Women helping local women – that was the theme of the United Way KFL&A’s first Women United reception of the year on April 4. The event was held at Studio 22 Gallery and invited women in the community who are Leaders of the Way to attend, learn more about the issues facing women locally and have conversations on how to prevent those issues.
The goal of Women United is to bring women and resources together under the United Way umbrella in order to change lives and have a lasting positive impact on the local community. This message resonated with committee member Jane Lapointe who graciously sponsored the event.
“I am so happy to see everyone here tonight and see this all come together,” said Lapointe. She went on to explain that she attended a Women United reception last fall and instantly wanted to do something to help. She brought the idea of hosting a reception to gallery directors Hersh Jacob and Ally Jacob and all were happily on board. “I believe in our ability collectively to do really great things and this reception is part of that.”
The Women United initiative is new to Kingston and area, but President and CEO of United Way KFL&A, Bhavana Varma, was quick to point out that women giving back certainly isn’t new.
“We had had our Women in Leadership group in the past and we have had women supporters forever and research shows that women give differently than men – women want to give to a cause that they believe in,” she said. “We have recognized that more and more women want to do something about the issues affecting our community. They don’t want to just know what is happening, they want to actually make a difference and that is where Women United comes in.”
The reception brought more than 50 women together for an evening of networking, conversation, wine, hors d’oeuvres and messages from women in the community. Alexis Babcock, began the formal portion of the evening by sharing her story, detailing her experiences with drug addiction, mental health, human trafficking and more. Luckily, she found support through the Youth Diversion program and other agencies, but her story brought tears to the eyes of many in the room.
“Now, I am a strong 23-year-old woman. My college placement has given me an opportunity to work with kids who remind me of myself in many ways,” she explained. “I want to work hard to connect with them just like my counsellor did with me. Life has never been easy for me and honestly I don’t think it ever will be, but now I can look at it as a chance to learn and grow.”
In addition to Alexis’s story, those in attendance heard from Jaymi Hayward, a counsellor with the Kairos program at Youth Diversion, Lindsey Belch, Executive Director of Girls Inc. and Antje McNeely, Chief of Police, Kingston Police and co-chair of Women United. All were happy to share their perspectives on issues facing women and girls in the community.
“A lot of the struggles that girls and women deal with is that we have this ideal that we have to live up to. We have to keep it all together while only exhibiting healthy coping strategies,” said Hayward. “So many girls are suffering in silence. It is really great to have these conversations and bring these issues to the surface so we can stop that suffering in silence.”
For her part, Lindsey Belch shared some of the great work that Girls Inc. has been doing in the community and helping girls find confidence, learn life skills and succeed.
“We want to ensure that every single girl in our community has the skills, knowledge and support they need to take charge of their health, increase their healthy behaviours, and think about the future, ,” she explained. “We need to support these women in our community – but wouldn’t it be better to find a way to resolve some of these issues before they need that support?”
This call to action resonated with many in the room and especially Kingston’s new and first female Police Chief Antje McNeely. For her part, Chief McNeely spoke of the struggles women face in workplaces and the obstacles that she herself had to overcome. She concluded by offering ways that women can help each other.
“Women have a habit of placing themselves lower – the worst bully is the one in our heads,” she said. “[We need to] support each other, be an advocate, gather in groups like this, mentor others– women supporting women. We need to pave the way.”
In the end, the goal of the reception was to inspire conversation and create a broader sense of awareness of the issues facing the KFL&A community and more specifically women within it. Varma encouraged feedback on any and all of the topics going forward.
“We know the complexity of the issues our agencies are facing is increasing and we are really fortunate to have all of you here today to hear from our speakers,” she said. “We ask you to help guide us on what we need to do and where you feel we need to invest to make improvements on these issues in our community – with your help we can make a difference.”
The next Women United reception will be held in June. For more information about Women United visit https://www.unitedwaykfla.ca/women-united-brings-like-minded-individuals-together-to-show-their-local-love/