When Family Services of Greater Vancouver received its first computer in the early 1980s, staff tiptoed around it for years.
The huge machine, donated by a board member to the non-profit agency, ran on data cards. It also didn't work because the room where it sat lacked adequate ventilation.
But Bonnie White, who worked with Family Services for nearly 30 years, said it eventually dawned on the administration that they couldn't just devote all of the agency's money to services and that they had to sort out their infrastructure, too. Computers, they realized, could further the organization's filing and financial systems.
Family Services has seen massive shifts not only in technology, but also in its clients and their needs since it established its home at West Seventh and Fir in 1968, and now the agency that serves families and individuals is leaving for the East Side.
The agency will move to East Broadway and Commercial by June 1. It's inviting staff, volunteers and members of the community to a farewell barbecue May 24 at its 1616 West Seventh Ave. location. Visitors will be invited to sign the walls of the building before it's demolished to clear the way for condos.
Family Services needed to be more accessible to its clients on the East Side, said Caroline Bonesky, Family Services CEO. The administration and adoption offices at Seventh and Fir will join community education, employment, counselling and youth programs near the bustling transit hub. Services offered by its Kingsway office will eventually move to the Broadway and Commercial location, as well.
Family Services started helping families in 1928. White remembers the agency only ran three programs when she started as a social worker with the organization in the 1960s. These included family counselling and parenting programs. "One of the most popular programs now is our financial literacy program," she said.
Offerings expanded as social workers identified new needs and as the provincial government started contracting out services in the early 1980s. Family Services' youth programs started with a government contract to help vulnerable youth. Now its services for young people are wide-ranging.
Family Services started helping women who had experienced sexual abuse and women and men who had faced domestic violence in the 1980s. It initiated alcohol and drug programs around 1990.
Not all of these services ran at Seventh and Fir but all were spawned there.
White recalls when the agency hired social workers from other countries to serve students from their countries of origin in 13 inner city schools in the late 1980s. "That program really changed how Family Services saw the services they were delivering," said White, who retired in 2006.
"The changes that we've seen in our services are probably fairly consistent with the changes we've seen in Vancouver, so over the past 40 years, large growth in immigrant populations, large growth in poverty and homelessness," Bonesky said.
The agency's staff has multiplied from 35 in 1968 to more than 500, and services are offered in more than 30 languages. "People that we touched their lives 40 years ago, probably their family are still benefiting," Bonesky said. "There's that generational piece from having been in a place for a long period of time."
The barbecue runs noon to 3 p.m. on May 24.
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