Five years ago, Lynn Gibson, current past president of Sanctuary House, said she had a dream which seemed, to many at the time, far beyond the reach for the Woodstock-based shelter for abused women and children.
On Monday morning, July 5, under bright sunshine, Gibson cut the ribbon in front of the new modern Sanctuary House shelter, representing the fruition of a dream come true.
With the old building in downtown Woodstock, which served as the shelter since the founding of Sanctuary House decades earlier, failing to meet the shelter's growing needs and demands, Gibson, as a board member, raised the idea of building a new house.
She said many on the Sanctuary House board at the time believed the idea of a new house was beyond their reach, but Gibson didn't give up.
She said she was appointed president just over four years ago, and the board enjoyed an influx of several new members who quickly bought into the dream. She said the newly energized board reached out for support and found plenty throughout the region it serves and beyond.
The Woodstock shelter serves communities from Nackawic to Grand Falls.
Gibson welcomed the invited guests to Monday's ceremonies.
"Five years ago, I had a dream for a new home for Sanctuary House. Five years later, here it is with a lot of help from everyone," she told the small crowd in front of the modern new building on Deakin Drive in Woodstock, N.B.
Other speakers included Woodstock Mayor Art Slipp, Hartland deputy mayor and former Carleton MLA Stewart Fairgrieve and current MLA Bill Hogan, Sanctuary House president Joanne Kraftcheck and secretary Sandra Grimes.
Gibson shared greetings from New Brunswick Social Development Minister Bruce Fitch, who could not attend the ribbon-cutting ceremony.
"It is a pleasure to send congratulations to Sanctuary House," Fitch wrote. "The work you have done will offer women and children safety for now and in the future."
Hogan congratulated Sanctuary House's board, staff and the many groups who pulled together to complete the project.
"You know it's unfortunate we need these types of facilities in our area, in our province, but I'm thankful that we have it," said Hogan.
Fairgrieve, who said he has worked with Sanctuary House in his various roles for more than 15 years, echoed Hogan's comments.
"One of the things over that course of time that has remained consistent is that everyone associated with Sanctuary House shared the vision of doing more and doing things better for the clients they serve," he said.
Fairgrieve praised the many community partners involved in building the new shelter, citing two in particular.
"The Rotary Club has been instrumental," he said. "The support from the Town of Woodstock has been invaluable."
Mayor Slipp said the town of Woodstock was happy to play a role in constructing the new Sanctuary House.
He reminded the guests on hand that the shelter serves the entire western valley.
"The community has come together, and when I say the larger community, the regional community, from Nackawic to Grand Falls and Plaster Rock, in terms of supporting this particular project, and we all need to be proud of the role each and everyone played in getting to us here to this official ribbon cutting this morning."
Slipp looked over his shoulder at the large, modern structure.
"The building just speaks for itself," he said.
Grimes said she sat on the fundraising committee but admitted not knowing what she was getting into when she started, pointing out they met early rejection from some they approached.
"But it got better from there," Grimes said.
With the help of people from up and down the valley, she said, the committee raised $1,095,784, including more than $211,000 for the Department of Social Development.
She said the Carleton Pioneer Credit Union helped arrange a $221,000 loan in March of 2020 to help complete construction as they awaited for all donations to arrive.
"I'm happy to say, as of June 29, we owe zero dollars," Grimes said.
Like other speakers, Grimes said she could not name everyone who helped make the new Sanctuary House a reality but wanted to name three who she said played "an integral" part of the project.
She thanked Tom Strong, who donated the land where the new modern facility sits along Deakin Drive, adding he was "dedicated" to this project from the beginning.
Grimes also thanked project engineer Brent Pearson and Scott Dunlop, who served as the project's fundraising lead from the Rotary Club.
She also cited some of the long lists of donations that helped complete the project and the many devoted skills and time. She said many of the contractors involved in the construction delivered pricing discounts.
Kraftcheck said the project began with five ladies around a table who knew nothing about construction or how to manage a project of this scope. She said the Rotary Club partnered with them to guide them along the way.
"But, what I'd really want to say that every single meeting about the building here that we were first and foremost at the table," said Kraftcheck. "They taught us so many things about what needed to happen here and how it needed to happen. And more than that, they asked us what we wanted."
Kraftcheck praised the Sanctuary staff for their work and support through the changes.
"We've taken a large step that will put an imprint on the valley forever," she said.
Before the ceremony, Kraftcheck explained how the new large, modern building allows Sanctuary House to provide better services and comfort for women and children trying to escape violent situations. She said the shelter can house up to 10 women now, compared to four at the old building.
Kraftcheck said the building's design provides privacy for clients and large comfortable common areas for staff and clients to mingle. The plan also includes a meeting room near the back entrance to allow police and other service providers to meet with clients privately.
The two-story structure, which began taking clients in the spring of 2020, includes a deck overlooking a small wooded area and a fenced-in playground still under construction.
Gibson said the building also has a full basement which will eventually house a boardroom and a playroom with games and entertainment options for children.
While the fundraising met its construction goal, Gibson said, Sanctuary House still requires ongoing community support to finance its ongoing services. She said COVID-19 forced the cancellation of its fundraising events, such as the popular Scarecrows on the Loose in downtown Woodstock, but it will return soon, hopefully, this fall.
Standing in the Sanctuary House front yard, Gibson called the ribbon-cutting a special moment she'll never forget. After all, it's a dream come true.
Jim Dumville, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, River Valley Sun