More than just a book club

By Andrea Tomkins –

Angela de Wilton and Bev Nussbaum are active members of the Highland Avenue Book Club and they’ve been working on a project that doesn’t include reading late into the night or late fees at the library. 

The book club is raising funds for Cornerstone Housing for Women, specifically, the Westboro location. 

The Princeton Avenue location of Cornerstone is the former home of les Soeurs de Jeanne d’Arc, an order of nuns who had strong ties to the community, both as educators and for providing temporary housing for women. The building, which was originally known as l’Institut Jeanne D’arc, was fully renovated and recently opened its doors this fall as a Cornerstone residence for 42 women in need of affordable, supportive housing. 

Bev is a longtime resident of Highland Avenue. She worked for the City of Ottawa but is now retired. In a recent interview with KT, she describes her block of Highland Avenue as a very social one. “It’s a very good neighbourhood, we are a really tight group of neighbours,” reflects Bev, who says her block is jokingly referred to as “Sesame Street”. 

These are the kinds of neighbours who throw a block party every year on Canada Day, and have come to know each other very well. Of course, people come and go, but some of the neighbours have relationships that go back 20 years. 

Angela, who runs her own business as a consultant in the area of intellectual property, says the book club started ten years ago. Current membership stands at about 14 although eight to ten women come to monthly meetings of the book club.

Bev Nussbaum and Angela de Wilton are members of the Highland Avenue Book Club. The group has been raising funds for Cornerstone Housing for Women. Photo by Andrea Tomkins

The Cornerstone fundraiser is the group’s first project of this kind. The idea came through Bev via another local social group, who had invited a speaker from Cornerstone to give a presentation. Bev, in turn, brought information about Cornerston’s “adopt-a-room” campaign back to her book club. 

“[Cornerstone] is such an awesome thing to have in our neighbourhood,” says Bev, who adds that she hopes to volunteer there in the future. 

“I talked to the book club and I just put it out there,” she describes. “All the women in our group were very open to it. They wanted to do it and they said this is a good project. We’d never done a project before as a book club but the timing was right. Everybody was really on board with it.”

Angela agrees that the fundraising effort was timely. “The building is right in our neighbourhood. We walk by there regularly. The idea of naming one of the rooms after the neighbourhood perhaps will help the residents feel more included,” she says. Bev adds: “And let them know that as a neighbourhood we care about this. We all care about homelessness. We are women, we all have mothers… we are all connected to women. And if we raise more money than what we need to, that’s great, because there will always be a need.”

The group’s goal is $6,500, a target which, if met, means the fundraising group will be honoured with a special commemorative plaque in the front foyer of the Princeton Avenue Cornerstone residence. The grand unveiling will be held in March and they’ve already planned the inscription: The Highland McKellar & Parks room. It will be named after the neighbourhoods of book club members, not after the book club itself, because they want to recognize the generosity of their neighbours regardless of book club membership.   

So far, the group has raised $3,000, mostly by reaching out to friends and neighbours but also by reaching into their own pockets. “A lot of it came from the people in our book club and the other neighbours on this street,” confirms Bev. “People are pretty generous.” 

Their current plan is to distribute a letter to households in the neighbourhood and talk to more people about becoming a part of their fundraising effort. Fundraising aside, Bev says their campaign has raised a lot of awareness in her neighbourhood. “Not everyone knows what Cornerstone is,” she says. “If we can get behind it as a neighbourhood, and care about it, then it’ll keep going. There will always be support for it, and I just think people need to know.”

Some members of the book club, such as Angela, are glad that Cornerstone is carrying on the legacy the nuns left behind when they moved. “I was glad to see that they were putting that building to a use that it was intended for, not just knocking it down and building more million-dollar houses,” she says.  

The Highland Avenue Book Club is issuing a challenge to readers (and to other Kitchissippi book clubs!) to make a donation to Cornerstone. Readers can make a donation online To make the donation in the name of the book club to help them reach their goal, make sure you write “for the Highland & McKellar Parks Adopt-a-Room Princeton Project” in the space provided on the website.

Is there a non-profit group or volunteer that you think we should feature in KT? Do you know someone who is making our community a better place? Let us know! Send your suggestions to us via this form.

* This feature is brought to you in part by Catherine McKenna, MP Ottawa Centre


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