WILKIE--Speeches, a ribbon-cutting, tours, food and music were all part of the celebration as Prairie Branches board, staff and clients marked the grand opening of their new head office and day program centre in Wilkie, Sept. 27. An invitation had been extended to the public and many guests were in attendance, including Wilkie Mayor David Ziegler, Wilkie Fire Chief Randy Elder and Cut Knife – Turtleford MLA Ryan Domotor. Staff and clients from other Prairie Branches locations also attended.
Tours of the building at 206 2nd Avenue East revealed a spacious common and activities room with large-screen TV, a board room wired for online participation from other sites, offices, large accessible bathrooms and plenty of tucked away storage. High ceilings and paint colour choices added to the spacious feel of the facility. Outside, the east side – of what was formerly a grocery store – features a large, beautiful patio.
In her opening remarks, executive director Eunice Washkowsky said, “We are so happy to be back downtown. This location helps to promote inclusiveness for our participants and provides ease of access to the downtown businesses … This aligns perfectly with our vision statement which says: ‘All persons are valued, respected, empowered, and treated with dignity to experience a fulfilled life.’”
Washkowsky said they love to have the community join them when they host events, and encouraged people to come in for “coffee hour” or to “just stop by and say hello if you see us on the patio.”
Wilkie hosts the head office for Prairie Branches, which has seven group homes and four day programs, serving over 50 individuals in the four communities of Wilkie, Unity, Biggar and Kerrobert. The organization employs over 140 staff, 65 of them in Wilkie.
Washkowsky thanked everyone who had helped with the move and set-up of the new building, and highlighted the contribution of Trent Elder, associate director of facilities, “for his work in designing the space for our needs.”
Suki Pangalia, owner of the building, was also specifically thanked “for working with us every step of the way to transform an old grocery store into a beautiful corporate office and day program [centre]. We appreciate that you worked closely with us on our layout and our timeline.”
Pangalia also addressed the crowd, saying as a counsellor and social worker himself for many years (in Alberta and British Columbia), “I know first-hand the work these people do,” referring to Prairie Branches staff.
He said when he came to Wilkie a year ago and learned they were in a building that perhaps didn’t fully meet their needs and had some challenges, such as water leaks, he thought a business relationship between them was possible. But when he “started working closely” with Eunice and Trent and some of the board and the Wilkie staff, he became fully invested. He enjoyed working on the project.
The relationship became one of friendship as well as business. Pangalia specifically commended Washkowsky for her leadership and creativity, and totally credited Trent Elder with the design and layout of the building. He also noted that, as he himself was new in town, Elder became his “eyes and ears,” knowing who to go to when anything was needed.
Pangalia also thanked the community at large, saying, “A project like this, you know it doesn’t just happen by itself. Sometimes the whole town has to pitch in and this is exactly what happened. I am new in town and even [so] everybody that I approached – because you run into a lot of difficulties especially with an old building – and so many people have just pitched in.”
He cited Les Kroshinski as a perfect example. Kroshinski opened up his shed and donated whatever materials out of there the project could use.
When he was 10 years old, Pangalia emigrated from India where he lived in a village. He said Wilkie reminds him of that village where “everybody had everybody’s back” and relationships and bonds are strong. “I want to salute you all. I want to say thank you for inviting me to this town with open arms. I think this town has lots of potential.”
Mayor Ziegler and Paige Danskin, board chair for Prairie Branches Enterprises, each also briefly addressed those assembled.
Then, with the speeches over, Washkowsky organized the ribbon-cutting, and then the building was opened for tours and the serving of lunch. Outside on the patio, Dave Martin and his band, the Swingsters, entertained and many people took the opportunity to sit outside to eat their lunch, whilst enjoying the music.