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PEC Women’s Institute celebrates long history in community with $20K donation

A $10,000 donation was made to Prince Edward County Public Library. From left, Wilma de Wolde (president PEDWI); Betty Zyvatkauskas (PEDWI member); Alexandra Bake (fundraising chair); Devon Jones (library board chair) and Barbara Sweet (CEO PEC Public Library).

Story and photos by Sharon Harrison
Two of Prince Edward County’s most ambitious on-going fundraising efforts received a boost from the Prince Edward District Women Institute as it celebrated Women’s Institute Day.

The Prince Edward County Memorial Hospital Foundation and Prince Edward County Public Library each received $10,000 for their causes, at a presentation held at the Bloomfield Town Hall.

For the Prince Edward County Memorial Hospital Foundation, $5,000 went to the working and equipment fund, with a $5,000 pledge toward the hospital once the hospital receives the go ahead, to go ahead, said Wilma de Wolde, president, Prince Edward District Women’s Institute.

The Prince Edward County Library donation included $5,000 for the Picton branch library expansion fund, with $5,000 to be dispersed among the remaining branches in the County.

“Today, I can’t help but feel inspired,” said Shannon Coull, executive director, Prince Edward County Memorial Hospital Foundation (PECMHF), with a nod to the Women’s Institute organization.

“For one, I’m a woman in an executive position and I’m very proud to be in that position as a woman, but I wouldn’t be here today if it wasn’t for the women who came before me. Today, I am standing on the shoulders of those people who have blazed the trails ahead of me, and had the strength and the confidence to advocate for women.”

The hospital foundation’s mission is to provide access to health care for the residents and people of Prince Edward County, said Coull.

“And not only do we provide access to health care and quality of life, but we can’t do that without members of our community helping us.”

A $10,000 donation was made to Prince Edward County Memorial Hospital Foundation. From left, Wilma de Wolde (president PEDWI); Betty Zyvatkauskas (PEDWI member); Leo Finnegan (PECMHF director); Shannon Coull (executive director PECMHF); Sherry Tait (PECMHF director); and Briar Boyce (PECMHF).

Coull acknowledged the impact the Women’s Institute has had on the community.

“We are grateful for all that has been accomplished, it is incredible,” she said.

Most of the chapters of the Women’s Institute chapters have been donors to the hospital foundation for over 15 years noted Coull.

“The Cherry Valley Women’s Institute is the longest and most active and supportive with our foundation for over 21 years, with a total giving of $2,045.”

The Prince Edward District Women’s Institute has given for 18 years, for a total of $6,798.

“In September 2018, the PEDWI gave its first $1,000 donation gift to the Back the Build campaign, one of our earliest donors.”

Cumulatively and collectively, the chapters have donated $13,068 to PECMHF since 1998 (and that doesn’t include the $10,000 commitment made today).

On Feb. 19, 1897, in Stoney Creek, Ontario, the first branch of the Women’s Institute was organized. Several branches were started in Prince Edward County in 1908, and from that, the Prince Edward District Women’s Institute was formed under the model for home and country.

“Home is our first priority,” said de Wolde. “Teaching women to gain the knowledge and the skills needed to make the ties of home, family and work. Country starts with the community, of which the organization is proud of, and this includes our nation and the international community.”

“Having tea with you these last couple of years has helped me better understand the valued role the Prince Edward District Women’s Institute plays in the community, “ said David Joyce, Director of Riding Affairs, who was representing MPP Todd Smith.

David Joyce, Director of Riding Affairs, representing MPP Todd Smith, said the WI has played a valued role in the community.

“For the past century now, you have served as a catalyst to bring people together, provoke and impart shared knowledge and offer your hard-earned fundraised dollars to efforts that make a real difference to local women and their families,” he said.

Joyce noted that 100 years ago, members of the fledging Women’s Institute were instrumental in providing linens and furnishings for the first County hospital on Picton’s Hill Street.

“Today, they are continuing that commitment as many come together to envision a facility that helps provide care for years to come.”

Wellington councillor and acting mayor, Mike Harper, represented Prince Edward County mayor Steve Ferguson, who was in Ottawa meeting with the Deputy Prime Minister to discuss flood prevention issues.

Wellington councillor and acting mayor, Mike Harper, said he was fascinated to learn about the WI’s history.

“It was fascinating to learn about your history,” said Harper, who confessed to not knowing much about the organization.

“What you are doing today really shows your sense of caring and generosity.”

