Throughout Ontario the United Way has become a critical part of our communities. It illustrates the important role of civil society, alongside and often in partnership with government and the private sector, in meeting the needs of a cohesive society.
A call to action
In 2015, Farhia Warsame’s life changed forever when she received the news that one of her sons had been shot and killed in their northwest Toronto neighbourhood known as Dixon. Two years after her loss, Warsame led the Dixon community in a call for action to end gun violence. “Most Somali parents left Somalia for an improved life, not more violence for their families,” she said. Warsame is the executive director of the Somali Women and Children’s Support Network (SWCSN), a non-profit serving immigrant women and children. Founded in 1992 and funded by the United Way Greater Toronto, SWCSN encourages women in the community to come together, share skills and childcare, while providing a broad range of programs and services. It supports refugees, newcomers, and low-income women and their children through employment training and helping to develop their leadership and language skills. The women who use the SWCSN face enormous social and cultural barriers. The difficulty of isolation and accessing housing, education, and employment is alleviated through building upon their social network and fostering community and resilience.
One of the main challenges to providing consistent programing in the Dixon area has been access to space. Another United Way funded agency, Delta Family Resource Centre (DRFC), has had to be creative in how they provide their services to families and seniors, including counselling, résumé workshops, food banks, fitness activities for seniors, clothing repair, and more. Over the last 37 years, the DFRC has become known for outreach that enhances the potential of families and children. Both non-profits typify the extraordinary agencies that help the United Way identify needs and mobilize its resources for the most impact.
Thousands of volunteers
In Durham Region, the United Way funds over 20 agencies supported by more than 1000 volunteers. Since 1962, the John Howard Society (JHS) of Durham Region has worked to reduce the impact of crime and its causes by providing effective prevention and intervention programs. It offers individuals who are at-risk counselling, literacy, housing, harm reduction, and employment support. Along with other Durham Region agencies, JHS benefits from the United Way’s strong community patronage. The beloved Ontario Hockey League team the Oshawa Generals have hosted fundraising events to bring attention to the importance of battling poverty and its impact on people in their community. For over a century, the United Way has been improving lives in Ontario and across the country.
The United Way of Kingston, Frontenac, Lennox & Addington (UWKFLA) funds agencies like One Roof, a Youth Services Hub comprised of 15 organizations that work together to provide one-on-one support, group programs, and workshops. They offer young people in need access to healthcare, housing, education, life skills, and employment services. As part of the UWKFLA’s integrated system of care and homelessness reduction strategy, the Hub provides safe spaces for vulnerable youth. Throughout the province, a network of 28 local United Ways share similar goals; create opportunities for a better life for everyone, and build strong, healthy communities.
Each December, hundreds of Ontario’s public servants join me in the Lieutenant Governor’s Suite to celebrate another year of volunteering and fundraising for the United Way. The mood is festive and joyful, and yet every year, I continue to be overwhelmed by the amount of need, and of the inequality that exists here in Ontario. To build a resilient and inclusive province, there must be individuals who are willing to help, as well as organizations like the United Way, which have the infrastructure to make a great impact in every community. In my travels from the east to west, north to south, I hear stories of how the organization is helping to lift people from poverty, provide educational and health services, and build a sense of social cohesion. From the Youth Services Hub in Kingston, to the cohesive and thoughtful approach of the John Howard Society in Durham, and to the powerful and resilient women leaders of the Somali Women and Children’s Support Network and the Delta Family Resource Centre in Toronto, I have seen how their support helps to create a sustainable future for so many in this province.
In the United Way Greater Toronto’s 2019 report Rebalancing the Opportunity Equation, the chapter headings alone are distressing: “Young adults are more disadvantaged today.” “Immigrants are not catching up anymore.” “The racial divide has grown over time.” “Income inequality undermines the bonds that hold societies together.”
Yet hope springs eternal, particularly when we take care to share our stories of success. Because in Ontario we have so much to learn and to contribute. Together, we can provide a strong foundation for a more sustainable and resilient society at home and across the province. We all have a role to play.Sustainability