Community Rally Planned to Support Second Story Women’s Centre After Staff Resignations

This story has been updated on March 31, 10 a.m. AT including a statement from the Second Story Women’s Centre Board of Directors.

Second Story Women’s Centre, Lunenburg’s counseling and support center for women and gender-diverse people, is closed until further notice and without any counsellors following the resignation of eight staff members in February.

A public vigil with a presentation on the status of Second Story has been planned by members of the organization and community supporters, scheduled for this Friday, March 31, at 6 p.m. at the Lunenburg Fire Hall.

A poster promoting a “Stand Up for Second Story” event is being shared on social media. (Source: @anna.bald, Instagram)

“The decision to resign was not an easy one for any staff”

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, says 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 board did not appear to share the philosophy or values that govern our work, which is done through a feminist lens, consensus based decision making, and trauma informed practice,” writes Robson.

Robson says 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 says 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.

“The decision to resign was not an easy one for any staff, all of us loved our jobs, and we’re passionate about the work [Second Story Women’s Centre] did, however the relationship between the staff and board was damaged beyond the point of reconciliation,” she writes.

This year sees the 40th anniversary of the centre, which held more than 1,200 free counselling appointments over the last year. 

Beyond counselling, some of the centres’ services include providing outreach to communities in Queens County, Lunenburg County and Chester; crisis support; programming and workshops; advocacy; and providing safe meeting spaces.

Recent filings for changes to society structure show conflict between membership and board

Attempts to reach the board of directors by The Barnacle via email and social media resulted in an email response from Charlene Flint, board chair, on the evening of March 30:

“As the Board of Directors of Second Story Women’s Centre (SSWC) our commitment and goal is always the success, well-being, and long-term viability of the Centre and the vital services it provides to the community. 

We are saddened by the recent disharmony between the Board and Community. It is unfortunate the due diligence process of looking into potential areas of risk and irregularities has led to the loss of staff and the temporary closure of the Centre, and we wish to provide assurance that we plan to work collaboratively with the community to see SSWC resume operations as soon as possible.

We have been working with the Department of Community Services and the Advisory Council on the Status of Women ( our primary funders) and, as a result, we have recently hired a Governance Consultant to help guide the organization forward in a fair and diligent manner. This includes assisting in organizing a special members’ meeting in accordance with the Society’s bylaws on April 14th at 6 pm.

The Department of Community services is also assisting us in finding an interim Executive Director, who will lead the day-to-day operations of the centre while recruitment efforts are underway to fill all vacant positions, including a permanent Executive Director. 

We have also hired an independent accounting/investigation firm to gather facts with respect to workplace culture, as well as to provide clarity with respect to historical transactions including payroll, vacation pay, sick time pay, etc., and potentially other administrative concerns.

We are looking forward to the re-opening of the Second Story Women’s Centre and remain committed to its mission and vision.  We acknowledge and thank all former staff for the dedication and care they have provided to the many in need in our Community and are confident that through the above process of remedy and reconciliation, these services will resume in the near future, and will continue on for many years to come. 

The interest and support for the centre is heartening to see and we thank you for your inquiry. 

Charlene Flint

Board Chairperson 

Second Story Women’s Centre”

In a March 29 interview with Saltwire journalist Sheldon MacLeod, community member Sue Bookchin who has volunteered with Second Story shared a detailed account of conflict between Second Story members and the board of directors.

Bookchin’s account alleges the board that is recognized as the official board by Nova Scotia’s Registry of Joint Stocks is not recognized as the official board by society members who passed a special resolution earlier this year to force the “old board” to resign and appoint a new board.

Bookchin alleges that community members attempted and were unsuccessful in organizing a meeting with the board of directors earlier this year after Second Story staff reached out in January and held multiple meetings with up to 50 women to address challenges they were experiencing with the board.

Bookchin alleges that the organization’s bylaws filed with the Registry of Joint Stocks, Nova Scotia’s database of official business and non-profit information, indicated that half of the members of the organization could call a general meeting and force a special resolution. 

