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Building Maison de Sophia

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“My hope is that the women in distress will find a refuge, a home on their journey – where employees and volunteers reflect the glory of God, in wisdom, love, and peace,” says Sylvie Plante, director of Maison de Sophia (Sophia House), a project affiliated with the Canadian conference’s Horizon Quebec initiative.

The community organization (still in development) will offer rehabilitation services and accommodation to women in need in the area of Saint-Jérôme, Quebec. At the centre of Quebec’s 76 municipalities, Saint-Jérôme forms part of the Montreal metropolitan area. It is home to a provincial penitentiary and psychiatric hospital. The community of Saint-Jérôme is increasingly dealing with problems connected to drugs, prostitution, and homelessness.

Before opening the doors of Maison de Sophia, the administrative committee is waiting to receive assurance of financial assistance, including government subsidies, to cover the estimated operating cost of $630,000 per year. But even with finances in place, support from the community and church will be necessary to help make a difference in the lives of those who come to the shelter.

Five facilities in the Saint-Jérôme area shelter female victims of domestic violence, but no accommodation is currently available for women facing other difficulties such as mental illness or addiction. These issues can spiral into a vicious cycle resulting in homelessness for women, some of whom are single mothers. Organizers hope Maison de Sophia will provide a safe environment with access to therapy, counselling, mentoring, and full-time support for women and their children. “We plan to recruit qualified personnel to work with and to accompany these women,” says Plante.

Plante gained first-hand experience at Logifem, a long-term shelter for women and children, where she was supervisor of a pilot project helping young families in the community. This experience, along with her studies at ETEM (École de Théologie Évangélique de Montréal), inspired Plante to develop Maison de Sophia.

“My studies at ETEM helped give a new direction to my life,” she says. Plante completed a certificate in religious sciences and began a second certificate in practical theology, both which supported her goal of completing a masters program in pastoral counselling.

Her involvement within the community through leading a program for immigrants allowed Plante to make several connections in Saint-Jérôme, and to recognize a need among women. She left her job at Logifem and put her studies on hold when the opportunity arose to participate in the administrative management and development of Maison de Sophia.

This Christmas marks two years since the idea was conceived as a joint project by Plante and Benoit Cloutier, both members of Église Chrétienne de Saint-Jérôme. For more than six months, Cloutier and Plante worked through the initial phases of development and recruited four others who now form the administrative team for Maison de Sophia.

“The administrative committee provides me with support and encouragement. We have divided the tasks for setting up so the weight is distributed. I am a blessed director,” says Plante.

Although there remain technicalities to work out before Maison de Sophia can open its doors, the heart behind this project keeps things moving forward. “What do they need? We will provide it for them, while working on their own goals,” Plante says about responding to the specific needs of women in the community. “We want to empower young women by being shoulder to shoulder with them.”

Sheralyn Heinrichs formerly worked as communications assistant for the Canadian MB conference. She is a member of Eastview Community Church, Winnipeg. Quotations from Sylvie Plante were translated from French.

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