Alberta Council of Women’s Shelters (ACWS) recently recognized the hard work and commitment of Marj Luger, executive director of the Yellowhead Emergency Shelter for Women (YES).
Luger received the Joie Dery award, acknowledging front-line domestic violence shelter staff throughout Alberta who have significantly contributed to Alberta’s sheltering movement. Dery, just like Luger, committed herself to social justice for abused women and in remembrance of her life and work, her family created the award.
Dery was a member of ACWS and successfully advocated for increased salaries, benefits, and training for shelter workers, as well as developed the first World Conference of Women’s Shelters.
“I was very surprised and honoured. It’s an honour to be held in such high esteem with my fellow colleagues around the province who have received the award in the past,” said Luger.
Luger began working with YES in 1994 after being involved with the organization previously through fundraising and other events. The motivation in her work comes from knowing that she can make a difference in someone’s life, even in ways she may not always realize.
“It’s something someone said or did to change their life and make a change for the positive. Small things make huge changes,” said Luger.
Over the years the biggest change Luger has witnessed is society’s perspective on family violence and abuse. Although there is still a lot of work to be done, she said, people reach out more and seek support.
“People are talking about it more. It’s a family issue, it can affect everyone in the family. It’s intimate partner violence not just violence against women. People are recognizing that and speaking up,” she added.
Attitudes have evolved and violence is believed to be flat out unacceptable, but this hasn’t happened overnight.
Even changes in how police have responded to domestic violence cases have changed, she added.
Luger said the work can be tough and it’s important to reach out when she needs some support herself in order to avoid burnout.
“Sometimes you hear the stories and it’s very hard to hear the story and to be the keeper of those stories because we can’t share them. It can be difficult. My thoughts on that is never take anything home with me,” she said.
Within West Yellowhead, the shelter does a lot of outreach and public education and also offers services, support, and referrals to men over the phone and through the outreach program.
“I wish we could help men fleeing from abuse but we aren’t physically able to do that in our house, the way we’re set up right now,” she said.
A safe place for men who are fleeing violence isn’t available in Hinton and isn’t something that’s funded provincially. Currently, the shelter is funded on a year to year grant basis through the provincial government.
Luger would also like the shelter to become more accessible for those with mobility issues and those who are deaf or blind. Another one of her goals is for the shelter to become more financially independent from government funding.
“Even things like Hinton United Way, getting it up and running to max capacity. That would do a long way to helping the community,” she said.
“We try to make new partnerships and foster relationships that we already have, I try to do that on a daily basis. I’m hoping that continues and we get the support from Hinton and the surrounding areas.”