THE VOLUNTEERS: This is the third in an occasional series highlighting GGFL employees who devote time to volunteering in the community. Jennifer Baldwin is Manager, Assurance and Advisory Services at GGFL and serves as the President of the Board of Directors for Interval House.
“It’s really great to be part of a community organization that does so much good work. I enjoy the challenges and I enjoy seeing the successes.”
For the past seven years, Jenn Baldwin has been a board member at the Ottawa women’s shelter Interval House.
She is currently board president.
Interval House offers a temporary safe haven for women and their children or other dependents fleeing domestic abuse. Their 38-bed complex in two separate houses also includes a separate custom-made basement pet housing area for (mostly) cats and dogs.
“There can be many barriers women face when they’re deciding to leave an abusive situation,” says Jenn. “We were finding that one of those barriers was a reluctance to leave pets with an abuser. If they were unable to foster their pet, they would stay in an abusive situation.
“So, we took on this big project and converted our basement. It removed one less barrier for them to leave – and yes, it’s mostly cats and dogs but we’ve had a few birds and reptiles too.”
During Jenn’s seven years with Interval House, the organization has grown. There are now approximately 30 full and part-time staff members, increased accommodation for clients and a massive fundraising effort to help pay for it.
There is no grand gala or major fundraising event. The bulk of Interval House funding comes from fixed monthly and annual donations generated by community outreach and advocacy.
Twenty of the beds are funded by the province to the tune of more than $1 million. The rest – more than $300,000 – relies on the fundraising effort.
Residents stay for an average three months while waiting for safe, affordable housing – a wait that can be long and frustrating in a city where affordable housing is at a premium.
And that long wait has a knock on effect. Interval House is constantly having to turn away women because they don’t have room to accommodate them.
“That’s the tough part,” says Jenn. “When there’s an opening, it’s filled within a day or so. If we don’t have room, we work with other community partners to try and find the person a safe space.
“When I first joined Interval House,” she adds. “I saw for the first time how prevalent violence against women is and how much support these women need. It’s the positive impact of Interval House that has kept me involved and invested in the organization.
“It’s really great to be part of a community organization that does so much good work and is a real leader in the community. I enjoy it. I enjoy the challenges and I enjoy seeing the successes.”
COVID, and the isolation it forced on many people, exacerbated the situation for many women in abusive situations, she adds.
“We typically receive over 2,000 calls to our crisis line a year, but we found at the beginning of COVID the number of calls dropped. It was because women weren’t safe making phone calls from within their home.”
So, with the help of a few community partners, Interval House introduced a new text-to-chat program it called Unsafe at Home Ottawa.
“The response has been so positive, we are looking to raise funds to make it permanent,” says Jenn.
Previously – and occasionally simultaneously – Jenn spent five years on the board of the Heron Emergency Food Centre – one of the Ottawa Food Bank’s community distribution centres.
Also on her volunteering resume is two years as treasurer of the Women’s Business Network.
Ask Jenn what she gets from volunteering, and she doesn’t hesitate.
“More than I put into it,” she says. “Volunteering with great organizations means you’re on the client side as opposed to the accountant side. It has given me a broader perspective and an experience I can bring to clients and their business decisions – especially not-for-profits.”
Jenn recently extended her stay as Interval House president until September 2023.
“I’ll be sad to leave when the time comes,” she says. “But I think it will be good to take on a new challenge – maybe in the same sector but certainly with an organization related to the vulnerable population.”