For over a century, YWCAs across Canada have worked tirelessly in support of women and families. Each year, 300,000 women and girls are supported through a variety of YWCA programs and initiatives to help them build stronger futures. And empowerment programs like YWCA’s GirlSpace is a shining example of how powerfully women can make a difference as mentors in the lives of other women and young girls on their paths to adulthood.
Amber Niemeier, Director of Communications & Advocacy at YWCA Edmonton, is one such woman who has also shared her time, wisdom and compassion with young girls as a mentor. “There are few things I’ve done in my life that have had such an impact on me,” reflects Amber.
“The girls look up to their mentors and as a volunteer, that led to some serious self-reflection of my own. I was also struck by the deep bonds girls naturally formed when given a safe space, free from external pressures and outside judgment.”
Making a crucial difference in girls’ lives
GirlSpace is an empowerment program that was developed over 13 years ago to help young teen girls learn important life skills and build leadership qualities. “It’s a really intensive program that the girls embark on with our volunteer mentors. They can see what success looks like and learn leadership from young women,” says Amber. “It’s positive mentorship paired with evidence-based curriculum.”
“What we’ve found, and what we know from the literature, is that girls do better in girls only spaces where they don’t have additional outside pressures — they can speak more freely and be themselves ,” adds Nina Gorka, Director of Shelters, Girls and Family Programs for YWCA in Toronto. “GirlSpace gives young women that safe space where they can talk about their needs, dreams and wants without fear of being judged.”
Topics that are covered in the GirlSpace program can include healthy relationships, bullying and harassment, mental health, decision-making, the influence of the media and violence against women, including sexual assault and consent. This turned out to be life-changing for one young woman who was dealing with the unthinkable and felt safe enough to reach out for help in a GirlSpace group.
“Our spaces have boxes for girls to safely share thoughts, comments and questions they may not be comfortable bringing up in front of the group,” Amber explains. “In one of these groups, a girl put a message in the box disclosing that she was being sexually abused. The mentor immediately put our abuse protocol into action, and the girl was offered support through a psychologist from our Counselling Services. Other community agencies were brought on board to provide wraparound support to the girl and her family. This young woman now tells us she is ‘living a life not defined by the abuse.’ Unfortunately, disclosures of this kind are not uncommon.”
Fundraising is critical for programming
Fundraising is the lifeblood of YWCA’s support programs, such as GirlSpace. Without the fundraising efforts and support of organizations like Canadian Western Bank (CWB), these opportunities to find help and community wouldn’t exist for these girls. “We’re almost entirely reliant on donations,” Nina elaborates. “The impact is significant. Our programs have to be very responsive; we have to be adaptive. And with more donations, we can run more programs.”
GirlSpace and other YWCA programs can always use more support and welcome women from the community keen to make a difference in the lives of girls. Applications for mentorship are always open, and training is provided.
Finding a proud partner in CWB
With a $100,000 contribution from CWB this month towards YWCA’s empowerment programs across Canada, the organization will continue to have a meaningful impact on the girls and young women it serves. “They’ve been a partner for five years in a number of different capacities. Even when they can’t help directly, CWB will offer to find us an expert who can provide advice,” says Amber. “They are a strong supporter of the YWCA, and the people we serve.”
CWB is proud to partner and help the YWCA create brighter futures for women and families across the country. Learn more about CWB’s commitment to community investment.