When Ola moved to Ottawa from Montreal, she faced the challenge of learning to navigate a new community, and a new culture. For many women who are newcomers to our region, or to Canada, putting down roots can feel overwhelming and isolating.
Ola looked for resources in her community and found a series of workshops run by a local organization, Creating the Change We Want (CCWW). These workshops cover topics like leadership and building positive relationships between neighbours, which enable residents to go forward and address specific needs within their communities.
Ola says CCWW training is an important resource when it comes to helping women like her learn how to find support while navigating their new home.
Ola is now a volunteer of the year at The Nepean, Rideau and Osgoode Community Resource Centre (NROCRC) where she attended workshops after arriving in Ottawa. She’s currently involved in programs that focus on trauma awareness, self-supporting, cultural sensitivity, anti-racism and mental health/first aid.
Creating the Change We Want
The programing Ola accessed is made possible by Women United—United Way East Ontario’s women’s giving initiative—as part of the group’s mission to support and empower vulnerable women. Creating the Change We Want teaches residents in Ottawa’s priority neighbourhoods, and partner agency community developers supporting residents, how to build the skills and confidence they need to go back into their communities and work on making positive change together.
It can be as simple as building connections among neighbours and building on strengths, says Tammy Corner, a facilitator of the Community Development Framework, which operates CCWW.
CCWW helps women build confidence to use their skills to help establish a brighter future for their children , families, and neighbours by creating a supportive, welcoming, and safe social network. CCWW, and the networks women develop, serve to inspire, encourage, educate, value diversity, identify needs and concerns, and create and plan solutions.
Graduates of the CCWW training program apply their new knowledge by engaging residents in their neighbourhood, applying for funding, and starting initiatives tailored to the specific needs of their communities.
In the past, graduates of the program have started initiatives like a food pantry or community-building events like virtual paint nights during the pandemic, cooking and eating a meal together, or crafting.
COVID-19's impact on vulnerable women
In 2021, CCWW trainees took part in an ongoing initiative to help with COVID-19 outreach. Alongside partners, a handful of resident leaders from CCWW went door–to–door educating their community on how to stay healthy and safe, as well as providing information on vaccines.
The pandemic highlighted that much of the family responsibility and caretaking duties fell on women. Tammy says that’s why CCWW sees more women involved in training than men.
“The majority of people who take the CCWW training are women. Many of the members who are engaged in the community as volunteers are also women,” says Tammy. “Women do play a leadership role in the neighbourhoods. They often get involved because they’re caring for their children, so they want to see these opportunities for their children.”
A pillar of Women United’s mission is to empower women in leadership. Creating the Change We Want works towards this goal by giving women the tools to address specific local needs and goes further by teaching them how to apply for and access resources.
The Manordale Women’s Community Initiative
One group that has benefited from CCWW training is the Manordale Women’s Community Initiative (MWCI). Launched in 2017 and based out of the Manordale Woodvale Community Association, the group has applied for Women United grants on a yearly basis to help them run programming and events in the community.
Ola was a member of the MWCI in their first year. She says that the women’s group and the CCWW workshops she attended were vital in helping her learn to navigate her new community after moving to Ottawa.
The MWCI serves a diverse community, including many newcomers to Canada. The Women United grants they received over the years have supported grassroots initiatives that foster community, welcome newcomers, and provide a safe space for women to connect and learn the skills they need to thrive in a new environment.
The MWCI helps women from all walks of life learn how to establish themselves while connecting them to support from their neighbours. Events like crafting get-togethers teach women how to market their skills to make an income, or cover topics that the women ask to learn, like how to start a daycare from home.
In 2021, the MWCI incorporated Safe People Creating Change training from CCWW, which teaches neighbours how to create safe spaces and foster a sense of belonging.
Women United has been proud to support community initiatives like Creating the Change We Want and the Manordale Women’s Community Initiative, who do important, hands-on work to help women in our region thrive.
With or without the pandemic, isolation is a reality for newcomer women coming to our region without any close connections or family support. As we move forward, it will be crucial that vulnerable women and their families have continued access to safe spaces and programs so that they can create support systems and foster positive change in their community.