Harper also referred to the Mary Stewart Collect on the PEDWI website which he read, in part:

‘Keep us Lord from pettiness; let us be large in thought, in word and deed. Let us be done with faultfinding and leave off self-seeking. May we never be hasty in judgement and always generous. Take time for all things; put into action our better impulses, and let us not forget to be kind.’

“I thought that was fantastic, and it really speaks to some of the values that I think are really important, and that we don’t see as much as we should see, especially in this more individualistic society that we are in today.”

“We really do try to live by those words of the Mary Stewart Collect,” added de Wolde

A letter from Mary Shortt, President of the Ontario Women’s Institute, was read by de Wolde. Shortt was unable to attend the donation presentation.

Valerie Smith, Eastern Board Director, Federated Women’s Institutes of Ontario, described the Prince Edward District Women’s Institute as a jewel in the County.

“You sparkle with all your accomplishments; kudos to you, and keep sparkling,” she said.

Barbara Sweet, CEO of the Prince Edward County Public Library noted that many of the branches in Prince Edward County were started by the Women’s Institute.

“Where it not for the Women’s Institute, we would not be so rich in library service in Prince Edward County today, and you have been most generous to the libraries, probably for over 100 years,” said Sweet.

She also noted the importance of having part of the donation allotted to all the County library branches.

“We are so committed to maintaining and keeping up the good work the Women’s Institute members started in their foresight and recognizing the importance of literacy in the community. This will help our branches to stay vital and vibrant in their small communities,” Sweet said.

Alexandra Bake, Chair of Fundraising for the Picton expansion described the Women’s Institute as an exemplary organization, and thanked the WI for its ongoing support.

She said the WI strove to show how effective women can be in their community, working quietly for important causes and celebrating success.

“As we help to expand and renovate our venerable institution, the Picton library, some of you may be aware that it was established in 1907, a year before the Women’s Institute in Prince Edward County through the efforts of community coming together to raise the funds necessary to build the library,” said Bake.

“We now have a very real chance of expanding, renovating and rebuilding our venerable institution to help serve for the next 100 years or more.”

Bake noted the fundraising campaign was started in 2018 as a result of a true need within the library to serve the community better.

“We are getting closer and closer to our goal,” she said.

In 1919, the Federated Women’s Institutes of Ontario was formed to give the branch members a stronger united voice.

Women’s Institutes were instrumental in the pasteurization of milk, having lines painted on the highways, garment labelling, flashing lights on school buses, roadside breathalyser tests and many more.

The Prince Edward District Women’s Institute has six branches in the County.

The PEDWI has also played a significant role in providing a solution to accessible transportation for seniors and the physically challenged in the County when a need was identified in the1980s.

“In 1989, a committee was formed to study the situation,” said de Wolde. “With many years of meetings, consultations and disappointments, the Women’s Institute continued fundraising for transportation, mainly through our art and craft sale, now in its 37th year.”

In June 2007, a new transit bus, complete with a WI logo, was unveiled in Picton.

“The PEDWI donated $100,000 over the first five years, and has donated $5,000 annually since then,” she said.

“We happy to announce that last night at the council meeting, a fixed route and fixed rate for passengers, regardless of age and accessibility, was passed,” said de Wolde. “We are really happy to see that this program is continuing and expanding.”

“The access bus gives independence to people, and that’s what we are all about doing; we are all about personal growth and community action. All that Prince Edward District branches have done, empower people in this community,” said Smith.

The extra funds raised through the art and craft sale over the years has allowed the PEDWI to support many other local organizations said de Wolde.

One further donation made by the PEDWI involved bags and bears for the hospital’s Patient Services Department for young patients, as well as comfort bears for other patients.

“Three years ago, it came to our attention that a gift bag of what we call bears and bags would be welcomed at the hospital,” said WI member Susan Donley.

A member sews the bags, members donate a stuffie to go into each bag, along with a nice little blanket for the stuffies and a blanket for the child, together with a colouring book, an activity book, a story book and crayons.

Approximately 125 bags have been donated to the Picton hospital to date, bringing comfort and joy to the youngest patients.

“They go to children in need who would get comfort from that and that’s what we want,” said Donley.

“Just recently, we were asked by one of the nurses if we could also supply maybe a teddy bear to an adult who might need it, so we have donated those also.”

WI member Susan Donley and Lisa Mowbray, PEC Hospital Patient Services, with the bags and bears donations.

Lisa Mowbray with Patient Services at the hospital said they were very grateful for the generosity.

“Our patients, and in particular pediatric patients, love these bags which bring a smile to their faces,” said Mowbray.

“The bears for the adult population have really grown into something that has been a great source of comfort for many patients in the hospital, whether in the emergency department or the in-patient unit.”

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