How Women 4 Change makes a difference in young women’s lives

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A passion for philanthropy and personal development brought together a girls’ school program and an award-winning women’s footwear and accessories store.

Nine young women from Glendale High’s GirlsONLY program had a chance to explore their creative side by designing the public window display of Solee Shoes on Locke Street.

Together, they decided on which items from the store they would display. After four hours, they transformed an empty window into a trendy display of a wedding mannequin, a white bird cage, flowers, and, of course, a variety of stylish shoes.

Young women from Glendale High's GirlsONLY program put on their creative hats to design Solee Shoes' window display (Photo supplied by: Sheree Meredith)

Young women from Glendale High’s GirlsONLY program put on their creative hats to design Solee Shoes’ window display (Photo supplied by: Sheree Meredith)

Store owner and founding member of the Women 4 Change funding initiative Lisa Dalia, suggested the project.

Women 4 Change was established in 2012 by the Hamilton Community Foundation (HCF) to give women a way to be philanthropic leaders. Contributors are women from all walks of life, including lawyers, finance professionals, filmmakers and students. They fund projects that support women. The group’s first grant was to the Hamilton-Wentworth District School Board’s GirlsONLY program.

“I am a strong believer in mentorship and thought that if I could connect with even a couple of girls it would be worth it,” said Dalia, who joined the board even before Women 4 Change had a name.

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“We learned how to cooperate with others, multitask, and problem solve,” said Carly, who participated in designing the window (Photo taken from: Solee Shoes’ Facebook page)

Designing a store window was a learning experience for 16-year-old Carly.

“Our group learned that it’s not as easy as some may think to create what you see in the windows of stores. We learned how to cooperate with others, multitask, and problem solve,” said Carly, who joined the program in October 2013.

Women supporting girls

The GirlsONLY program was launched 8 years ago by the Board of Education to provide safe spaces for girls where they could build self-esteem and learn about community engagement and leadership.

Initially, the program was available to girls from grade 6 to 8 but with $10,000 from the Women 4 Change fund, it was expanded in 2013 to include secondary schools. Now, about 140 teens from 10 secondary schools participate.

Sheree Meredith of the HCF thinks the expansion was critical because it is just as important for teenagers as it is for girls in elementary school.

“We talked about grants that will act as transition points for girls. It [the grant for GirlsONLY] really allows the program to expand to a new age group and across the city,” said Meredith, vice-president of philanthropic services at HCF.

About $23,000 was given between April 2013 and March 2014 by 53 contributors from Women 4 Change.

“We want to see a grant that will have a significant difference in the lives of women, increasing our ability to be strong and strategic philanthropists,” she said.

Contributors to Women 4 Change also assist with training and facilitation of activities in the GirlsONLY program. The program is tied to the school board’s mental health strategy.

Michelle Bates, the Hamilton-Wentworth District School Board’s mental health lead explains that the partnership with Women4Change offers mentoring opportunities for the girls. The project with Solee Shoes is one example.

“Our experiences are different, but we can identify similar or common experiences shared as women,” said Bates.

Building self-confidence

From bracelet-making and nail art to drawing and media literacy, the young women get to decide on the topics they’d like to learn and do a variety of activities. But they are all aimed towards one goal: self-confidence. Through interaction with their peers and teachers in a supportive environment, they feel they belong.

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The interaction and support offered by peers make GirlsONLY a safe place for young women (Photo supplied by: Sheree Meredith)

That is one of the reasons why Carly continued to participate in the program after elementary school.

“I like the fact that it’s a safe place for us and I know that these days some girls just need that feeling. I also like how we are able to help one another as a group when times may get tough, or they just simply need help,” she said.

To her, the group is more than just having fun and making friends.

“We can grow and develop together and overcome tasks that may seem a little hard on your own,” said Carly.

“It’s a safe place to be, and for some of us, that’s really all we need.”

Alyssa Lai is a proud McMaster alumna with an alliterative degree, B.A. (Hons) in Communication Studies and Theatre and Film Studies. She asks questions, listens and capture stills showcasing Hamilton. More at about.me/alyssalai