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30 years of adventures

A lot is going to happen over the span of 30 years, but some memorable moments will always stick out. We had the opportunity to invite Merley Cumberbatch and Louise Leibner, former Parent Programming coordinator and Early-Childhood educator respectively, as well as Debbie Defreitas, former member and board president, to Women on the Rise to talk with Grace and reminisce about their time together. While the true gift was watching years-long friendships in action, we were lucky enough to be witness to some comical anecdotes along the way. 



      Everyone laughs as Grace turns to Louise and asks, “can you talk about the flour incident?” Louise lifts her head in thought as she recalls the day, almost 10 years ago; “I had the children at the park, which was very close to where we were on Saint-Jacques, and personal life intersecting with my job, it was my son’s graduation.” Louise explains that her son, unable to secure the necessary corsage for his prom date, called the number one person in case of an emergency: mom. Grace, being very understanding, told Louise she could head out, and Louise’s daughter would take care of the children, as she had done many times prior, until she returned. “I had more than just my daughter volunteering with me at the time, there were about two volunteers in the park,” Louise specifies.

      As Louise was driving down Sherbrooke Street, she got a call from her daughter. “My phone rings and my daughter says to me ‘I’ve lost Johnny,’ and I say ‘No, you have not,” Louise says, imitating her calmest voice as the other women laugh. Her daughter presses on; "No, mom, I’ve lost Johnny."



Louise continues: “I said, ‘where are you now?’ ‘I’m in the building.’ ‘Did he make it in the building?’ ‘I’m almost sure.’” Mid-way through their conversation, Debbie, Johnny’s aunt, walked by the daughter in the hall. “I said, ‘You can tell Debbie. Don’t tell his mother, tell Debbie.’” 

"My phone rings and my daughter says to me 'I've lost Johnny,' and I say 'No, you have not,"

      As Debbie and the daughter looked for Johnny, news started to filter through to the other employees and members that one of the children was missing. Everyone in the building was tiptoeing around the mother, trying not to alert her to the situation. Eventually, unable to find Johnny, someone decided to tell the mother. Apparently the second the mother was clued in, she walked into the kitchen, opened one of the little doors in the cupboard where they kept the 50-pound bags of flour, and yanked Johnny out. “He was covered from head to toe in flour,” Louise laughs, “and his mother pulls him out of the closet and said, ‘I found him.’” 

      Johnny’s reputation as a troublemaker preceded the incident. “He was a mischievous little devil,” thinks back Louise. Merley agrees; “You would see him though, he had the nicest smile...” “And that’s how he got away with things!” exclaimed Louise, the other women laughing. According to Debbie, Johnny’s reputation has also persisted through the years; “we say he could be a lawyer; he’ll get you in jail, and he’ll get you back out!”  


      Among other things, Women on the Rise helps moms advocate for themselves when they don’t know how, or need a little bit of support. The employees at the organization have never hesitated to take their work outside the walls of the building, following their conscience into the lives of the women they help. “There were no boundaries,” reflects Grace. “We just figured a mom needs our help; we're going to go.” 

      A few years ago, at the original location on St-Jacques, Grace and Merley noticed that a mother who had been bringing her child regularly to the centre stopped showing up. After a few months had passed, the mother came back to them one day with a problem. “She came back, and she says, ‘I don’t know what to do, I haven’t seen my son for months.” Grace explains that the mother had signed some papers that the father of the child had presented to her, but she had not been made fully aware of what she was agreeing to. “It’s not like he came and honestly told her what it was,” says Grace. The mother said she simply realized she hadn’t seen her son for a few months, and she did not know how to get him back.

      Grace smiles and laughs as she recalls how Merley and her began plotting to get the child to his mother. “We became detectives, asking ‘okay, where does his dad live? Where would he take him?’” The mother revealed the father often talked about a daycare he wanted to take his son to. “We got the information about the daycare,” Grace continues “and we got her to come with us and we went to the daycare...” “Ready for a fight, you know!” chimes in Merley as the women all laugh.

“We became detectives, asking ‘okay, where does his dad live? Where would he take him?’”

      Once at the daycare, the three women introduced themselves and briefly explained the situation, asking if they could speak to the person in charge. “It so happens that the daycare supervisor was there,” says Grace. “We went into his office and we spoke to know, in a calm way...we just came and said ‘look, this is a mom...” “That we know quite well,” specifies Merley. “Yes, and we know the child also and they used to come to our center,” continues Grace. The mother explained the situation to the supervisor and showed him the papers that the father of the child had asked her to sign.  They asked if the mother could see her child. “Remember how he ran to his mom?” Grace thinks back. “He ran like crazy...” “Just latched onto her!” agrees Merley; “he was holding onto her for dear life.” After seeing how the boy had reacted to seeing his mother and speaking to the women some more, the daycare supervisor agreed to release the child to the mother, and everyone was able to leave together.

      Grace and Merley both agree with how impressed they were with the daycare supervisor and his care for the child. “It was nice to see everybody was doing the right thing for the benefit of this child,” says Merley. It was also important for them to specify that they were impressed with the father for taking the child to a daycare. “We were really proud of the fact the father knew he should go to a daycare and thinks that was good for him,” explains Grace. “However this was not done the way it should have been done.”


The interview this newsletter is based on was conducted by Francesca Mourad and Gabrielle Vendette.

The newsletter was written by Gabrielle Vendette.

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