It was the struggles of a young boy that inspired Eleanor Summer to a career path that has affected positive change in many lives.
Summer, who recently announced she would be stepping down as executive director of the South Okanagan Women In Need Society after 16 years, can still picture that boy’s face.
“I was working in Northern B.C. as a daycare supervisor and we were having severe problems working with this one little guy. He finally disclosed he was in an abusive family situation and had suffered some other horrible trauma. I knew immediately that I wanted to do something to help kids just like him and it was something I needed to be involved with,” said Summer.
Positive change is something that seems to follow Eleanor Summer and from her first day on the job with SOWINS in Penticton it has been no different. She implemented policy procedure and financial controls, but also offered a shoulder and ear for the women who were desperately seeking help.
“I listened to the women coming to the newly opened transition house to learn what they really needed as far as services in the community and built on that. Women told us they were having problems finding employment and taking care of their kids so we started a program to get them out of the welfare trap so they could move forward,” said Summer.
SOWINS and Summer have earned the trust of many women and children living in very traumatic situations. It is when they hear back from those people that keeps Summer going. “We have had practicum students in university taking social work that have also been clients at our transition houses when they were just little ones. They are coming back saying it was when they saw us help their mom that made them decide to do this,” said Summer. “We have had women writing to us from another part of the country just to say thanks for all the help and this is where we are now in life, and that is incredible.”
Although, she is stepping down from her job, she is not retiring. It isn’t in her. She has worked tirelessly for years and she does not want to stop. Her fight will just continue from a new home in Victoria.
“I can’t retire. I never learned how to knit, I can’t stand golf and retirement isn’t for me. I sit on boards, committees and try to solve problems related to women’s groups,” she said.
SOWINS would not exist without the volunteers who help women get back on their feet, said Summer. The volunteers assist with office work, fundraising, awareness and offer their time at WINGS Boutique and Thrift Store. But, it is Summer who built the foundation for all this to happen.
“She believes change can be made in the challenges women and children face. Eleanor is a great humanitarian that can be very strong and tough when needed,” said Samarpan Fasse, fundraising and public relations co-ordinator with SOWINS.
During her tenure, Summer has overseen many positive changes including the expansion of the transition house to accommodate not only women, but their children. Several initiatives such as the mature women’s program, pre-employment program and WINGS Boutique and Thrift Store have all started under her direction.
“We are deeply grateful for Eleanor’s capable and steadfast leadership. She has made a huge impact on the growth of SOWINS and its connections to the community. We wish her the very best in the next chapter of her life,” said Peggy Nicholson, president and chair of the board of directors.
Taking the reigns from Summer is the new executive director Debbie Scarborough. Her passion for women’s issues and her experience in front-line work, management, leadership, innovation and building connections within communities.
“The board of directors is so pleased to have found such a dynamic, experienced professional,” said Nicholson.
Scarborough has been a transition house co-ordinator and program manager, co-ordinator of RCMP Victim’s Assistance, parole board member, Level 3 foster parent, instructor with the B.C. and Yukon Society of Transition Houses, college instructor, coroner, volunteer firefighter and the president of the B.C. Winter Games. She took over the executive director position as of June 16.
Part of the next phase of strategic planning for SOWINS is to open secondary housing for women leaving the transition house and continue to work towards bring all the needs and services for women under one roof.