Non-profit Calgary group for Indigenous girls at risk of shutting down

Indigenous girls group in Calgary at risk of shutting down
WATCH: It is a lifeline for some vulnerable youth. But for the first time in its 22-year history, the non-profit is experiencing a lack of funding that could force it to shut down. Jill Croteau reports on the impact of the Stardale Women's Foundation.

The non-profit organization Stardale Women’s Foundation gives young Indigenous females the chance to gather together.

Their meetings give them permission to be vulnerable and share common experiences. Once a week, for a couple of hours, they can forget what’s going on in the outside world. For many of them, this is the only sanctuary they know.

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Stardale creator, Helen McPhaden, knows first-hand the troubled history some of these girls have been exposed to.

“You don’t ever get hardened by it. It’s tragic.

“Through no fault of their own they were born into a circumstance. Some of them have experienced sexual abuse, violence. Some girls have been brain-damaged from fetal alcohol syndrome and learning disabilities that were not assessed,” McPhaden said.

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“We pull them together and bottom line is – they’re girls.”

Girls decorate cookies to bring home for the holidays.
Girls decorate cookies to bring home for the holidays. Jill Croteau

On this Wednesday evening the girls were decorating Christmas cookies to package up and take home for the holidays. Krisdena Ironeagle, 15, has been attending the Stardale meetings for nearly two years.

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“Stardale has helped me a lot. It’s part of me now,” Ironeagle said.

“If I didn’t have it, I don’t know what would become of me.”

Stardale is at risk of shutting down.

McPhaden launched a fundraiser in hopes of getting donations to keep the doors open.

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“We do not have funding to take us into 2019 and that’s the reality.”

“We have been bare bones for the past two years. We used to be three days a week now we are down to one,” McPhaden said.

Volunteers within the organization know the value of the program they are offering to the young women. The program is for Indigenous girls between the ages of 10 and 17.

Each meeting they invite a woman to share time and speak with the girls or serve as role models.

Nicole Hellson said the program is changing her life.

“I struggle with depression and anxiety,” the 17-year-old said.

“I’ve mostly grown up in impoverished places, shelters and I’ve had family troubles, that’s where it started,” Hellson said.

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“My mom and dad would always drink and they fought and it would do stuff to a child, but some of us know our parents made mistakes but we learned from that and try to better ourselves.”

Girls decorate cookies to bring home for the holidays.
Girls decorate cookies to bring home for the holidays. Jill Croteau

This charity is an opportunity for them to realize their worth.

“It made me feel empowerment. I was really shy and nervous and it helped raise my voice,” Hellson said.

Summer Wayner, 16, said it’s made a profound difference.

“Being here has helped me be more open and discover who I am,” Wayner said.