an anti-violence education program where we covered topics, everything from decolonization and environmental justice to sexual health, human rights, decision making, healthy decision making, a positive body image – all that kind of good stuff,” said Bateman.
Helping those marginalized by society has been an interest for Bateman since she was young.
“Growing up in a rural Newfoundland community like this one, I’ve always been interested in income inequality specifically, and how class and lower socioeconomic status impacts individuals and families. And also, as a young woman myself, I’ve always felt a lot of empathy and a lot of passion towards women, and especially those experiencing violence. That’s been something that’s always been very, very important to me, so being able to help other women get on their feet, and you know, feel empowered, and also helping kind of fill the gaps of some of those systemic barriers, is very important to me.”
With the holiday season approaching, the Centre offers two primary programs – the Adopt-a-Family Christmas program and the Sister Santa program.
The Adopt-a-Family Christmas program is offered to families on the Southwest coast from South Branch to Rose Blanche. Families can contact the Centre to be matched with a sponsor, often a local business, but individuals and families have come forward to help out those in need.
“We can have families of all sizes. So basically we try to make sure that the sponsor can, like financially afford, accommodate the family, and the family doesn’t know who the sponsor is and the sponsor doesn’t know who the family is. It’s all done completely confidential, completely anonymous. And we provide the family with a wish list, they fill it out, we bring that back to the sponsor, the sponsor fulfills the shopping, they bring it to us, and then we match it up with the family,” explained Bateman.
The Sister Santa program offers help to individuals who might be isolated around the holiday.
“We provide them with a care package of, like toothpaste, toothbrush, like personal care supplies, as well as a little gift. It could be anything from like a puzzle book or a colouring book, to like a manicure kit, or whatever the case may be. So we provide those bags as well. It’s called Sister Santa, but we do give them to both men and women.”
The Centre also collects each year during the Port aux Basques Christmas Parade for its food and toy drive.
Bateman said that the holidays can be particularly hard on women, who face both traditional obligations during the holidays, as well as challenging economic factors.
“I think the most obvious of those being there has been a steep incline in the cost of living here right now. So around the holidays not only are women, especially single mothers, faced with having to buy presents for their children and having to provide those typical holiday meals that are so important to us culturally – like having your Christmas turkey dinner, and that type of thing. Maybe we make homemade cookies,” explained Bateman. “The cost of living is so high and women take on a lot of that emotional labour, so the burden is very much on women to make Christmas really special. I think we can all agree on that. So, especially for single women, single parents, providing the level of expected holiday festivities for their family is definitely very stressful.”
Regardless of gender, those who are without family support can find the holidays rough. Substance abuse problems can also play a role.
“I would also say for people who are more lonely, or more isolated, certainly it’s a very lonely time. Of course, for people of any gender, but especially, for example, women who are experiencing domestic violence. Another thing, the holidays often bring up a lot of activities where alcohol is involved, and alcohol is a risk factor for escalating violence, so there’s a lot of different moving pieces there,” said Bateman.
To inquire about a program or to donate, call 709-695-7505 or send a message via the Centre’s Facebook page. Gateway also accepts monetary donations year round.