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Stacey Godsoe embraces the life from Petite Rivière, believes in placing community first

Stacey Godsoe
Stacey Godsoe - Photo illustration by Belle DeMont

A force for change

Stacey Godsoe lives in Petite Rivière with her husband and three children in a brown and blue house on the river, 15 minutes down the road from Bridgewater. A native Haligonian, she left the city in 2001 and fell hard for the rural lifestyle and its community-first focus.

She’s that kind of person – the one who flips the conversation around, shifting the spotlight from herself to her community and colleagues. That’s a bit unusual at the best of times – down-right uncharacteristic in our selfie-driven, look-at-me world. But that’s just her and, probably, a big part of why she’s become a force for change, in her backyard and beyond.

In 2013, Stacey spearheaded a community advocacy effort taking to task the region’s school board and their motion to close Petite Rivière Elementary School. Rallying voices as one, the new community association raised funds, hired counsel and filed a judicial review. February 2018, the Nova Scotia Supreme Court threw out the closure motion.

Meanwhile, her day job involves advocating for and working on nonprofit-based projects to help balance the scales for vulnerable populations.

Q: What powers your drive to make change?

A: “My parents were my earliest influences. Both were strong feminists and very involved in the community. Growing up, I remember going with my mother to her board meetings and being infused with her principles and thoughtfulness. Becoming a mother certainly sharpened that outlook. I was struck by how little rural support there was, and continues to be, for new moms. Services aren’t there or prioritized. That informed the reality that you have to fight to get support as a woman, particularly in rural areas, where it’s easy to lose things quickly, as we almost did with the school.

Q: How did you manage to pull off the David-and-Goliath with the School Board?

A: “Without getting into the nitty gritty, we did our research, and discovered the closure decision came down to procedural unfairness. The board rhetoric was about ‘utilization’ and ‘quality of education,’ while the truth was they’d made an error they interpreted as a legal complication. Rather than correct it, they elected to deny the heart of their community a school. The courts agreed with us, and now that the school is staying open, we’re shifting effort to ensure the school remains sustainable. Recently, we built a chicken coop and use the eggs for the breakfast program.”


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Q: What keeps you up at night and what’s the fix?

“It’s criminal that anything related to increasing equity is poorly funded; and essential services for women, particularly those who are more marginalized, remain so hard to access. That’s infuriating. Increased equity is the backbone of just systems. At the heart, when you lose support structures you lose social justice. That’s an important philosophical driver, so I use any influence I have on the broader systems and structures to increase access to service, support, healthcare and justice for the vulnerable and to end gender-based violence. Getting there is also about collaboration, who you align with, and creating networks so those services and supports remain available, accessible and sustainable.”

Q: Can you give examples of that philosophy at work?

A: “Until recently, when a woman was sexually assaulted, she had to go to Halifax for services, including a medical examination because local doctors weren’t trained or, often, even available. Imagine the added trauma, post assault, of transport to another city to access care. Many simply chose not to go, and crimes went unreported. Working with the Second Story Women’s Centre, we secured funding from the feds and province for local services, and then worked with community partners to set up a sexual report team and protocols. Now, anyone who experiences sexual assault can access consistent care here, where they live, no matter where they enter the system. Another project is HRM-based, targeting change in the mainstream criminal justice system – logic being, how about treating all crimes appropriately within the root system.”

Q: How has being an Atlantic Canadian shaped you?

A: It’s life a little on the margins, a sense of struggle, and the perspective that provides. In the broader scheme, we either know of, or identify as, a ‘have-not’ province. I see that, especially in a rural community, but I feel a hidden benefit is how everyone comes together and makes do. That’s inspiring, yet there’s also a hesitancy to speak up – a sense that what has been will always be. Often, I felt like the lone voice, asking for more or criticized for wanting more, but it’s changing. There’s a stronger sense of urgency and a movement out of the headspace of a ‘have not’ and that what we are is unique and different and great.

Q: Any last words?

A: You never know what will move you. What I do is not hugely lucrative. I work from one contract to the next, lucky enough to have the support of a partner and simple life. I’m grateful to do something different, following the issues that strike me. Working in the non-profit sector is a great opportunity to speak freely and unfettered. I plan to keep pushing the needle as long and as far as I possibly can.

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