Like so many others, Grainne Barthe only planned to stay in Prince Rupert for two years.
But the community won her over, and 15 years later Grainne is a vital part of the North Coast Transition Society (NCTS). Through her work with the society, Grainne has helped to give survivors of violence renewal in their lives, as well as hope and dignity.
Grainne moved to Prince Rupert in 2000 with her then-husband, who had gotten a job in the community.
Life in Prince Rupert was different than what Grainne was used to. She had grown up in a suburban neighbourhood of Montreal and hadn’t seen first-hand the social impacts poverty can have.
Despite the initial culture shock, Grainne grew to love Prince Rupert. When she and her husband separated, Grainne decided to stay.
She appreciated the sense of community she felt in Prince Rupert.
“I lived in Montreal forever and I never knew my neighbours,” she said.
When Grainne left Montreal she decided she was going to change her life and career path.
“I decided … I was not going to work for the corporate world again. I wanted to get into social work,” she said.
Returning to college, Grainne completed the two-year Associate Arts degree program at Northwest Community College.
After graduating, Grainne began her time with the North Coast Transition Society through volunteer work, organizing a Take Back the Night event in Prince Rupert.
“I didn’t even know what Take Back the Night was, that’s how far removed I was from women’s issues,” she said, noting she wasn’t aware of the magnitude of violence against women.
“We grew up in the suburbs and our houses were appropriately spaced apart, so you could never hear what was going on in your neighbours’ homes,” Grainne said.
“It wasn’t something that we talked about.”
It wasn’t until Grainne was hired by the NCTS as a casual support worker that her eyes were opened.
“Exposure really changes your outlook,” she said, adding she’s honoured to be someone women could talk to over the years.
“The things that people share with you and the hardships people go through and the incredible resilience people have is mind-blowing.”
Grainne would become a full-time support worker before moving on to become manager of the Supportive Recovery program, and eventually manager of the Stopping the Violence program. She also earned a Bachelor of Social Work.
Now one of the longest-serving employees, Grainne has been with the North Coast Transition Society for 13 years.
For Grainne, witnessing the transition house’s advancement from a six-room shelter into a 15-room facility has been one of the most fulfilling aspect of her career, along with the society being able to offer halfway apartments and run additional programs.
“To be involved with that has been amazing. It’s definitely a highlight of my life because it made me who I am now. It totally changed me and humbled me. I will always appreciate that,” she said, adding she’s honoured to have worked with the society’s other employees and board members who have made it all possible.
Grainne cherishes the change she has seen in many of the women she’s helped over the years.
“It’s amazing what putting someone in a safe environment can do to help them move forward,” she said.
“First and foremost we’re all about safety: creating safe spaces for people to talk in, helping people create safety in their own environment wherever they live. If you don’t feel safe you cannot move forward in any respect.”
And this change extends beyond clients. Grainne organized three Mz Judged fundraising pageants, with a 2015-event being in the works, and something she’s heard from male contestants is how moving their participation in the charity event has been for them.
“For a lot of them it changes their outlook, which is really quite ironic because the whole show is a joke,” Grainne laughed.
Grainne has been a promoter of inclusiveness, as well.
Born almost completely deaf, Grainne said people often don’t realize how many barriers there are.
She was a member of the Measuring Up the North Committee in the late-2000s, appointed by the City of Prince Rupert to improve access and inclusiveness for community members with mobility and physical challenges.
Furthermore, when volunteers were direly needed for the Special Olympics BC board, Grainne stepped up to ensure everyone in the community had the opportunity to play sports. Unfortunately it remains a struggle for the group to find volunteer coaches and drivers.
In May of 2012, Grainne would experience a high point in her life: the birth of her son Conall.
“He’s amazing. He’s the best gift I ever got,” she gushed.
Grainne and her partner Rudy Kelly would make the most of her maternity leave, travelling to Japan, Argentina and Montreal, unforgettable experiences for the travel-enthusiast.
After 11 months away Grainne returned to work, becoming NCTS program manager.
While it originally wasn’t her intention to stay in Prince Rupert, the community continues to capture Grainne’s heart. The generosity of Rupertites has touched Grainne countless times since she moved to the North Coast, most recently highlighted over the holidays when the NCTS put out a request for donations.
“We had young kids dropping stuff off with their grandmas, companies matching employees contributions, groups of guys pooling money together. It made me speechless. No words can describe the feeling we had of being able to provide a generous Christmas for all those staying in the transition house this year,” she said.