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HFC founding member ready for retirement

Masha Scheele

Yvonne Oshanyk remembers kids running around with little baskets looking for eggs during the first Easter after the Hinton Friendship Centre Society moved into their new space in the Hinton Centre.

“I looked out the window and I went, ‘That’s why we work. That’s why we do this.’ That brings tears to my eyes, I can still picture that scene of those little ones,” Oshanyk said.

Oshanyk, the executive director of the Hinton Friendship Centre Society, is saying goodbye to the organization later this year; 25 years after being a key player in bringing the Friendship Centre movement to Hinton.

With a background in social work, she found importance in many of the programs but always felt the Head Start program was their shining star.

The Head Start program for kids focuses on several components that are key to a child’s development.

Many of the young moms that were involved with the Friendship Centre in their youth are now returning with the next generation.

“It was kind of nice last year, on indigenous day, we had so many dancers. Traditional dancers, and they came back and they brought their little ones,” Oshanyk said.

Seeing the next generation dancing alongside their parents was heartwarming, Oshanyk said.

“It really was, I’m proud of those moms,” she added.

Prior to her work in Hinton, Oshanyk worked at the Edson Friendship Centre and noticed the good work they were doing.

Oshanyk was one of three members who initiated the Hinton Friendship Centre and presented at the 1995 provincial AGM in Jasper before officially joining the national association.

“We started out with three people, and there are almost 40 right now, maybe even more than 40,” Oshanyk said. 

The centre opened in Hinton with a youth program, a family support program, a life skills program, and a contract with children’s services. 

Oshanyk and the other directors felt it was important to start with a youth program because a lot of kids weren’t graduating. 

“There were three of us working, our very first office we didn’t have a desk but we did have a chair and a phone and we were in the valley. It has come a long way,” Oshanyk said.

At the time, the organization didn’t even have core funding, but Oshanyk left her government job for what she felt was the right thing for her. She quickly saw the programming being utilized and now sees that people continue to utilize it. She believes the centre and it’s programming came at the right time.

Jennifer Kelley, a resolution health support worker at the Friendship Centre, said she became involved with the centre as a youth when she was 12 years old. After growing up in the Friendship Centre movement, she came back as a summer student and never left.

“She kind of gave me a voice as an indigenous person to be who I am and be proud of who I am. That’s what I really get from Yvonne, she lets us grow and come up with ideas all the time to make our community better, which is amazing for a boss to do,” Kelley said.

She added that things will be different without Oshanyk at the helm, since she is a big part of the organization and the team. 

“It will be different but we wish her well on her new adventure. We know she won’t go far from us and I’m sure she’ll volunteer in other ways when she’s gone,” Kelley added.

The Friendship Centre currently has staff placed in Edson for a couple of regional programs, as well as in Grande Cache. 

The centre has grown in size and offers a number of solid programs that Oshanyk is proud of. She added that the staff is always willing to jump in and help out wherever they can.

“Those are things I’m really proud of, I’m proud that we have the programming that we have and that we have the staff and I’m happy to be in this building,” Oshanyk said.

At one point, her dream was to have their own space but being in a municipally-owned building has been good for the organization.

When the Friendship Centre moved into the building they were in high demand for extra space as they were busting at the seams in their old location in the valley, Oshanyk said.

To celebrate the past 25 years and all they accomplished, staff hoped to host several events throughout the year.

Oshanyk hoped to be part of these final celebrations and say goodbye to her provincial counterparts at this year’s provincial AGM but unfortunately that wasn’t possible due to the pandemic.

“I’m ready, I get tired out. I like to travel, this will give me a chance to do more of that and I’m ready. I just wanted to see the 25 years and it’s here and I’m sure everything will be great,” she said.

With the other offices in other towns, her job has become a lot to handle, but she knows it is in good hands after she leaves.

“Young people have a lot of new ideas. You can’t teach an old dog new tricks,” she joked.

Oshanyk recently helped finish up the strategic plan for 2020-2025 and said there are always changes.

She added that the life of a non-profit means they have to be prepared for losing programs or finding ways to cover funding somehow each year.

The organization’s new vision statement reads ‘A community where all people are respected and accepted,’ and their new mission states, ‘building on the strengths of our indigenous teachings, we provide a safe place to connect and help people transition to a healthy and more balanced life.’

Oshanyk added that while going through many trials and tribulations at the Friendship Centre, some being funding related, the centre survived and she is honoured to have been part of the society and proud to be a Hintonite.