By RON FANFAIR
At a simple ceremony last Friday in North York, the federal government recognized volunteers in a community project that empowers Black women residing in priority neighbourhoods in the Greater Toronto Area.
Minister of State (Status of Women) Helena Guergis presented Certificates of Appreciation to Black Youth Helpline (BYH) volunteers in the 36-month “Empowering Women: Leadership Development for Parents of Complex Needs Youth” initiative which was launched last October.
The Canadian government provided the organization with $197,306 in financial support through the Women’s Program of Status of Women of Canada Community Fund.
“Our government recognizes the important role that grassroots organizations like Black Youth Helpline play in providing support and services to women across the country and that is why the government made the decision to increase funding allocated to community organizations across Canada,” said Guergis.
“In these times of global economic uncertainty, our government is committed to advancing equality and ensuring the full participation in all aspects of Canadian life, whether it’s cultural, democratic, economic and even when you are talking about the social spheres in Canadian society. We will continue to focus on where the needs are greatest so that we can ensure that we are making a meaningful difference and we will continue to invest in projects that touch women directly.”
A total of 120 participants are involved in the three-year program that’s designed to empower women as leaders.
“Through this outstanding project, women’s lives are being transformed and they are being empowered to move from the margins, where racism, violence and other factors limit their opportunities, to the mainstream where they can contribute to the life of their communities,” Guergis said. “This initiative also builds women’s leadership skills, inspiring them to be role models for their families and for youths in their communities.
“It’s my hope that they will be better able to identify issues affecting them with an action plan to address their needs and gain access to services and further opportunities to help develop their leadership skills. I also hope it will enhance the participants’ parenting, life management, family leadership and citizenship skills.”
BYH chair Olga Semple said the extreme marginalization of young mothers of African and Caribbean origins in the GTA is a social misfortune that her organization is working to change.
“Through our Empowering Women project, we are helping to create a better future for these young mothers and their children,” she said.
Several GTA church leaders attended last Friday’s ceremony and made it clear they want to work with the BYH to address the challenges facing Black women.
“I have many single mothers in my church congregation who are seeking a social networking support,” said Rev. Delores Brown who founded Fresh Anointing Pentecostal Church of God in Brampton four years ago. “I am also single and I know what they are going through. My heart cries out for them. By collaborating with the BYH, I feel we can reach out in a more effective manner to women seeking help.”
The BYH was established five years ago to provide marginalized youth and parents with access to culturally appropriate support and services. The organization’s director, Barbara Thompson, said the volunteer-driven organization has served nearly 720 clients in the first seven months of the year.
“The kids that were coming to us in need of help were from predominantly single marginalized women,” said Thompson, who is a registered nurse. “We figured what we needed to do was to focus on the development of women if we wanted to get to the root cause of youth violence and crime and make an impact.”
The BYH is located at 1183 Finch Ave. W. Suite 504 and the telephone number is (416) 285-9944.