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Elizabeth Fry Society 

Women helping women

Our Thyme Café - RILEY SMITH

2352 Gottingen Street, 454-5041

How to give: Contact the Gottingen Street office or through the CanadaHelps donation form on the website.

When women get out of prison in Nova Scotia, life doesn't always improve that much: They're often stuck looking for a job with a criminal record and no social support network, savings or backup plan. Enter the Elizabeth Fry Society of Mainland Nova Scotia.

Women fresh out of the justice system can turn to Holly House, an eight-bed shelter. At Holly House, women who've been released from prison "can move forward with their lives and are able to feel safe," says executive director Jeanette Milley. The house has "self-contained rooms, and everybody has a fridge and a microwave and we have cable TV and wireless internet." It's a place where women can get the training, support and education they need for up to two years after prison, without worrying about paying the bills.

The Elizabeth Society tackles the root causes of why women may wind up in conflict with the law: "A lot of women get involved in the criminal justice system through unhealthy relationships," explains Milley. Women at Holly House can access Elizabeth Fry's workshops, which range from the importance of healthy relationships and anger management to shoplifting prevention. Plus, the society provides one-on-one addictions counselling and relapse prevention services.

Milley speaks excitedly about Elizabeth Fry's Our Thyme Cafe (98 Portland Street, Dartmouth,, where women with criminal records can get job experience. Sometimes when women get out of prison, "their self-esteem is so low and they just say, 'No I'll just do cleaning,'" she explains. But after a little bit of time working at the cafe, the women often gain confidence and begin to take on extra responsibilities. With Our Thyme on their resumes, women have gone on to work at other cafes in the city or to study at NSCC.

There are many ways you can help besides writing a cheque. Donations of personal care items---like shampoo, conditioner, lip gloss, hair clips, socks and gloves---wind up as prizes on Bingo Night at Central Nova Scotia Correctional Facility in Dartmouth. You can adopt a family, providing them with gifts over the holiday, or donate pre-paid grocery store cards. Your time is valuable as well: Volunteers are the backbone of this organization, which serves up to 2,000 women per year with a small handful of staff.

"It's such fun work when people are giving to us and we're giving to others," says Milley. "It really makes the hard work seem like nothing, because we are exhausted, but it's the best exhaustion."

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