Downtown women's centre marks 25 years

by Hilary Thomson
Staff writer

From women's lib to corporate downsizing, staff at UBC's downtown Women's Resources Centre (WRC) have a lot to look back on as they celebrate their 25th year of operation.

Director Ruth Sigal says activities at the centre reflect changes in women's lives since 1973, the WRC's first year.

"Our focus back then was helping women discover their own identity and strengths as individuals," says Sigal. "Women were just beginning to enter the workforce and we helped them get started."

At that time, the centre, which is part of Continuing Studies, had eight volunteer counsellors and saw about 1,000 women annually.Originally, located at the Vancouver Public Library, it later moved to the current Robson Street location.

Now the centre has 60 volunteer counsellors and sees 25,000 clients annually of all ages, backgrounds and cultures. About 20 per cent of the clients are men.

Careers are the big issue these days, says Sigal.

"Twenty-five years ago we saw women who were feeling bored because they were capable of doing more," she says. "Now we see women doing too much and feeling stressed out."

Sigal says she is proudest of the dedication of the volunteers who provide the peer counselling. About a third of the counsellors have been with the centre for more than eight years and some have volunteered for almost two decades. Many are UBC alumni, coming from disciplines ranging from social work to commerce.

The WRC helps serve as a bridge between the university and the community, says Sigal, who has been with the centre for 20 years.

"We're like a little lab here," she says. "We see a community need and try to develop a program to respond to that need."

A changing economy has created a demand for programs that focus on adapting to technological change or reshaping a career after job loss. WRC clients also want to know what skills to add to a degree to make them more marketable.

Shifts in Vancouver demographics over the last quarter century are also reflected in the WRC's programming, notably its cross-cultural peer counselling programs. These certificate programs provide basic counselling skills and an understanding of multicultural issues.

Practicum students and researchers come from as far away as Japan to see the WRC's counselling centre model.

Besides drop-in counselling, the centre offers educational programs in areas such as conflict resolution, communication skills and life planning. It also offers vocational testing and job search support, a library and referrals to community resources.

The WRC is celebrating its anniversary with a gala luncheon on May 20 at the Pan Pacific Hotel. UBC President Martha Piper will deliver the keynote address. For ticket information call (604) 482-8590 or 482-8588.