“To know where you’re going, you need to know where you came from”
Our story began with one determined woman, Sacred Heart Sister Thelma Marion.
Approached by two concerned women living in her Caldwell Avenue neighbourhood, Sr. Thelma discovered that children in Caldwell-area schools were suffering from malnutrition that was affecting their school work. Intending to find out more about the situation, Sr. Thelma put together a small discussion group of five women who soon unearthed information about needs in the community that went well beyond nutrition.
Little by little Sr. Thelma’s residence was transformed into a community relief centre. With the assistance of the Roman Catholic parishes of St. Bonaventure and St. Elizabeth, the local community managed for a short time to meet the needs of residents for food and clothing. Sr. Thelma also began morning cooking classes in a near-by community centre, using recipes that were both economical and nutritious and every participant left with a dish for the evening meal. The classes continued for four years.
In 1985 the City needed the space in the community centre and the classes came to an end. Also, the requests for food and clothing were escalating and it had become apparent that a more substantial and permanent base was necessary. Sr. Thelma began a dialogue with City of Ottawa community housing representatives to secure a garden home to house the services needed in the neighbourhood. After many meetings she finally obtained Unit 20 at 1100 Medford Street, and Caldwell Family Centre (CFC) officially opened in June 1986.
Out of the necessity the Caldwell Family Centre expanded quickly. An emergency food bank was organized and arrangements were made with the Ottawa Food Bank to stock the CFC food bank. Churches of all denominations were also asked if they would adopt the Centre and financially support the purchase of other essential products. A day program was established to support area residents who needed support because of illness or inability to find employment.
And soon after a program was established to help adult new Canadians learn English and adapt to their new environment. In 1998 an extension – now the computer room – was added to provide a smoking area for the day program clients.
Since the founding stages in the mid-1980s there have been many more expansions in programs and services, some rooted in the CFC’s early history and other new ventures responding to changing community needs. ESL and LINC classes, along with a child-minding program for LINC students, an ESL Sewing Class, after school program, summer camp and annual Scholarship program, are a part of CFC’s core programming. The Emergency Food Bank serves a high volume of clients four days a week; the Day Program continues to be a major support for area residents; an After-Four Homework Club runs during the weekdays of the school year; and a Community Kitchen provides an opportunity for people to socialize while sharing and cooking low-cost recipes. A new CFC Seniors Centre in Bellevue a few hundred yards away has opened the door to opportunities for workshops in partnership with other service providers and health professionals.