The members of 100 Women Who Care Burlington faced a difficult choice this week as three worthy charities vied for their first group charitable donation of 2023.
The group, which now counts 96 members, met at the Burlington Golf and Country Club to hear from representatives of the three organizations: PFLAG Halton, Centre for Diverse Learners and Support House.
Since 2014, the local 100 Women chapter has supported 35 local charities with total donations of $211,445.
Their current format for selecting a successful charity is to have members nominate a group and then a representative is invited to pitch to the group either virtually or in person. At the end of three pitches, members vote on which organization to support.
Full members commit to give $100 to the selected charity; however, those under 30 years of age can join and commit $50 or $25 each if joining as a pair.
By pooling their donations, the women are able to make a greater charitable impact by donating up to $10,000 to the successful non-profit.
To be eligible for selection, proposed groups must be registered charities which serve Burlington or Halton.
100 Women Who Care Burlington meets four times a year to select charities to support. Facilitator Lisa Bilodeau said choosing is often difficult and meetings can be very emotional.
The January 2023 meeting was no exception.
PFLAG (Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays) Halton, a volunteer-run group which formed in 2019 and is committed to building safer spaces in the Halton area for gender and sexual minorities, was first to present.
Chapter lead Taylor Henderson said the group seeks to help families and society "affirm, value and celebrate all sexualities, genders and gender expressions."
They currently hold five monthly meetings — both virtual and in-person at the Milton Public Library — where people can meet and share their experiences in a safe atmosphere with peer support.
PFLAG was hoping for funding support to fill a services gap in the region that emerged with the closing of Positive Space Network, which previously operated in Halton serving youth up to age 24 but closed at the end of last summer.
"It left a huge service gap for youths and the community, too," Henderson said. "There are very few spaces where queer and trans can be around their peers and share similar lived experiences."
In addition to funds for dedicated programs, Henderson said, the group is seeking volunteers and hopes to train facilitators for the Burlington area to meet demand for their groups and support network.
Centre of Diverse Learners (CDL)
Alison Brindle, who is also a member of 100 Women Who Care Burlington, spoke on behalf of the Centre of Diverse Learners.
As the parent of a diverse learner, she said the cause is very dear to her heart.
The charity has been supporting diverse learners in Halton for over 55 years. "We focus on students with learning disabilities, ADHD, high-functioning autism and mental health issues that impact learning," Brindle said. "They are bright kids of average to gifted intelligence, who struggle to learn in a typical way. They make up about 10 per cent of our student population and are the largest segment of children needing special education support in our schools. But they generally fall through the cracks. Why? Because their disability is invisible."
Getting support for these children is an endless battle, she added, and CDL has to try and provide the educational support they are crying out for.
She said over the next eight weeks, more than 200 children would be supported by CDL, with twice weekly sessions for basic skills.
More than one-third of children with learning disabilities fail to get high school diplomas and many cannot access work and may end up homeless. There is also shame and stigmatization of having different needs. "It leads to huge mental health costs," Brindle said, noting the group is constantly looking for donors because CDL receives no government support.
CDL offers free advocacy services to students and parents, and while they offer paid tutoring to families and school boards, they hoped the funds from 100 Women Who Care could be used to allow low-income families to access their services for low to no cost. "With your $10,000, we could serve 20 children from our wait list in one go," Brindle said.
Group member Kimberley Calderbank nominated Support House for consideration, saying she is a fierce mental health and addictions advocate. "It's something my family, and I am sure others here in this room, have had to deal with," she said.
Yet Halton has fewer safe beds and support services than any other region in the province. Unhoused individuals struggling with mental health or addictions feel they have nowhere to turn in the community, Calderbank added, "but they do, Support House is there for them."
Calderbank introduced Support House associate executive director Christina Jabalee, who told the group her own brother had needed services in this community 20 years ago, but sadly died by suicide 13 years ago.
"A lot of people who struggle, their behaviours and things that are happening due to their struggles cause them to really have a challenge in getting appropriate or safe housing," she said. "What we do is support people in that gap. We support people in their homes with rent supplements, with taking care of the home, with managing their mental health and addiction issues. We also actually have our own homes. We have 24/7 staffing, so if people need a little more support, they are able to come in with us."
Support House is currently undertaking a $4-million capital campaign to build two new housing units.
"We are trying to build — this had not actually happened in a long time in Halton, if ever — we are trying to build supportive housing units, so people can live with dignity, in their own private home," she said. "We have a build that is happening in Acton, a 12-unit space, and a build happening in Oakville, serving all of Halton."
All three presenters delivered informative and emotion-charged pitches on behalf of their groups but also expressed support for one another, noting the worthiness of all the causes.
After the voting, PFLAG Halton was announced as the "charity of choice" for January 2023.
Members of 100 Women Who Care Burlington gather for a photo at the Burlington Golf & Country Club this week. / Tania Theriault - BurlingtonToday