By Jonathan Tremblay

Founded in 1988 by a group of Regina volunteers, SOFIA (Support of Families in Affliction) House was the first post-crisis safe housing facility in Saskatchewan to support women and children escaping violence and abuse in the home. SOFIA House provides housing, counselling, as well as support and development programs for abused family members to become integrated members of our community.  The organization functions exclusively through charitable donations, receiving no government funding at any level. Its communications challenges, much like those of other Saskatchewan charities and not-for-profits, are considerable, but not insurmountable. With the help of volunteer communicators, SOFIA House powers through.

“SOFIA House fills a great need in Regina,” says Zamira Vicenzino, Board Member and communications volunteer for the organization. “Their ten housing units operate at full capacity most of the time, with many applicants being turned away throughout the year.  Saskatchewan has the highest rate of reported domestic violence on Canada, and yet there is a lack of awareness and education that domestic violence and abuse is a problem for everyone, everywhere regardless of gender, culture, social class or income group.” Zamira also says that there is also great difficulty for both victims and witnesses to talk about the problem, which means that the issue continues to be kept under a veil of secrecy and under-communicated.

She tells us that one of the biggest communications challenges is raising awareness of the problem, while also trying to motivate people to support SOFIA House specifically. “It’s a balancing act; we have to showcase what we do so we can demonstrate its importance and its value, while protecting the anonymity of the people using our services,” she says. “As a communicator, I would love to highlight their stories and show the direct benefit that the organization brings, but security is the priority and we have to find other, less-obvious ways to communicate and educate.” One-such opportunity exists with this milestone year for SOFIA House.

2013 marks the organization’s 25th anniversary, and they approached IABC/Regina for help to organize the 25th anniversary gala and fundraiser. “Something I’ve noticed in volunteering with many non-profits is the lack of understanding about the importance of strategic communications,” says Zamira. She was excited about an opportunity to help a cause that speaks to her values, and just a few months after volunteering, Zamira was asked to join the board of directors. In her role, Zamira  has  helped developed a strategy for this year’s gala fundraiser (a success by all accounts) that focused on awareness, diversifying sources of funding and celebrating the successes SOFIA House has had over the past 25 years.  Zamira also helped SOFIA House bring on a firm to build the organization’s new website. Walking that tightrope between communication and privacy, the website even bears a sidebar explaining how to clear browser history, a key consideration for SOFIA House’s target audience. Zamira looks forward to helping the board develop a new strategic communications plan in support of organizational objectives in the upcoming year. 

So what does Zamira get out of her experience volunteering for SOFIA House? “I recently heard some testimonials from women who had been helped [through SOFIA House], and they were very powerful. It makes me feel really good to be helping a cause like this.” Through her volunteer work with organization, Zamira has also developed new knowledge and skills, especially in the area of sponsorship and donor marketing. 

Zamira encourages all of the city’s communicators to realize the need for professional communications expertise that exists on Regina’s not-for-profit scene: “Find something that you care about and work to be a leader in your community. There are tons of opportunities out there.”

To learn more about SOFIA House, visit their website. To give back and make a difference, find an organization near you.

Every year, IABC/Regina also hosts the Mentorship Challenge, which pairs junior and veteran communicators with a Regina not-for-profit to strategize and address communications challenges in the organization. Mentees gain experience, mentors get to share their experience and the organizations benefit from top-quality (and free) communications expertise. For more information on the program or to apply as a mentee, mentor or not-for-profit organization, visit our website. Application deadline is November 30, 2013.