“Not just handcrafts, great lunches and old ladies Redefining and rejuvenating Women’s Institutes”

By Cindy Chant

– PEI Women’s Institute members Katie Beck (left) and Barb Dunphy gave their take on Women’s Institute Values and Commitment: ‘Redefining Rural’ during day three of the Georgetown Conference, Builders’ Circle.

Although there has been a decrease in membership for many Women’s Institutes across Prince Edward Island, current members are confident things are about to change. Day three of the Georgetown Conference delegates chose between five Rural Community Builders’ Circles. As many as a dozen delegates listened in on a positive discussion on “Women’s Institute Values and Commitment: Redefining Rural” with guest speakers, Barb Dunphy and Katie Beck, PEI WI members.

“Women’s Institutes across the Island have done so many wonderful things over the last 100 years,” said Ms Dunphy, one of the members of the newly formed Charlottetown WI, which now has 25 members and growing.

According to Ms Dunphy, WI’s were instrumental for establishing the provincial sanitorium, where patients with tuberculosis stayed. “That was the first gem in the crown for the WI.”

Another accomplishment achieved during the last century on the Island: WI’s hold an annual May roadside clean up. During the early years WI’s reached out and provided school supplies for local schools along with getting the word out, before social media was available, about vaccinations. Buying local, breakfast programs in schools and music festivals have all been supported by WI for several years.

“Their voices are quiet, but they are out there doing what has to get done,” said Ms Dunphy.

Who is being described as an anomaly, 26 year old Katie Beck is one of the youngest WI members on the Island. Ms Beck has been a Alliston WI member for the last two years and has noticed a trend change within those years.

“All of a sudden WI have become really popular, but that is what WI’s have always been doing…they are just getting noticed again,” said Ms Beck. “If you are looking to incorporate a younger crowd, whether it’s within a WI or within your own organization, it’s realizing where these trends are coming from and what are important. That is what is drawing a crowd.”

Ms Beck admits there was a time receiving handmade socks for Christmas didn’t seem too exciting, but now the younger crowds are asking for them and interested in learning the techniques.

“Suddenly it’s become really cool.”

Ms Dunphy stressed the purpose of WI’s are “being a voice, taking action and creating change in the community.”

Three components were identified during the hour long Builders’ Circle which included: getting back to basics, breaking bread, and networking.

“You are not there to bolster your own personal resume when you join a WI…you are there to get something done that needs to get done,” said Ms Beck. “WI don’t like to be out in the public eye and have all these accolades around what they do, it attracts a different crowd and that crowd tends to have a much deeper reason for being there. Although the crowds are smaller, the members are very dedicated.”

Ms Beck explained, “It’s important for the younger crowd to get out of the whole rat race of a career and go back and do something that is very meaningful and grounded.”

The two dedicated members encouraged anyone interested in getting involved to attend a WI meeting.

“You’ll be hooked,” assured Ms Beck.

Cindy Chant writes for the West Prince Graphic and is reporting on the Georgetown Conference for Newspapers Atlantic.