Cleaning out her files during her last week with the YWCA Peterborough-Haliburton, Paula Pepping is coming across cards from some of the “many, many, many” clients she has worked with during a 22-yearcareer. “
I have had some lovely cards from women saying how grateful they are for our support because it’s not just me. We’re a team,” Pepping said in a Feb. 12 interview.
She started her community development work in 1998 with The Women’s Safety Network. They provided outreach to abused women with two part-time staff. The office and resource centre was in Haliburton and a community-built emergency house was located behind the Dysart et al fire department.
With no ongoing permanent funding, they had to close the emergency house and Pepping was involved with the transition that would eventually come under the YWCA umbrella and lead to the development of the Haliburton Emergency Rural SafeSpace or HERS in Minden.
Pepping recalls some of the highlights of earlier community development work with “lots of programs for women, from Cardiff to Minden, Haliburton … wherever.”
With the health unit’s Rosie Kadwell, there was an early food box program that is continuing today. There was a lunch program at Cardiff Elementary School.
Pepping was jokingly referred to as the “condom lady” since she wanted to tackle high rates of unplanned pregnancy in the community by ensuring there were free condoms. She recalls how high school girls would come to the office to “use the bathroom” but would inevitably dip into the free condom basket. At the time she said it cost $25 for 144 condoms, so she would cajole her friends to donate $12.50 for a half pack. It was a precursor to today’s sexual health programs at the local health unit.
Starting with the Y, her focus shifted more to working with women in the community who were living in, leaving, or had left abusive relationships. She was involved in offering support, driving women to services or connecting them to them. It was also a time of formulating partnerships with community services and increasing the YWCA profile in the County.
She said that profile has been greatly increased and fundraising a key. “Many individuals have contributed and continue to. We could not survive without those contributions. Haliburton County is really an amazing community. Generous and kind.”
Pepping said, “My work has always been really close to my heart. All of the services we provide to the community. I have experienced much tragedy and also seen women have successes.”
She said their ethos is to support women in their choices, whether it is to stay, go back, go back-and-forth, or eventually leave.
“We work with women where they are at, inch by inch, sometimes by leaps and bounds. I think I did a good job with my team and with the community. And with the support the community gives, it gives the gift of safety for the women we work with to the best of our capacity.”
One example that stands out is a woman who came to the shelter with holes in her shoes, no underwear and just the clothes on her back. She worked two jobs to get back on her feet. She showed up at Christmas one year with a box of brand-new slippers as a donation.
In addition to the ‘thank you’ cards, Pepping recalls some of the phone calls over the years from women who had left abusive situations and “bloomed.” She said the common thread is, “I’m so thankful for your support. Without you I couldn’t have done this.” She added sometimes women call after a number of years to tell her, “Hey, Paula, I’m doing ok. That means a lot to me.”
At 65, Pepping said, “It’s just time for my next chapter in life.”
Tearing up, she said it is bittersweet. She will miss her co-workers. “
I feel really honoured that I was able to do this work in this community. I love the direct contact and grassroots work I’ve done. That has been my passion, I am going to miss it.”