Image: Distress Centre staff if 2004.
In 1998, Distress Centre was located just off of MacLeod Trail on 11th Avenue SW. A Board committee was formed to investigate moving as the existing lease was set to expire in 1999. A new central site was sought with accessibility to LRT and bus routes, staff and visitor parking, and overall safety for staff and volunteers. The Board determined at that time that they could not afford to move, and renewed for one more year.
By 1999, $340,000 had been raised from Rotary Downtown, the Nickle Family Foundation, The Anonymous Donor, the Community Facility Enhancement Program and the Community Lottery Board to cover the costs of a much-needed relocation and renovation to the 8th Avenue SW location in 2000.
Barb Litchinsky, Executive Director, commented at the time that: “In conjunction with our office move planned for April, we were also updating our identity to make it more contemporary and to more clearly communicate the kinds of services we provide.” The official name was shortened to Distress Centre, and the new Tag Line “Helping People In Crisis” honoured the agency’s history by linking the original purpose to the present and to future challenges. A new logo was also created. Chair Len Schnell suggested that upgrading our technology was an additional reason for the move. This enabled accounting services to be delivered more effectively and efficiently.
Suzanne Rosebrugh, Manager, recalls the move:
“When we moved to the location on 8th, we thought we had gone uptown. I remember Barb sending me to an oil and gas company that was moving. They didn’t want to incur all the moving costs for the furniture, so they gave us all the desks. I was shameless. I saw smartboards and I said we are a teaching organization, and we train, and we really need a smartboard. We never missed an opportunity to get what we needed for free.”
Funding and expanding in the 2000s
The need for funds never stopped, so in 2001, a Firefighters Light Up Your Night bachelor auction was conceived, raising $10,000. Volunteer Peta Gezerson describes the event:
“It was rather interesting. Women just go crazy when you put a hot guy in the room, and if he is a firefighter, the first thing they want him to do is take his shirt off. The next year, we decided to make it an elegant affair and we had bachelorettes as well. When the women came on, everyone was oohing and aahing but when the guys came on, the women in the audience were once again shouting ‘take it off.’ The guys were taking their jackets and shirts off and swinging them around.”
More space was again needed for ever-expanding programs, so in 2005 Distress Centre took over the remainder of their floor and renovated, adding an additional 2,500 square feet. The lease was extended until 2010 with an option to 2015.
The first Rocky Mountain Motorcycle Ride fundraiser was held, raising $30,000 to help with costs. Peta was a volunteer for that event as well:
“We did a mystery ride, it was a poker run. You’d get a route, collect a card at all these different mystery stops, and then you came back to the end. The best hand won. People were on motorcycles for the poker run, which was Joan Roy’s idea because she owned a motorcycle.”
In 2008, the Third Annual Rocky Road Ride winner had the opportunity to a win Yamaha V Star 1300 motorcycle, with the highest pledge collection winning a Vancouver flight and accommodations.
Mike Ruttan, Board Chair, talks about the eventual end of such events:
“The motorcycle ride was a wonderful event, very unique. Both the motorcycle event and our golf tournament had good participation. But the intention of fundraising didn’t work out. The amount of effort and resources we put into those events, for the dollars raised, didn’t make sense. It was lots of fun though.”
Leasing for a 24/7 organization
Mike also recalls the ongoing issues of leasing:
“The year that I was the Chair, we went through a fairly contentious lease renewal, in 2008 or 2009. Things were booming in Calgary, and rents were really high. We were trying to lock into an affordable lease rate of around $25 per square foot. Ultimately the landlord said no, ‘we think the rents are still going up’. Then the financial crisis hit and rents dropped like a rock, and we ended up at $10 or $11 a square foot. That timing worked in our favour and we were thankful, but it was a very stressful time.
“The 24/7 operations proved to be complicated. Most buildings shut down their HVAC system after midnight. At 8th Ave there was a specialty HVAC system installed specifically for the call centre, to allow it to operate 24/7. Same thing with security and the front desk, getting people in and out at various hours of the day and night when they are on shifts was a challenge. In those days security cards/fobs were not available and giving 200 volunteers a key was not an option.”
The Hitmen partnership
2009 brought a partnership with the Hitmen/Flames Foundation. Roxanne Cote, new in the fundraising position recalls:
“In my first 8 months at Distress Centre we started a conversation with them. 2010 was the first event. It came from a meeting with the team Manager, Kelly Kisio. He took about 6 months to get back to me. I grabbed Michelle Wickerson from communications and off we went. We had a sponsorship in the first month and then the partnership. It was a really great opportunity to partner and increase the awareness of Distress Centre, 211, and especially the ConnecTeen program. The Hitmen Game started off as awareness event, but we were able to work more fundraising elements into it each year. We had 10 years with them, which was our goal. Our partnership ended in 2019.”
As always, it takes big dollars to move. Distress Centre stayed in its home for 20 years, until the most recent move in February 2020 where once again, fundraising became a priority.