Magic is happening in the Berkana House kitchen on Monday nights.
“That’s going to be a tough act to follow,” Berkana resident Maggie says after the group finishes the roast beef and mashed potatoes, cooked by their housemate, Tasha. Each week, the 10 women who call Berkana home take turns cooking for each other. (Their names have been changed to protect their privacy.)
“It helps us bond as a house,” says Tasha. “We’re all from different places so it gives us the chance to get to know each other.”
Berkana is the Calgary John Howard Society (CJHS)’s apartment building that provides transitional housing for adult women returning to the community after spending time in prison. Every other Monday night, after they share a meal, they participate in Indigenous crafts and teachings through CJHS’s Indigenous Cultural Initiatives program.
Maggie says that it makes Berkana feel like home. “It feels like more of a community.”
BUSY HANDS, CALM SOULS
The women recently worked on some beading projects and medicine pouches.
“I started this medicine pouch while I was still incarcerated,” says Maggie. “I didn’t have time to finish it, but I was able to get supplies here so I could finish it. I’m pretty proud of it.”
The women say that they’ve been able to have personal conversations about their families, and what prison life was like, around the table while doing crafts.
“When your hands are busy, you don’t even think — you just start conversing,” Maggie says. “It’s easier to calm yourself.”
“— And to be more open,” adds Tasha.
A CONTINUATION OF SUPPORT
Both Maggie and Tasha participated in Indigenous cultural activities in prison and are looking forward to accessing more opportunities through CJHS, so they can continue to use that as a support while reintegrating into the community.
“It definitely benefits me to stay connected to Indigenous culture,” says Tasha. “I was really involved in it in the institution, so I was quite excited to hear about the Indigenous cultural program at CJHS. My daughter is part Cree, on her dad’s side of the family, so I’ll be able to share these experiences with her.”
Another group support program at Berkana is the Social Club, designed to bring the women together to build relationships with each other and in the community.
Brenda, the volunteer who plans and coordinates Social Club activities, says it’s a chance for the women to foster positive relationships with the community, have fun and learn some life skills along the way.
“For people coming back into the community from prison, they often feel like they’re different from the average Calgarian, and it can be hard to break through that perceived barrier,” Brenda says. “Through Social Club, we provide opportunities for the Berkana women to make those community connections that you and I may take for granted.”
One such example is group dinners — the residents learn how to shop for groceries on a budget, make a healthy meal and then share it together. They also volunteered at a fundraiser for CJHS, raising close to $1,200 for the agency.
“Their determination and persistence are inspirational,” Brenda says. “There’s something to be learned from them.”
THE KITCHEN TABLE
At Berkana, the kitchen is a special place of gathering for the women — and, thanks to the generosity of Home Depot Shawnessy, the women at Berkana get to enjoy a beautifully renovated kitchen.
“The kitchen table is the best place to have conversations,” says Berkana resident Maggie.
Thank you, Home Depot Shawnessy, for providing in-kind renovations at Berkana House!
Thank you to the generous donors and partners who have supported the Berkana House Social Club:
- Yoga Nova Studio
- Whispering Equine
- The Mother Ship (Seton)
- SpiritWood Retreat
- Sun Life Financial with the Alberta Ballet
- Shakers Fun Centre
- Skyline Luge
- Morpheus Theater
- Colour Me Mine Fish Creek
- A Firewood Guy
- Grow Calgary
- Kelly Ackerl
- Laser Quest
- M&M Food Market Deer Valley
- Monster Mini Golf
- Value Village Midnapore