Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of October 25, 2004
CSS gives a sign of hope to many
Annual fund-raising campaign goal shoots for $1.84M plus
By BILL GLEN
WCR Staff Writer
I am one of the success stories." Cindy Nicolis' life was shattered in 1998 when she was hit by a car while crossing Stony Plain Road with her two young sons.
Separated from her husband at the time, Nicolis was taken to hospital where she underwent six surgeries. She was also pregnant.
"My baby, Justin, was born premature and he just couldn't survive," she said in an interview. "We had a hard time getting over that."
Two years later, while still recovering from that tragedy, a woman Nicolis knew physically assaulted her in front of her boys in their own home. She sustained whiplash, a concussion and broken ribs. She lost an unborn son as a result.
Her two sons are now eight and nine years old and Nicolis proclaims it was the help of Catholic Social Services that brought peace and light back into their lives.
"While I was going through a lot of that time, counsellors from CSS really helped me. They even came to the hospital and sat with me. It was amazing. They have now become my friends," she said.
Nicolis spoke of her ordeal at the launching of CSS's 21st annual Sign of Hope fundraising campaign Oct. 19 at St. Andrew's Centre.
CSS announced a new program at the event. The Family Covenant program is a re-introduction of a previous CSS initiative that assisted Nicolis. Families in distress are contacted early to avoid a collapse where the children are then placed in alternate care.
CSS wants to exceed this year's campaign goal of $1.84 million with a further $60,000 to get Family Covenant rolling and assist an anticipated 40 to 50 families.
Campaign chair Louis Belzil said the family has always been a primary focus of CSS and Family Covenant is designed to provide early intervention, in-home family counselling and services.
"We want to use money raised in the Sign of Hope to reach out to individuals and families before problems spiral out of control," he said. "We believe that with early active assistance, many problems can be solved and families healed. Family Covenant is different and, based on early results, very promising."
More than 100 programs and many faiths and cultures in Edmonton, central and northeast Alberta receive support from the Sign of Hope, including Kairos House for persons living with HIV/AIDS, Safe House and Safe Passage for sexually exploited street youth, the Elderly Adult Resource Service for abused seniors.
Until three years ago, CSS had a family assistance program funded by the provincial government. The government cut its funding and CSS dropped the program because of more urgent needs. But CSS continued to monitor distressed families and saw a growing need for some group to step in.
CSS will fund the program exclusively for the foreseeable future, because it considers it a wise investment. If families break down, the community breaks down.
Cecilia Munro, CSS director of community services for Edmonton, said stress is the main cause of family break-up. The more families that fail, the more society suffers.
"Covenant refers to building relationships committed to love; relationships with your Creator, your family, your friends and your community. We want to support harmony in the family with emotional support through counselling, education regarding parenting skills, communication and hands-on practical assistance by connecting families to community services."
Munro has seen many instances where building a relationship and developing trust are the most important things CSS can do. Many times, Munro has talked to women who have travelled to Alberta with their husbands, only to have their marriage break down. Their families are back home and the women feel totally isolated.
"We go in and listen to them, and determine what their needs are."
There is violence and there is abuse. "We want to offer our services to families before things get too difficult for them," Munro said. "If you want services from Child Welfare, there has to be a crisis in the family, or a larger issue. But a lot of families phone in just wanting someone to talk to for advice. We want to help so that the family does not have to enter into that whole governmental system."
Nicolis says if she ever needs help again, she would not hesitate to call.
"You just need to trust them and they will trust you. It becomes a wonderful working relationship."
Nicolis is now on the CSS advisory committee. She serves on the parent committee at her eldest son's school. She also works in an elementary school helping with its lunch program.
"And I still make time to do things with my kids."
The Sign of Hope Campaign continues until Dec. 31.
"Covenant refers to building relationships committed to love; relationships with your Creator, your family, your friends and your community."
- Cecilia Munro
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