She alleges more than half the non-profit’s members gathered to force a special resolution that the current board resign immediately. “And we then elected a slate of new board members. We sent that to Joint Stocks, Joint Stocks approved it,” Bookchin told SaltWire.

“The day after that special meeting that elected a new slate of board members, the old board members went back into the portal at Joint Stocks and put their names back on as board members. I believe this happened twice,” Bookchin told SaltWire.

Bookchin alleges the board said they would resign as of March 23, but when that date came, they rescinded their resignation and said they would stay for an indeterminate period of time.

The Registry of Joint Stocks shows a flurry of recent filings for Second Story.

On Feb. 3, the Registry shows Second Story filed a “Society Change of Directors and Officers”. There are filings for five more changes of directors and officers on March 6 and then more new filings for changes of directors and officers filed on March 7, 8 and 9.

The Registry shows filings for a “Society Change of Recognized Agent” on Feb. 22, March 6, and March 9.

March 6 also saw a filing for a “Special Resolution – Other”, “Society Special Resolution – Other”, and “Society Special Resolution – Alteration to Memorandum of Association/By-Laws”.

Closure announced abruptly in early March, recent post says “we look forward to re-opening soon”

Public announcements of the Centre’s temporary closure were posted to the Centre’s official Instagram and Facebook pages and website on March 7, International Women’s Day, along with a list of alternative supports.

The March 7 message read:

“Happy International Women’s Day!

Upon reaching its 40th anniversary of providing services to Lunenburg County, Second Story Women’s Centre is temporarily closed in order to restructure itself for a better and brighter future. Our organization is dedicated to creating a secure atmosphere for women and those of gender-diverse identities. We are committed to cultivating a society that stands as a testament to inclusivity, promotes self-esteem, independence, individual choice, and trauma-informed decision-making. During this closure, we will be focusing on how to best support our clients. Keeping you, our clients and community, at the forefront of our minds, We will keep you posted as we are able and look forward to seeing you soon.

Thank you for your patience and positive thoughts.”

(Source: @secondstorywc, Instagram)

On March 20, the social media accounts and website published a new notice, indicating they plan on re-opening soon:

“Dear Community, We have heard from many of you concerned about the current closure of the centre. We are in the midst of some significant changes to our board of directors while also working to bring operational focus back to collaboration and transparency so we can better serve our clients and community. These changes have prompted us to temporarily close. We are encouraged that a positive way forward will allow us to re-open as soon as we can and resume full services at that time. We have renewed our lease in our current location and will remain there for the time being.

In other good news, Second Story is one of many women’s centres in the province that have received a substantial amount of new funding from the province. Many thanks to the Department of Community Services for their commitment to women and gender-diverse Nova Scotians! We look forward to re-opening soon.”

(Source: @secondstorywc, Instagram)

As of March 30, the “Team” page on Second Story’s website still lists departed staff members.


3 responses to “Community Rally Planned to Support Second Story Women’s Centre After Staff Resignations”

  1. Kate

    So exciting to get to read great coverage of local news! My love for The Barnacle is almost outweighing my frustration with the SSWC’s wonky board fiasco.

  2. Laurie Fisher Huck

    I am so curious to know why “staff left Second Story due to concerns leveled to the nonprofit’s board of directors that were not resolved”. What specifically are those concerns? I read that “The board did not appear to share the philosophy or values that govern our work, which is done through a feminist lens, consensus based decision making, and trauma informed practice” but that is very vague for someone not familiar with the situation and I am left still speculating. Is there a problem with gender? With feminism? Consensus-based decision making? Is it a “left”versus “right”issue? I have no idea from anything I have read so far.

    1. sue bookchin

      Hello Laurie Fisher Huck, long time no see! If you have a look at the interview with Sheldon MacLeod’s Thinking Out Loud, people have told me it clarifies things quite a bit. Take care.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *