Community Celebrates Work Towards Reopening of Second Story Women’s Centre



(Photo by Jesse Ward)

Update, August 8: Stephanie Balcome has been appointed as Executive Director of Second Story Women’s Centre, the organization announced last week. Balcome was Financial Services Coordinator for the Centre for the past seven years.

“Stephanie begins her new job on August 8, and you can expect to see the Centre open for longer hours soon after that date,” says a letter published to the Second Story website attributed to Leslie Wright, Chair of the Second Story Board of Directors.

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Approximately sixty people gathered in the Lunenburg Fire Hall two weeks ago and raised sparkling cider in a toast to Second Story Women’s Centre, as the organisation continues a process of rebuilding and aims to re-open by the end of summer after temporarily closing this February.

The toast concluded the nonprofit’s annual general meeting on June 27, a significant step in restoring the Centre to regular operations.

The Centre is currently providing some services, but has been closed since February, when all staff resigned due to concerns levelled to the board of directors that were not resolved after several months.

Second Story is a critical resource for women and gender-diverse people in Lunenburg and Queens County seeking counselling and referrals to all kinds of support, from domestic violence and primary and mental health support to tax preparation. From February 2022 to January 2023, over 150 unique clients got one-on-one support and over 1,200 appointments were booked, all at no cost to clients.

Viki Samuels-Stewart, Second Story’s Interim Executive Director, announced at the meeting the Centre aims to re-open by the end of the summer. Some of the staff who resigned in February have since returned.

Samuels-Stewart and Leslie Wright, Executive Chair of the Board, spoke at the meeting to the significant amount of work accomplished by board members, staff and volunteers over the last two months to rebuild the organisation over the 62 days since an interim Board was appointed after the previous Board unanimously resigned in April.

The meeting showed the organisation’s finances are in good order while the non-profit communicates weekly with the Department of Community Services who has been engaged with the non-profit since earlier this year when challenges arose between the staff and board.

The meeting opened with a speech by local artist Pamela Hart. Pamela Hart With Her Singing Coterie then led a guitar-and-choir performance of the song Work by Charlotte Day Wilson to wide applause from the room.

Accountants’ review finds financial statements fairly present Second Story’s financial position

The business portion of the meeting started with Peggie Graham, Finance Officer on the Board of Directors, sharing a financial report.

Financial  statements from Second Story reported on by AC Belliveau Veinotte Inc. chartered professional accountants were shared with attendants. 

The statements included an Independent Practitioner’s Review Engagement Report by Belliveau Veinot on the financial statements prepared by Second Story. Their report said their review brought nothing to their attention that would indicate the statements do not fairly present the organisation’s financial position.

The financial statements report Second Story ended their 2023 financial year with $245,187 in assets compared to $207,308 in 2022. The organisation’s liabilities amounted to $72,860 in 2023 compared to $77,133 in 2022.

Graham gave a detailed explanation of spending and investments by the organisation over the last year and answered multiple audience questions.

Financial report “puts to rest any perception of financial impropriety” alleged by previous Board

Following Graham’s financial report, one audience member asked, “Does this finally, completely put to rest any perception whatsoever of any financial impropriety for this organisation?”

Graham answered, “It certainly does,” to wide applause from the room.

In a letter shared with the organisation’s membership by Second Story’s previous Board of Directors on April 6, the Board alleged “potential financial issues” in their account of events leading to the Centre’s closure in February, writing: 

“As some irregularities (including potential financial issues) were identified at the Centre, the Board of Directors began to inquire and ask questions to seek clarification. A number of staff quickly wrote a letter with demands of resignations for two Board members who expressed concern that we look further into it, demonstrate due diligence, and fulfil our fuduciary [sic] responsibility for public funds. And without these two Board member resignations, the staff threatened to resign by noon the next day. The Board of Directors did not even have time to respond.”

The Board that sent this letter never elaborated to membership what “potential financial issues” were allegedly identified.

This Board unanimously resigned in a special meeting on April 25 where a new interim board was appointed in a vote by organisation membership.

The old Board announced their intention to resign on April 22 in a letter to membership with remarks on their position on the events leading up to this decision. This letter still did not explicitly elaborate on any potential financial issues they may have identified or any barriers they may have faced in communicating any potential financial issues.

More than 200 community members turned out on March 31 for a meeting supporting the staff who resigned from Second Story. (Photo: Carley Mullally)

Nicole Robson was Outreach Coordinator with Second Story until her resignation in February.

Robson, communicating with The Barnacle by email on behalf of the resigned staff in March, said staff left Second Story due to concerns levelled to the nonprofit’s board of directors that were not resolved after seven months of attempts to reach a resolution, including a mediation process with a third party.

The Executive Director, Support Coordinator, Finance Coordinator, Intake Support Worker, Youth and Volunteer Coordinator, Administrative Support Coordinator, Support Counsellor, and herself all resigned – leaving with a collective 52 years of service with Second Story.

