A Chestermere woman has started a non-profit women's crisis society to fill a gap in resources that she said came to light because of a Facebook group.
Morgan Matheson founded the Chestermere Women's Group in 2013 after she moved to the bedroom community from Calgary and struggled to make friends.
"I didn't know how to meet people," said Matheson, 39.
It turned out a lot of women felt the same way. The group quickly attracted members and has since grown to more than 1,500 women, who get together to volunteer, take classes and drink wine.
But during the pandemic, the group took on another purpose.
Matheson started getting messages from women who were dealing with domestic violence and related issues, like paying for school supplies for their children, or furnishing an apartment after leaving an abusive relationship.
'Don't know where else to go'
"[They were] asking, like, 'Can you help us? We don't know where else to go,'" said Matheson.
So Matheson did. She researched service providers in the community and helped women get in touch. She even took a trip to the courthouse herself to support a woman seeking an emergency protection order.
Matheson also got the RCMP to lend support. The local detachment set up a liaison officer for the group, after Matheson attended a community meeting and explained the nature of the group and the messages she was getting.
"Because [the group] had grown so large, we took an interest in it," said Staff Sgt. Kathy Klassen, detachment commander of the Chestermere RCMP.
WATCH | Matheson explains why creating a community is so important:
Now, Matheson is trying to help women in a more formal way. This week, she and a friend launched the non-profit Chestermere Women's Crisis Society to help women in the community who are facing abuse or are struggling to get their basic needs met.
Matheson said the society can help women connect with emergency shelter, advocacy and court support and get basic items like food and clothing. The society itself provides some resources, while other resources are accessed by liaising with existing organizations, she said.
Domestic violence calls on the rise
Carol Manson McLeod, executive director of the Wheatland Crisis Society in Strathmore, sees it as a good step.
"There is a need for more support within southern Alberta and Chestermere in particular, and as we've seen throughout this summer and fall, the demand for shelters and services is increasing exponentially," said Manson McLeod, who was not involved in setting up the Chestermere society.
In Chestermere, the number of domestic violence calls has risen 50 per cent this year relative to previous years, Klassen said, a rise that's likely due in part to the community's growing population.
"Now that this resource is going to become available for the women of Chestermere, it's really good to see," she said.
While it's early days for the new society, Matheson hopes it will one day grow into a standalone shelter and community resource hub.
"That's what we're working towards," she said.