Shirley Barnett, a longtime community activist and philanthropist, is to be honored by the Jewish National Fund at its annual Negev Dinner April 10.
“The Jewish National Fund is a strong organization that is entering a new stage of many joint ventures and many new directions and worthy of support,” said Barnett, who selected as the recipient project of the event a shelter for women and children fleeing domestic violence.
Jewish National Fund, Pacific Region, is collaborating with No to Violence Against Women, which was established in 1978 by Israel Prize laureate Ruth Rasnic, who is scheduled to be in Vancouver for the event.
The goal is to raise $1.5 million for the project, which will shelter 10 to 12 families at a time and provide victims of domestic violence with a safe environment from which they can start over. Staff and volunteers of the organization work with families to access therapy, secure income and new housing.
As many as 65% to 70% of women and children fleeing domestic abuse in Israel cannot access shelters due to lack of availability. Moreover, the shelters run by No to Violence Against Women are the only ones open to people of all religions and denominations, said Barnett.
The shelter, in Rishon Le Zion near Tel Aviv, will be named the Vancouver Shelter.
The cause is in line with Barnett’s lifetime work.
“I was involved in the women’s movement going way back to the ’60s,” she told the Independent. “I was on the board of directors of the Vancouver Status of Women in the ‘60s. I’ve always been aware of the lack of empowerment in women and the lack of women seeing their potential to be strong. And, when you’re abused, you need to develop the strength to be more resilient.”
Barnett said she knew she wanted to be a social worker from age 12. While at the University of British Columbia, she had the opportunity to work as a women’s matron at Oakalla prison in Burnaby.
“I was always interested in institutional work, I don’t know why,” she said. “I worked there for about half a year and then I did my fieldwork in juvenile probation.” She worked in other prison settings, as well as with people with addictions.
“More recently, I was on the board of the Odd Squad Society,” she said. “It’s a group of police officers who do gang prevention work in their off-hours.”
She also helped found Food Runners, now part of the Vancouver Food Bank. It is a program in which a refrigerated truck picks up surplus food from hotels and restaurants and delivers it to organizations that feed people.
After graduating with a bachelor of social work degree, Barnett worked for a federal agency setting up affirmative action projects for women and resettlement projects for Ugandan refugees.
As a volunteer, she served on the board of directors of the Jewish Family Service Agency for 12 years, including four as president. She also spent two years as the agency’s acting executive director. During that time, she founded the Hebrew Free Loan Association, which now holds more than $1 million in assets and has provided thousands of loans to people in need.
Barnett has also co-chaired campaigns for the Jewish Community Centre of Greater Vancouver (JCCGV) and the Jewish Museum and Archives of British Columbia (JMABC). She was the first president of Shalva, a facility in Israel for special needs children. She established a garden in Fir Square at B.C. Women’s Hospital and a unit for addicted mothers and their infants, a peer-to-peer coaching program at the UBC Counseling Centre, a pilot project at Vancouver Hospital for early intervention for depression in women, and led the restoration of the old Jewish Cemetery at Mountain View. She has advised the Aboriginal Mother Centre and currently serves on the faculty of arts advisory committee to the dean of arts at UBC, on the board of directors of the JMABC and on the Schara Tzedeck Cemetery board, and she is an honorary director of the Hebrew Free Loan Association.
With her brother, Philip Dayson, she administers the Ben and Esther Dayson Charitable Foundation, which provides philanthropic funds to local Jewish and other community causes, particularly in the area of non-market housing and rental subsidies for members of the Jewish community.
Barnett said that the shelter project in Israel is especially meaningful because it is supported by the JNF, a charity that her family has always supported.
“We grew up with the JNF in our house,” she said.
In addition to the latest honor from the JNF, Barnett’s contributions to the community have been recognized by the JCCGV, N’Shei Chabad and Jewish Women International, and she received the Gemilut Chasadim award from the International Association of Hebrew Free Loans.
The sold-out Negev Dinner takes place at the Four Seasons Hotel.