The Elizabeth Fry Society of Calgary (EFry Calgary)
The Elizabeth Fry Society of Calgary (EFry Calgary) is an agency that serves the needs of women who are currently engaged with judicial systems charges, including bylaw tickets, warrants, missed court dates, and child custody issues. The Calgary chapter of EFry focuses not only on these pressing matters, but the woman’s needs as a whole. “For 50 years, we have offered a hand up to thousands of women engaged with the legal and justice systems by providing practical programs, basic necessities and connections to community resources. Our goal is to give them the skills they need to create more hopeful futures.”
EFry Calgary has historically focused on being able to engage their clients on a deeper level. The organization often provides support on many levels that are critical to women of colour. They have been a member of CommunityWise on and off for many years, most recently since 2014.
When Executive Director Katelyn Lucas is asked what the two biggest contributing factors beyond involvement with the justice system are for EFry Calgary’s clients, the answer is first, trauma (specifically inter-generational trauma); the second most common factor, often affecting women of colour and associated with inter-generational trauma, is poverty.
With anywhere from 60 to 80% of their clientele being women of colour, EFry Calgary is well versed in the needs of marginalized populations. EFry Calgary not only helps women to find their voices inside of the legal system but also offers a wide range of basic and complex needs support. When visiting their offices, you are no sooner in the door before you see a tray of pastries and a coffee station; further into the office, you will see cabinet filled with hygiene products. EFry Calgary knows that if they can start a relationship built on trust, acknowledging that there is more to a person than their legal issues, they have a better chance of helping their clients move beyond the needs that brought them to EFry Calgary to begin with. Providing a snack and hygiene products are the first steps of many to help build this relationship.
EFry Calgary also offers support through referrals to different services and agencies. Once a woman has engaged with EFry Calgary, staff and volunteers can help with referrals to things like addictions treatment programs, housing supports, and food resources. Having a staff member or volunteer help fill out forms and paperwork works to remove yet another barrier for their clients.
EFry Calgary has evolved to include cultural considerations in the engagement and support of their clients, volunteers, and staff. They offer the chance for volunteers to learn about other cultural norms and practises through conversation and explanation. This kind of inclusive attitude is helpful to the way EFry Calgary engages their clients and to the way that clients engage EFry Calgary.
EFry Calgary works very hard to avoid speaking on behalf of their clients, rather removing the barriers that have been created by racism, inter-generational trauma, and poverty so their clients can hear and see their options clearly to create a guided plan based on sound advice instead of reaction. This approach is not usually the way people of colour are engaged by “helper agencies”, and often the voice of the person of colour is silenced to the point of making choices that are not in their best interest but are the easiest way out of the immediate crisis.
Working both inside and outside of prisons, EFry Calgary also has their eye on the long-term plans of their clients. This planning includes in-custody engagement, connection to spiritual guidance and cultural teachings, release plans, and returning to the community planning and management so their clients have the best possible chance of long term success.
Through the years, the programs and services EFry Calgary offers have changed, grown, and been reinvented but many things have remained the same: their focus on helping women navigate the justice system, their desire to be culturally diverse, and their ability to give women of colour space to have a voice in some of the most colonial and frightening systems the Canadian government has to offer.
This story was researched and written by Susan Gwynn. We would like to thank Katelyn Lucas, current executive director of the Elizabeth Fry Society of Calgary, for taking the time to speak with us about EFry Calgary.
In the fall of 2017, CommunityWise received a Community Initiatives Program (CIP) Canada Alberta 150 grant from the Government of Alberta to: tell stories that celebrate the history of social justice work done by CommunityWise member organizations who were led by and worked in service of racialized and Indigenous communities; and, develop podcast episodes that discuss the challenges and opportunities that ethno-racial diversity presents. This work is part of CommunityWise’s on going Anti-Racist Organizational Change (AROC) process.