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Nov 20: 2003 Vancity Award winner announced

Downtown Eastside drop-in centre for sex trade workers gets $1 million from VanCity Credit Union

Vancouver, November 20, 2003 - A drop-in centre that provides a safe and supportive atmosphere for up to 200 female sex trade workers each night in Vancouver's Downtown Eastside is the winner of this year's $1-million Vancity Award.

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The WISH (Women's Information Safe House) Drop-In Centre is currently operating on limited hours out of an 800-square-feet site in a church on East Hastings Street. The award will be used to open a 24/7 shelter and wellness centre that will offer a permanent women's health clinic and refuge from today's escalating violence.

The centre, funded by the City of Vancouver, the provincial government and private donations, was opened 16 years ago and continues to see an increase in demand. It offers a range of services from hot meals and showers to referrals to shelters, detox and rehabilitation services, and literacy and pre-employment programs.

"A 24/7 safe house has been on sex workers' wish list for many years and now, thanks to Vancity and its members, that dream will become reality," says Mary Wreglesworth, Chair of the WISH Board of Directors. "The murder and disappearance of so many sex workers in Washington state, Vancouver, and Edmonton are a painful indicator of just how vulnerable these women are. This is not about supporting or promoting prostitution; this is about giving support and showing basic human decency to women - our daughters, sisters and friends - who need help."

The wellness centre was chosen from four finalists by Vancity members who voted for their choice in September and October. This is the third year of the annual award that saw applications submitted from 100 non-profits in the communities Vancity serves. The $1-million award money comes from a percentage of Vancity profits set aside each year for community initiatives.

The other three finalists for the Vancity Award were: the Atira Women's Resource Society, a community-based organization that supports women and their children impacted by violence for its proposal to build a centre in Surrey to assist pregnant and early parenting women and girls; Burnside Gorge Community Association, a unique centre providing services, such as recreation programs, education and accessible childcare for Victoria residents that proposes to build a new community centre and Mennonite Central Committee - BC, an international relief and development society that wants to transform a 16-hectare gravel pit into a family-friendly public park and nature reserve.

"All of these ideas are visionary and once again, it was a very close race. Vancity would have been proud to support any of these projects," says Bruce Ralston, Chair of Vancity's Board of Directors. He adds: "We know the wellness centre will have a huge impact on women in the Downtown Eastside. It will support an extremely vulnerable segment of our population by working to make their lives safer and by supporting them to exit the sex trade."

Vancity CEO Dave Mowat wants to thank the Vancity members for their participation in the award process.

"The vision of our Board is for this award to make a significant and long-lasting contribution to our communities. We are pleased that so many of our members participated in selecting WISH. This choice will add to our legacy of helping people and communities thrive and prosper," he says.

Letters of intent for the next Vancity Award will be accepted from non-profit organizations in the communities Vancity serves starting in March 2004.

Vancity is Canada’s largest credit union, with $9.3 billion in assets, 305,000 members, and 41 branches throughout Greater Vancouver, the Fraser Valley and Victoria. Vancity was chosen as the best place to work in Canada for 2005 by Maclean’s Magazine as part of its annual Canada’s Top 100 Employers issue. Vancity owns Citizens Bank of Canada, serving members across the country by telephone, ATM, and the Internet. Both Vancity and Citizens Bank are guided by a commitment to corporate social responsibility, and to improve the quality of life in the communities where we live and work.