Sheila Early needs your vote.
The retired Surrey forensic nurse and British Columbia Institute of Technology instructor has been nominated for a Young Women’s Christian Association Women of Distinction Award. If she wins, she will receive $10,000, courtesy of Scotiabank, to donate to the YWCA’s Violence Prevention Services program. This is to help women who have experienced violence in their relationships.
But to make it happen, she says, she must receive enough votes to win. Voting for the 2019 Connecting the Community Award is now open online, with the winner to be announced May 13 at a YWCA gala at the JW Marriott Parq Vancouver. (Visit https://ywcavan.org/programs/women-distinction-awards/connecting-community-award).
People can vote once every 24 hours until noon April 19.
The 72-year-old Newton resident is a pioneer of forensic nursing in B.C., having co-founded the Forensic Nurses Society of Canada in 2007, now known as Canadian Forensic Nurses Association, through which in 2017 she received its very first visionary award. She began her nursing career in Saskatoon in 1968 and noticed over time that nursing as it relates to victims of sexual assault hadn’t progressed much.
“As a forensic nurse and educator for 27 years, caring for victims of violence, abuse, and trauma, I’ve seen that aftercare and resources for women and youth are paramount in their return to secure and productive lives,” says Early, explaining why she chose to help this particular YWCA program. She said it “meets these needs and I fully support all their current and future initiatives.”
Forensic nurses collect evidence for court while providing victims of sexual assault with support and confidential care. Early was also the first non-American to be elected president of the International Forensic Nursing Association, representing 3,500 nurses in 26 countries.
In the 1990s Early set about developing Surrey Memorial Hospital’s forensic nursing program. Before leaving SMH in 2007 to teach forensic nursing through BCIT – where she received a teaching excellence award in 2014 – she had made 28 court appearances as a forensic nurse.
Though “retired,” she still instructs part-time at BCIT and will attend a national emergency nurses conference in Newfoundland in May, on forensic nursing.
“Now I get to do the things I want to do instead of the things I had to do,” she says.
“People tell me why do you do all these things, and I think you know what, all you really need is the desire to do it. If you would have asked me 50 years ago when I graduated, I graduated 50 years ago in nursing, that I would be standing here talking to you about violence against every human being, not just women and children, and that I managed to change health care here in B.C. and in Canada, I would have laughed in your face.”
The YWCA Women of Distinction has 11 categories. “Each nominee picks a program out of the YWCA programs that they offer and they support that particular program,” Early explained.
She picked prevention of violence against women, “because that’s pretty much my background.”
“If they vote for you, that’s a vote for the program,” she said. “It will go towards the prevention of violence against women program that the YWCA has. If you go to their website, there is a whole list of different programs.”
“Basically their mandate is single women and children,” she said of her cause. “They offer different programs toward prevention. One example is that they have daycare. They also have programs where women can learn new skills so they can get back in the workforce. They also have a number of different aspects to try to fit as many needs as they can that will help prevent violence against women.”
Such programs, she noted, “aren’t always supported by the provincial governments and the health authorities and so they depend on donations from the public and usually the public comes through. However, wouldn’t it be wonderful if this was built in to our whole society, that particularly human trafficking and victims of violence, whether they be a man, woman, child, or whatever gender or identity they choose, that we have it across our culture that this is not accepted?”
“It all starts with what we as a nation think about violence, and what we teach our children,” she said. “I almost sometimes feel that the adults are beyond rescuing, although I never give up, but children need to learn that it is not okay in any way, shape or form.”
There are 66 nominees, all told. Early was nominated for a YWCA Metro Vancouver Women of Distinction Awards by BCIT. She said she’s “extremely honoured to be considered one of the many leaders making a difference in our community.”