Port Alberni’s Family Guidance Association has been helping families in the Alberni Valley for half a century. On Oct. 24 they are asking members of the public to help them celebrate under the unique circumstances of 2020’s global pandemic.
Family Guidance often flies under the radar in the city, until you need their counselling, referral or outreach services.
“If you haven’t been here yourself, you know someone who has,” says executive director Laurel Lenormand. “Because we’ve been around for 50 years.”
Lenormand has been with Family Guidance for 27 of those years. “I started working with teenagers and now I’m working with them as parents of teenagers,” she said.
“I’ve been here for 27 years. It’s a passion,” she said. “I really love to help people help themselves. My reward is to see them tell me that I’m fired; they’re done, they’re OK. They’re good.”
Anyone can call Family Guidance and ask for help, Lenormand said. There are several qualified professionals on staff. “If there’s a specialized service that they need, like for drug and alcohol, or sexual abuse, or if they have severe mental illness—those are (cases) we refer somewhere else.”
Taking that first step and making a call can be difficult. “Making that call, you need a bit of courage; we acknowledge that step when they first come in. You don’t have to come in and bare your soul the first session. Some people do, which is kind of frightening for them…but it’s a process. There is a beginning, a middle and an end. It’s all about relationship. It’s about having a healthy relationship with your counsellor and developing a trust to figure out ways to move your life in the direction you want to.”
The calls Lenormand really appreciates are those people who say someone referred them. “It’s like “I had some success, so why don’t you give them a call?’ They know our services really well. We’re trusted and relied on. It’s a bit of a different option that people have, different than other services in the community. People really trust Family Guidance as a resource.”
The downside to being a trusted organization—especially at a time when so many people are struggling—is the waiting list to be seen at Family Guidance is daunting. “We try not to turn anyone away.
“We have a huge wait list; more than we can provide. The pandemic has put pressure on people, being home and isolated. There’s a huge need, and we recognize that. It breaks our heart that people have to wait so long to get help.”
They have been able to provide free services so far with support from the provincial government, City of Port Alberni, the Alberni Valley Community Foundation as well as individual donations. Funding their services has become even tougher.
“We lost two-thirds of our funding in April, so it’s quite a challenge. We have a really long wait list. We’re trying to find alternative sources of funding,” Lenormand said.
Family Guidance has a close relationship with School District 70 (Pacific Rim), and up until last year provided services in schools. “Kids referring each other was one of our real strengths,” she said. Unfortunately the funding for that program was reallocated last year, so Family Guidance no longer has an in-school presence.
For their 50th anniversary, the staff at Family Guidance are making changes to accommodate COVID-19 restrictions. Right now they are having to meet clients in their boardroom; they are in the process of getting funding to expand their counselling offices. “We would have liked to host a party with all of the trimmings to honour this milestone. However, given the current restrictions on gatherings and being mindful of keeping our community safe, we have chosen ‘swag’ day to celebrate,” Lenormand said.
Family Guidance staff members will celebrate their 50th anniversary with a “swag day” on Saturday, Oct. 24. They will be handing out birthday cards, handmade masks and other goodies from 1–3 p.m. (or until their goodies are gone) outside of Buy-Low Foods and Save-On-Foods.
To find out more about Port Alberni Family Guidance, call 250-724-0125. They are a registered charity and people are able to make tax-deductible donations. E-transfers can be sent to email@example.com.