BOW VALLEY – The YWCA Banff's annual VINEart gala is going virtual this spring.
Last year, the 2020 VINEart event on March 14 was cancelled soon after the COVID-19 pandemic was declared. A major fundraiser for the YWCA, organizers are bringing it back this year with a virtual event.
CEO Ebony Rempel, who took the reins at the beginning of January, said VineArt at Home will give supporters of the YWCA the ability to support the creation of a safe and inclusive local community.
"We are going to try out some innovative things and it will be different from previous years, because we are not having the in-person glorious gala that we normally do," Rempel said. "This is something new for us and we are really excited."
VINEart began seven years ago as a gala to celebrate wine and art, while at the same time providing financial support for the YWCA's efforts to build Higher Ground, a dedicated emergency shelter and transitional housing project in the Bow Valley.
It has also supported the many programs and services the YWCA Banff offers in the community around sexual assault prevention and response, homelessness, and intimate partner violence.
When COVID-19 hit, the YWCA also closed its social enterprise hotel in Banff to better support the community in its response to the pandemic. It has provided safe and secure isolation rooms for those who need it in the valley without charge.
Rempel noted, however, the hotel is a source of revenues for the YWCA, and without it, there is a need to fundraise in the community to support its operations now more than ever.
"We do not rely as much on government or funder support to offer programs and services," she said. "Many of these programs and services are funded through our social enterprise, which we had to close due to COVID.
"We have had a tough year, like so many other folks in Banff."
Crisis support and calls for assistance through the YWCA's local programs have increased during the pandemic, Rempel added. She said combined economic and public health crisis has affected people in different ways. Those who may have been struggling with intimate partner violence before, may find their situations worsened as a result.
"Domestic violence and sexual violence went up this past year due to the pandemic," Rempel said. "We had to expand the number of shelter rooms we offer.
"Not only are we in a financial crux not having the same types of revenues to support our programs and services, but we are also receiving an influx for services and support. On top of that, we have to offer our services in a different way."
Those wishing to support the Y, can do so with the purchase of a ticket to the March 25 VINEart at Home event. Tickets are expected to go on sale soon and options include a VIP experience, which includes two bottles of wine and charcuterie delivered to your home.
The event will have an interactive platform to engage and ask questions, as well as pre-recorded entertainment. As in the past, it will include an auction with wine and art experiences up for sale.
Rempel joins the YWCA Banff team after spending the past 10 years working in the field of gender equity. She is the former executive director of Odyssey House in Grande Prairie, an emergency shelter and service provider.
Currently a PhD candidate at Western University in southwestern Ontario, her academic work has focused on understanding what support, information and services women who access shelter spaces need.
She said her past experience being involved and invested in running a shelter has helped her develop a different perspective on the issue. That is also one of the reasons she applied to take the reins at the YWCA Banff.
"What really drew me to the Y, is the philosophy in terms of how they do the work they do, and sheltering is a smaller part in terms of the overall programs and services, and prevention work they do," she said. "For me, it is really exciting to get involved in the YWCA Banff."
In a press release, board president Salina Riemer said they are thrilled to welcome Rempel to the organization.
"An innovative and inspiring leader, her passion for creative thriving, equitable communities aligns seamlessly with our vision at YWCA Banff," Riemer said. "Her commitments to gender equity is evident in her professional and academic accomplishments, and her leadership experience with a full-scale shelter and support services positions her well to lead our organization into the future."