The family of social work alumni Paula Weaver (far right) and Brian Schrock (second from left) pause during a hike in the Wentworth Valley of Nova Scotia. The children, from left, are 15-year-old Kellan, 13-year-old Eliana, and 11-year-old Ingrid. (Photo courtesy of the family)

Nova Scotia group awards $17,000 to agency operated by EMU social work alumni

Paula Weaver had to take a moment to let a substantial blessing sink in. The 1988 social work graduate of Eastern Mennonite University had just heard that her agency was the winner of the top award from a local organization called 100 Women Who Care.

Weaver’s non-profit organization, called Archway Counselling Association, received $17,300 during the awards event in Truro, Nova Scotia, on Dec. 2. Weaver is a therapist there and her husband, Brian Schrock, also a 1988 EMU social work graduate, is the executive director.

More than 400 women from Truro and the surrounding Colchester County heard Weaver describe the work of her agency, which offers professional counseling for families, couples and individuals at reduced and affordable prices. It also offers a drop-in center for youth, called Slate.

The agency, founded by local citizens 21 years ago, now employs eight people and has two satellite offices. They receive referrals from physicians, schools, clergy, the government’s Victim Services and Children’s Aid, and others. Weaver and Schrock were hired to help with the start up.

“None of us go through life unfazed,” Weaver told the women. “We all have or will have to deal with something. Often, these moments catch us off guard. To have a safe place to land is almost always imperative in surviving and in regaining our solid footing.”

At the end of her speech, Weaver read from a letter her agency received the day before: “Without Archway and the option of reduced rates, I wouldn’t have been able to get the help I needed. You have given me life skills that I needed and the confidence to lead a fuller, happier life.”

Weaver and Schrock dated their senior year at EMU but went their separate ways after graduation. Schrock and a friend rode their bicycles all the way home to Colorado. Weaver and a friend drove to Boston to find jobs in social work.

“My first job was doing child-protection work in a tough part of the city,” said Weaver. “That experience was life-changing, both professionally and personally. While I was overwhelmed at times in the new culture, I felt confident in my abilities and my EMU training.”

After two years, Weaver went to Smith College in Northampton, Massachusetts, to earn a master’s degree in clinical social work. After graduation, she and Schrock married and moved to Philadelphia. Schrock enrolled in a master of social work program at Bryn Mawr College, and Weaver took a job at Philadelphia Hospital as director of a drug and alcohol program.

When Schrock finished his master’s degree, the couple decided to take a volunteer assignment somewhere in the world. Mennonite Central Committee had an opening in Nova Scotia, where a board had been organized to establish a counseling center that would be affordable and accessible to all. They were looking for therapists and a director.

“I’m embarrassed to say that we had to look up Nova Scotia on the map,” Weaver said, “to confirm where we thought it was – above Maine, in Canada.”

The couple helped get the center up and running. When their two-year MCC term ended, they extended it for six months and then another six months. “We joke that this was our Gilligan’s Island,” Weaver said, referring to a TV comedy that appeared in the late 1960s. Two decades after their first two-year stint, they are still on the island-like peninsula of Nova Scotia.

Weaver and Schrock sometimes talk about returning to the United States. “I look up real estate listings in our home states of Colorado and Pennsylvania,” Weaver said. Meanwhile they have three children – ages 15, 13, 11 – who consider themselves Canadian. When the family watches the Olympics or World Cup soccer, the parents cheer for the United States and the children for Canada.

“Nova Scotia is beautiful, and I have become quite attached to the sight and sound of the ocean, along with the wonderful landscape of trees and rocks,” said Weaver. “I take for granted whale and moose sightings.”