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Council of Jewish Women plans Jewish addiction rehab centre in Winnipeg

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Cindy Lazar, left, of NCJW Winnipeg; Jeff Gilbert, centre, president of Jewish Child and Family Service (JCFS); and Al Benarroch, JCFS executive director, promote the new Winnipeg Jewish Recovery and Resource Centre. MYRON LOVE PHOTO
Cindy Lazar, left, of NCJW Winnipeg; Jeff Gilbert, centre, president of Jewish Child and Family Service (JCFS); and Al Benarroch, JCFS executive director, promote the new Winnipeg Jewish Recovery and Resource Centre MYRON LOVE PHOTO

Two events a day apart last month marked a clear break between the past and future for the National Council of Jewish Women of Canada, Winnipeg section.

On Oct. 15, NCJW Winnipeg revealed its next big project, which president Cindy Lazar unveiled on the occasion of the opening of a new Jewish Heritage Centre of Western Canada exhibit celebrating NCJW Winnipeg’s 90 years of service to the community.

That project is the Winnipeg Jewish Recovery and Resource Centre, potentially the region’s first such service for members of the community who are struggling with addictions. (Lazar noted that other communities are also working on plans for similar centres.)

The centre would be modelled on the Shalom Residences – Jewish homes for developmentally disabled adults, similar to Toronto’s Reena homes – Lazar said. The NCJW-supported residence, operated in conjunction with Winnipeg’s Jewish Child and Family Service, would provide a home environment with a Jewish atmosphere that would be open to both Jewish and non-Jewish residents with addiction issues.

“We are not sure yet if the home would be for sober living or people struggling with addiction, or both,” Lazar said. “It depends on the need.”

She said the project is still in the planning stages. “We are putting together a business plan and a fund development plan. It will be a multifaceted campaign.”

Meanwhile, on Oct. 14, NCJW Winnipeg section officially cut its last ties with the project that it has been most widely identified with for the past 60 years.

At a press conference at the Gwen Secter Creative Living Centre, Lazar and Gwen Secter president Karen Grant jointly announced that a buyer has been found for the building that the Jewish seniors drop-in centre has called home for more than 25 years.

An anonymous donor – rumoured to be a former Winnipegger now living in the United States – has come forward with $900,000 to buy the building, as of the end of October, from the NCJW in order to allow the seniors centre to remain in operation.

NCJW had been involved in supporting seniors since 1949, when the Winnipeg section founded the Golden Age Club, the first seniors’ drop-in centre in Canada. For many years, the seniors centre operated out of the NCJW building in the old Jewish neighbourhood in Winnipeg’s North End.

In 1986, with the Jewish community having largely moved further north (and south), NCJW purchased a former tire store further north and converted it into its new seniors centre, which was renamed after the late Gwen Secter, an NCJW leader for many years. Through various fundraisers and government grants, the building was renovated and officially opened in May 1989.

For the next 20 years, Lazar said, NCJW paid all the operating costs for the seniors centre, primarily with funds generated by  its thrift store in the Fort Rouge area of the city. Due to a cutback in funding stemming from the store’s closure in 2010, a new lease was arranged, with the Gwen Secter Centre assuming operating expenses and maintenance, but continuing to pay no rent.

“The lease was extended in 2012,” Lazar said, “giving the centre four years’ notice of NCJW’s intent to sell the building at the end of the extended lease. NCJW Winnipeg received temporary funding from the Jewish Federation of Winnipeg for its operations, on the premise that it would be able to sell the building by May 2016 and repay the loan. 

“The sale of the building will ensure the future of the centre, which we founded and supported,” Lazar said. “It will also enable us to meet our commitments and new challenges in the community.”

She also said NCJW’s membership in Winnipeg is growing again after years of decline. “We have two new chapters starting up this year,” she said. “Younger women are looking for an opportunity to make a difference in the community. NCJW provides that opportunity.”