The Bonnyville Friendship Centre celebrated 40 years of serving the community on Saturday, November 14th at the Centennial Centre. The event doubled as a fundraiser to help expand the centre’s services by moving the community kitchen to the upper level of the centre, rather than in the basement.
The community kitchen is one of many services provided to the community by the Friendship Centre. The Bonnyville location is one of 20 facilities in Alberta, which according the Alberta Friendship Centre website is “dedicated to providing culturally based programs and services that respond to the distinct needs of urban Aboriginal people in their communities and bridging the gaps that occur between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people in urban areas.”
Wally Sinclair, Elder Advisor of the Alberta Friendship Centre, says the Friendship Centre’s are an instrumental part of the community, stating that it is often the first place people go when new to a community. Sinclair was born west of Slave Lake, AB and grew up with a heavy involvement in the Friendship Centre. “I was transferred to Cold Lake in the army and the first place I went was the Friendship Centre,” Sinclair spoke to the crowd at the gala, “back then it was Grande Centre,” laughed Sinclair.
“The 20 centres in Alberta run a variety of programs,” Sinclair explained the range of social programming available through the Friendship, which includes in many communities like Bonnyville, the food bank. There are health & wellness programs, arts & culture, programming for elders and for youth. The Friendship Centre runs on donations from the communities, as well as some government funding. The government funding for the Bonnyville centre, due to population size, is less than that of large metropolises. Sinclair explains, “we get $28,000 per centre.”
Bonnyville’s Mayor Gene Sobolewski spoke to the crowd to stress the importance the centre has on the community. Sobolewski says typically at this time of year he is involved in the food bank and sees first hand its need in the town. “I know the hard work that goes in, the volunteers and the spirit,” Sobolewski says he is impressed with the dedication the Friendship Centre’s staff has in serving the community.
Think of the recent events that are happening in the world, what would happen if the community spirit of the Friendship Centre spread throughout the world -Gene Sobolewski Mayor of Bonnyville
A few important presentations were made during the evening; including the Town of Bonnyville presenting the Friendship Centre with a plaque of gratitude displaying the Town’s appreciation for the centre and all its amazing programming.
This is a treasure that we have in Bonnyville – Gene Sobolewski Mayor of Bonnyville
Another presentation was done by the Friendship Centre to B&R Eckel’s Transport. Assistant Executive Director, Pauline Mawer said the transportation company has always supported the centre. B&R has provided trucks to help haul food bank donations or a flat-bed trailer to use as a stage at a community event; and on multiple occasions providing cash assistance to the centre and its programming. Victor Ringuette, owner of B&R Eckel’s, was in attendance to receive a picture the Friendship Centre had framed and engraved as a token of appreciation.
The Friendship Centre presented Canadian Natural with picture as a sign of their appreciation to everything the oilfield company has done to assist the centre through funding. Canadian Natural funded the community kitchen from April through September of this year. Which meant the Friendship Centre was able to save on the cost, opening up the ability to provide more services to the community. ATB Financial was another major sponsor of the Friendship Centre that was honoured with an appreciation picture at the event.
The final presentation of the evening was directed to an employee of the centre, Pauline Mawer. Mawer has been with the centre for five years and in that time has been promoted multiple times; starting as the administrative assistant to now the Assistant Executive Director. One of the responsibilities Mawer undertakes is the food bank; which can include long hours and have an emotional toll. Mawer is described as a hardworker who is dedicated to the community and the Friendship Centre.
The final tallies on the amount raised from the evening are still coming in, LCN will keep you updated as to whether or not the centre was able to raise enough to begin the renovation process of moving the community kitchen to the upper-level of the centre. The centre would like to move forward with this project as soon as possible as having the kitchen in the basement has proven to be unsafe for certain community members. The stairs to the basement are very steep and can be tricky for elders or persons with disabilities to navigate.
The Friendship Centre reports that they are always taking donations for the food bank. The community support of the food bank has been outstanding in the last few months, however, the winter months usually see a spark in use of the food bank. Usage of the food bank has been higher than average in so far in 2015.