She said staff ultimately made the decision to leave after a request that board members resign was not accepted. Staff resignation dates were staggered to allow for client care and planning.

Sue Bookchin, a community supporter and former board member of Second Story, shared more details in a March interview with SaltWire’s Sheldon MacLeod. LighthouseNow reported on the April 22, 2023 special meeting with additional information.

Executive Chair highlights accomplishments of the Centre over the last year, speaks to rebuilding efforts

Leslie Wright, Executive Chair on the Board, gave a report on the work the team rebuilding Second Story had been up to over the last 62 days.

Wright started with a thanks to those in the room, saying the community has supported the Centre in a very challenging time.

“At moments when we feel powerless, and we question the likelihood, the ability of people to make change and come together in community – we have been shown that this can happen, and it has been demonstrated tenfold by those of you in this room who led and supported the change and brought the interim board of directors together,” said Wright.

Wright highlighted some of the accomplishments of the Centre from February 2022 to January 2023, noting all supports and services were free:

  • Over 150 unique clients got one-on-one support.
  • Over 1200 appointments were booked.
  • Over 80 participants participated in creative and wellness programs. 
  • 65 youth participated in a Healthy Relationships for Youth curriculum. 
  • 34 drop-ins received support. 
  • 19 kids went to summer camps sponsored by Second Story. 
  • 146 referrals were given for “a range of things, including legal information, primary health issues, financial security, community-based services, mental health services, domestic violence, housing and other programs.”

Additionally, as of March 2023, the Centre had 36 active volunteers.

Wright said the new board has “worked our way through a complex range of issues that we inherited”. 

She said the board has held weekly meetings, established multiple working groups meeting every week, and regained access to their bank account (“with the support, persistence and humour of RBC staff”). The board has also been working on communication with members, internal operational policies, finances and an Executive Director search.

She said the board has provided weekly written updates to the Department of Community Services “addressing all the concerns and issues raised by the government.”

“Unsurprisingly, as you can see from our reporting at this meeting, we’re not done with the sorting and complexities of this period, but we believe we know what needs to be done,” said Wright.

Interim Executive Director describes recent work

Viki Samuels-Stewart, Second Story’s Interim Executive Director, spoke next.

Samuels-Stewart’s biography on the Second Story website notes she previously served as Interim Executive Director for Alice House which provides second stage housing for women and children escaping domestic violence, worked with the Nova Scotia Human Rights Commission for over 10 years, and received the Queen’s Jubilee Platinum Award for her work in the community.

Samuels-Stewart described the work she has been involved in over the last two months alongside Linda Nicholl, Special Assistant, to ensure proper administration and financial stability for the Centre.

“Every time we arrived here in Lunenburg, we’ve been welcomed warmly and with open arms, and Linda has certainly been my right arm in this endeavour,” said Samuels-Stewart.

“The goal has always been to reopen the centre and continue its rich history of providing important and much-needed services to women and gender-diverse people for over 40 years in the communities of Lunenburg and Queens County.”

“That’s what we’ve been focusing on: building resilience, celebrating renewal. And we have reason to celebrate because we have great news: we’re well on our way to reopening.”

She said she and Nicholl have been working on insurance, equipment and staffing. She said they have been giving attention to the physical space of the Centre, ensuring occupational health and safety standards are updated. They are working with the Town on improving the building, heating, and repairing and replacing windows.

“Linda has become particularly obsessed about garbage,” said Samuels-Stewart to laughter, “so watch out for new signs directing trail walkers where to put their dog droppings.”

(A report by the Town of Lunenburg released in May says the old Canadian National Railway Station that hosts the Centre is in “poor condition and staff have estimated a long-term capital investment of ~$2M for interior and exterior upgrades.”)

Samuels-Stewart announced some staff have returned to the Centre: Christine Scott, Outreach Counsellor; Stephanie Balcome, Financial Services Coordinator; Aliyyah Fazil, Administrative Assistant; and Laura Keeler, Counsellor. The room met this announcement with long applause. 

Even while the Centre rebuilds, services are being offered. Samuels-Stewart said staff continue to work with clients while the Centre is closed. They still offer referral services and some counselling services, including outreach. 

She said they have additionally formed a partnership with Avalon Sexual Assault Center through Nicole Robson, who is providing counseling services at the Centre.

She said the goal is to have the Centre fully operational by the end of the summer.

New board appointed

A new board was appointed through a vote by membership.

The new board is composed of interim board directors appointed in the April 25 meeting and new nominees. Re-offering members appointed to the board are Alison Smith, Ali Davis, Elisabeth Bailey, Kelly Goudie, Leslie Wright and Peggie Graham. New appointees are Carol Smith, Claire Burnett, Dayle Crouse and Heather McCallum.

Biographies for each board member are available on the Second Story website.


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