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Wednesday , 25 November 2020
Noreen Cotton (left) with co-worker Larissa Parsons at the World Conference of Women's Shelters in Taiwan in 2019. Cotton is retiring from her position as Executive Director of the Capella Centre in St. Paul. (photo supplied)

Capella Centre’s Noreen Cotton retires

St. Paul’s Capella Centre is looking for a new executive director and according to board president Kellie Nichiporik, they hope to have someone hired to “hit the ground running” in the new year.

The search for a new head of the organization is necessary because of the retirement of the current executive director, Noreen Cotton, who has been at the helm for the past 11 years.

Cotton’s last day at work will be Dec. 4.

The Capella Centre has been serving women and children fleeing domestic violence since 1984 and underwent a rebranding in 2018 following the total renovation and expansion of the emergency shelter.

Looking back on her time as executive director, Cotton said the thing she is most proud of is the expansion of programs offered.

“One of the advantages of working the front line for two years first, is I was able to recognize a lot of the gaps of services in the community,” said Cotton.

She spoke about how many of the women they support end up returning to relationships where violence continues because they have hope for the relationship, but there was nothing in place to change the behaviour of the offenders.

To change that, the Capella Centre worked with community partners to offer a treatment program, which allowed offenders to embark on a healing journey while being provided with tools and support for change.

Another gap Cotton says the Centre has now addressed is the disempowerment felt by many of their clients as they navigate the justice system.

“From the time charges are laid, till the end of trial, sometimes it’s three years. And there’s so much trauma involved before you even get to that point.

Definitely, there’s a need for support to help women navigate to the system and reduce the chances of recanting or asking for the charges to be dropped,” said Cotton.

To address the need, the centre created a family violence liaison, who works with the local RCMP detachment and courts to specifically support victims of domestic violence.

In partnership with St. Paul Education, the Capella Centre added a school program to reduce barriers for women from other areas who have to bring their kids.

“The kids are pulled out of school and they can’t enroll them in school in St. Paul because it’s a temporary situation. Now we have a teacher that comes in and they go to school right here in the shelter.”

“One of the programs that I’m really proud of is our relationship with Elder Rick Makokis. So we actually hired an elder to be on our payroll to deliver a support program. And this is unique in the province as well,” said Cotton.

Makokis works with families and brings the cultural and ceremonial components needed at the shelter since up to 80 per cent of their clients are indigenous.

“He is literally saving lives. The work he does is amazing.”

Nichiporik said Cotton’s retirement is well deserved.

“[Noreen] has served the board for as long as I’ve been on the board, and quite a bit longer. We do appreciate everything she’s done. She’s helped us with the expansions when we added 8000 square feet plus second stage housing.

“We’ve undergone a lot of transition, including more programs, just expanding the staff and the services that we do provide. So she’s done an amazing job with that,” said Nichiporik.

November is Family Violence Prevention Month and despite the challenges posed by COVID-19, the Capella Centre is still recognizing that with their annual Walk of Hope and Walk a Mile In Her Shoes events.

The Walk of Hope will take place Nov. 6 at 1:00pm. Participants will walk from the Capella Centre to Main St. and then back to the Town Hall.

Walk a Mile in Her Shoes is taking place throughout the month of November. Participants can call to get red high heels from the Capella Centre and are asked to share a picture or video of themselves walking alone, or with their team using the hashtag #walkwithcapella.

Cotton’s years of service will be acknowledged and honoured at the Capella Centre’s annual general meeting, taking place at the Canalta Hotel at 6 p.m. on Nov. 17.

About Meredith Kerr

Meredith Kerr moved to St. Paul for a career in journalism and morning radio in 2014 expecting to stay for six months to a year. Since then, she has put down roots in the form of a husband, a mortgage, two babies, and a poorly behaved dog. She continues to work as a reporter until such time as she finishes her book and becomes fabulously wealthy from the royalties. Meredith also serves as a member at large on the St. Paul Library Board and volunteers as a Beaver leader for the 1st St. Paul Scout Group.