Heartland Challenge volunteers renovate Sherwood Park shelter - United Way Alberta Capital Region

Heartland Challenge volunteers renovate Sherwood Park shelter

September 12, 2022

A volunteer arranges a shelter bed.

By renovating a local women’s shelter, Heartland Challenge volunteers are creating a welcoming space for those facing domestic violence.

If the walls at A Safe Place emergency shelter could talk, they’d speak of hope, community, and a brighter future thanks to the helping hands of United Way’s Heartland Challenge.

In its latest project, 56 Heartland Challenge volunteers worked over three days to rejuvenate A Safe Place, a community shelter in Sherwood Park that has helped more than 25,000 women and children facing domestic violence.

“We rely on donations from the community, but to have such a coordinated effort do something of this magnitude, it’s overwhelming,” said A Safe Place Executive Director Karen Kadatz.

“We are very, very grateful. Not just to all the organizations involved for contributing and doing the work, but to United Way for putting it all together.”

The Heartland Challenge is a committee representing 10 industry and public service organizations in the Heartland region, including Fort Saskatchewan, Redwater, and Strathcona County. They’ve collaborated with United Way of the Alberta Capital Region for the past eight years to bring awareness and education to the Heartland region on how United Way impacts members of their community through a network of agencies.

Volunteer smiles while doing lawn maintenance.

Home is where the Heart is

The shelter officially opened its doors in 1984 with 11 bedrooms and 35 beds. A Safe Place needed more work than staff could manage including having the beds replaced, explained administrator Morag Mclean.

But an initial visit from Heartland Challenge committee members to assess what help they could offer led to some creative ideas that exceeded staff expectations. The goal – to make the shelter look and feel warm and welcoming overall.

“First impressions are important,” Morag said. “We want people to know this is a comfortable place to be and that they will be okay while they’re here. It’s much easier for staff to make the room welcoming and warm now that we’ve got those new beds.”

With generous support from IKEA Edmonton through a discount and free delivery, volunteers replaced 30 older beds and assembled 11 new bunkbeds and 18 new daybeds in their place.

Volunteers also finished drywall and painted walls, pipes, doors, and frames; weeded and cleaned the yard, freshened up floors, and removed old office furniture.

Shelter beds

Making a fresh start in a fresh space

“When (clients) come in here, it is shocking for them because they have had to flee an incredibly difficult and frightening situation,” Morag shares. “They are very overwhelmed and vulnerable, so we work hard to make their rooms feel welcoming and clean.”

“With these new beds, they’re clean, they’re smart, they’re fresh. They’re the foundation of the room and we build on that.”

Phase 2 of the project is expected to take place in October, including finishing the painting and refurbishing the shelter’s boardroom into a welcome room for a more home-like feel.

“We know that we are not home, and we never can be, and it’s really hard to leave your home at the time. But being surrounded by nice, bright, caring things is very important to us,” Karen says.

“And even though we have an old, tired building the fact that it’s been refreshed has made such a difference. It’s like a new beginning, not just for those coming to the shelter, but for staff as well.”