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On a rain-soaked Wednesday morning Denise Einer stood in the front lobby of Sardis Community Church welcoming every mother and child that walked through the door.
She addressed them by name, squeezed their shoulders, looked them in the eyes, and said:
'Good morning. How are you today?'
Such a simple act may seem small to most, but for the women at Sardis DoorWay, it's their sun.
Sardis DoorWay is a non-profit organization that has been providing resources and support for vulnerable women and their children, between the ages of newborn to kindergarten, for 25 years.
For Einer, the program director, connecting with the women is the most important role she has.
"So many of these women and children feel invisible," she said. "If nothing else in this world, we want these women to know that I see you, I know your name, and I'm glad you're here.
"These women need to be seen."
Sardis DoorWay started as a dream in 1987 by two church-going women, Lee Rudance and Elsie Goerzen, who saw the need of the vulnerable, single moms in the community and wanted to provide them with respite, care and friendship.
What started with 10 volunteers working out of Goerzen's living room has evolved into a full-blown organization that now has 60 volunteers from 11 different churches serving the needs of anywhere from 35 to 45 moms and 55 to 65 children.
Every week, the women and children are fed first thing in the morning, are provided with additional snacks, and are served a hearty, hot lunch to round out the day.
They are also sent home with a gallon of milk every week, and are given food hampers and frozen meat hampers every month.
For three hours, moms are given leave from their children to participate in a variety of educational workshops such as budgeting, nutrition and meal planning, healthy relationships, parenting, conflict resolution, and even more basic concepts like manners and punctuality.
"Very simple things that you and I know, but these women don't," said Einer.
The women are also provided with crisis counseling if needed, given the resources and support to complete their high school graduation and pursue further education, and most recently have been provided with professional driving lessons.
Their children are also supported developmentally.
"We're in the business of removing barriers that keep our families from being successful," said Einer. "Our goal is to equip them, encourage them, and give them the education they need to make choices in their life that will impact them and their children so that they're employable and sustainable as families."
For 21-year-old Tamara McCurdy, DoorWay has become a weekly safe haven.
The day McCurdy found out she was pregnant with her two-year-old daughter Hanna-Lynn, her fiancé had been sentenced to two years in jail. She was new to Chilliwack, didn't have a network of friends or family, no high school diploma, no job, no driver's license.
She felt lost.
But when she walked into DoorWay, there was no judgement, she said.
"The volunteers make you feel so loved and cared for."
McCurdy is one of the first recipients of the new driver's license program DoorWay offers. For years, she feared getting behind the wheel of a car, which was the result of an accident she was in when she was 14 years old.
But one of the volunteers took her under her wing and let McCurdy drive home every week, teaching her the fundamentals of driving.
Next month, McCurdy will be going for her license, which DoorWay has paid for.
"Getting my license would be a big life changer for me," she said.
"Right now, I'm having to pick up groceries using the the stroller, which is so worn out from having to carry heavy items.
"Having my license opens up a world of opportunities... when I get it, I'm going to cry because I'll be so proud of myself."
It's stories like McCurdy's that keep Einer coming back for more.
Einer has been at DoorWay for 16 years, and for years, when the program went on summer break, she swore up and down she would not return the following year.
"You feel like you've been run over by a semi truck and you vow never to come back," she said. "But it gets in your blood; it gets in your heart."
Einer has seen hundreds of women come and go. She's seen success stories of women who have been so debilitated by drugs or other abuses, and have risen to better the lives for them and their children. She's seen women go back to school, start careers, even purchase their own homes. She's seen them take responsibility.
"It's the hidden victories, the really tiny, small victories that people don't bang their drums about, those are the special moments," said Einer. "A child not saying the F word, a mom phoning to tell us she can't make it, taking responsibility – that's huge.
"When they come to our door, they're broken, and what we try to do is pin a set of tiny wings on them so that when it comes time for them to leave, they fly."
SARDIS DOORWAY FUNDRAISER:
Sardis DoorWay is holding an auction fundraiser on April 21 at Sardis Community Church at 7 p.m.
The event, which is held every 18 months, is a major fundraiser for the non-profit organization, which relies heavily on community donations and grants for its operating budget.
This year's fundraiser will be combined with a 25th anniversary celebration.
Tickets are $10.
For more information, contact Denise Einer at 604-819-6556.