MONTREAL, Feb. 23, 2015 /CNW Telbec/ - On February 23, 1875, the YWCA Montreal was officially established, making it one of the oldest community organizations in the greater Montreal area. At the time, the organization's mission was to "receive young women who come as strangers to the city, obtain for them board and employment, attend generally to their temporal and moral welfare."1
Modern throughout the years
This mission has remained relevant throughout the YWCA Montreal's 140-year history. The organization has continued to evolve, opening new doors for women since 1875: "It's wonderful to see how the YWCA Montreal, since its foundation, has continually responded to the needs of women and changes in society. Through the years, the YWCA has offered innovative—often even cutting-edge—solutions that contribute to advancing the status of women and developing their autonomy," explains CEO Hélène Lépine.
The YWCA Montreal is part of the international family of YWCAs (Young Women's Christian Association), founded in England in 1855. The industrial revolution led to a large population shift toward the cities, and an increase in the number of single young women seeking employment in urban areas contributed to the rapid growth of this movement.
Housing, safety and autonomy
The safety and social inclusion of women has always been at the heart of the YWCA Montreal's mission. From the very beginning in 1875, the organization offered a community housing service with job search assistance. Even then, it was believed that "living with other women of the same age who are facing the same challenges and working in the same fields builds community."
Today, the YWCA Montreal's Housing Services offer a social reintegration program in a safe environment where residents can regain control of their lives at their own pace, work toward autonomy and break free from the cycle of exclusion, violence and homelessness. The services provide tools—including a range of workshops, conferences and physical activities, as well as weekly counselling sessions—that residents can use to rebuild a stable life. In 2013–2014, 97 women took advantage of the housing services, the majority of whom achieved their goal of regaining a stable life by securing safe and autonomous accommodation.
Carving out a niche in the world: employment is key
Women's employability has also played a role in the history of the YWCA Montreal since the very beginning. The ongoing struggle for autonomy and equity quickly gave rise to numerous innovative initiatives: employment services starting in 1885; phonography, stenography and typing classes, even though these jobs were primarily held by men; and the first nurse training classes in Canada.
Even today, the goal of the YWCA Montreal's Employability Services is to increase participants' skills and knowledge and give them the tools they need to successfully return to work or school. They are supported by a team of professionals who guide them on their path. In 2013–2014, 225 women received individual consultations through the Orientation and Services for Employment (OSE) program, 48 mothers were enrolled in the Mothers Work Integration Program, and 23 young women received customer service training through the Fringues & Cie integration program and the YWCA Montreal's Fringues Friperie boutique.
Becoming a modern woman: a lifelong pursuit
Empowering young women and developing their self-confidence has always been a major concern for the YWCA Montreal. In 1915, it was firmly believed that for a young woman to be successful at her job, she must gain self-confidence and have the right to "laugh and have fun." In this spirit, the first summer camp for girls in Canada opened its doors: Camp Oolahwan. Later, during World War II, the YWCA Montreal offered information sessions at high schools, called The Adventure of Being a Woman, to encourage young women to explore new professional opportunities.
Today, the YWCA Montreal's Youth Services develop innovative projects, training sessions, and workshops adapted to meet the needs and reality of girls and young women aged 8 to 35. Since 2013, the programs have also targeted boys and young men because they too play a key role in preventing violence and social and gender exclusion. The project leaders and coordinators visit schools and community centres to address issues such as cyberbullying, hypersexualization, diversification of career choices and women's roles in non-traditional trades, transition to high school, healthy relationships, and leadership. Close to 1,100 girls and boys participated in the programs in 2013–2014.
Wellness, legal information and support
As stated in its original mission, the YWCA Montreal strives to ensure "the moral and temporal welfare" of women. Thus 1907 marked the inauguration of the first gymnasium for women in Canada; an aquatic centre followed shortly thereafter. The 1950s saw the arrival of numerous artistic activities and, in 1977, came the development of educational tools to inform women of their rights: La femme et son nom and Women in the Law in Québec.
Today, the YWCA Montreal's Community Services—through the Centre Multi, the Legal Information Clinic, the Volunteer Centre and the new Family Caregivers Support Program—contribute to the personal and community well-being of more than 1,200 women who use the services each year. The services help women combat isolation, build relationships and access legal information. They also facilitate the integration of a clientele composed mainly of individuals who live on their own, often seniors or individuals from ethnocultural communities.
Over the years, the YWCA Montreal has faced various economic challenges and developed fundraising strategies to support its work with women. Its hotel and hostel have been part of these strategies for a long time, as well as the Women's Y Foundation, established in 1998 to financially support the YWCA's mission: to build a better future for women and girls living in Montreal. For 22 years, the Foundation has hosted the Women of Distinction Awards ceremony, which honours the achievements of inspiring and influential women in 13 categories. Most recently, the Foundation coordinates the YWCA's participation in the Scotia Bank Charity Challenge. A special fundraising campaign for the YWCA's 140th anniversary will soon be unveiled.
Throughout 2015–2016, the YWCA Montreal will organize activities to celebrate its rich 140-year history of expertise. More details will soon be available online at www.ydesfemmesmtl.org.
1- «An Act To Incorporate The Young Women's Christian Association of Montreal», Statutes of Quebec, 38 Victoria, Cap. 56, 1875. Pp. 203-205.
SOURCE Y DES FEMMES DE MONTREAL / YWCA MONTREAL
Image with caption: "Opening new doors for women since 1875 - The YWCA Montreal celebrates its 140th anniversary (CNW Group/Y DES FEMMES DE MONTREAL / YWCA MONTREAL)". Image available at: http://photos.newswire.ca/images/download/20150223_C4671_PHOTO_EN_12465.jpg
Image with caption: "Auxiliary nursing courses held at the YWCA Montreal during the First World War (circa 1915) © Y des femmes de Montréal (CNW Group/Y DES FEMMES DE MONTREAL / YWCA MONTREAL)". Image available at: http://photos.newswire.ca/images/download/20150223_C4671_PHOTO_EN_12468.jpg
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