Muskoka charity shortlisted for international award, but is unable to sustain 17 Girlz Unplugged groups

This year has brought a mix of great and not so good news to a local charitable organization.

YWCA Muskoka has been offering programs for girls and youth for almost 20 years through school based Girlz Unplugged programs, summer leadership and high school youth programs.

Thirty nine percent of the participants the organization serves are 18 years and under.

In May of this year, YWCA Muskoka was nominated by one of its funders for the “With and For Girls Award”.

In its 2nd year, this international award is given by a collective of 7 organizations united by a common belief that girls are agents of change, to 20 organizations from around the world and accompanied by a flexible cash grant and two years of organizational mentoring to build capacity and develop programs.

The With and For Girls Award highlights the accomplishments and dedication of locally led, girl-centred organizations that are based in the communities they serve and have annual revenues of less than $500,000US. Staff and volunteers at YWCA Muskoka also completed an application, provided a photo submission with the help of Girlz Unplugged program participants, and participated in a unique ‘Skype’ interview with a group of 17 and 18 year old young women from Chiapas Mexico.

In the end, YWCA Muskoka was one of 44 organizations shortlisted from 34 countries for the With and For Girls Award. YWCA Muskoka will be celebrating its 20th anniversary in 2017, an accomplishment particularly noteworthy as the local organization serves over 1200 people each year through a multi-site model that takes a wide range of violence prevention, leadership, and poverty reduction programs to participants across Muskoka’s largely rural region.

YWCA Muskoka works through partnership with school boards.

“To be nominated among girls-centred organizations from around the world, and then shortlisted is an incredible honour and really validates the quality of what we do as a ‘small and mighty’ community YWCA and reflects back to us what our funders and donors believe about the importance of working with girls and young women,” says Executive Director, Hannah Lin. “Our task now is to continue to deliver on our mission, stay true to our values, and find the means to keep on providing impactful experiences and developing innovative opportunities that involve girls as decision makers.”

YWCA Muskoka will be celebrating its 20th anniversary in 2017, an accomplishment particularly noteworthy as the local organization serves over 1200 people each year through a multi-site model that takes a wide range of violence prevention, leadership, and poverty reduction programs to participants across Muskoka’s largely rural region. YWCA Muskoka works through partnership with school boards and community agencies, and advocates and provides leadership on issues affecting women and girls. Doing the work without core operating funding from federal or provincial government has been an ongoing challenge for YWCA staff and board members for the past ten years and is getting tougher.

The organization has had to make the difficult decision this year to scale back one of YWCA Muskoka’s longest running programs, Girlz Unplugged, until sustainable funding can be found. For the past four years, Girlz Unplugged was funded by a grant from the Canadian Women’s Foundation. The grant also allowed the YWCA to develop the community based YWGRO mentorship program, but the funding came to an end in June and so far staff have been unsuccessful in securing another grant of a comparable size that would enable the YWCA to reach girls at all 17 schools in Muskoka. Prior to the CWF grant, the YWCA Muskoka had a few years of steady government program funding for Girlz Unplugged from Muskoka’s designation as a northern community.

The highly acclaimed and much in demand youth programs have been offered in every school in Muskoka, as well as Moose Deer Point First Nation. Girlz Unplugged programs had the benefit of 4 years of external evaluation to become evidence based, and YWCA Muskoka youth programs have proven to be highly effective at increasing self-worth, confidence and building peer support in young people, with additional sessions are often requested by school principals, teachers, parents and the students themselves.

The cost of one Girlz Unplugged program is in the range of $2500 to $3000 depending on location. This fall’s groups are being funding with the generous support of local service clubs including the Rotary Club of Bracebridge, Rotary Club of Gravenhurst, Stephenson’s Lions Club, and municipal community grants from the Township of Lake of Bays and the Town of Bracebridge. Funding is also being provided by the Kenny Foundation, the Brian Schaal Memorial Golf Tournament, and third party fundraisers including the Art in August event organized by Mary Spring of Huntsville; and the Dads of Muskoka’s Riverboat Cruise.

“We run with project and program specific grants, special events and fundraising, and the generosity of our donors. This year we’ve had 17 successful grants ranging from $500 to $90,000, and 9 unsuccessful grant proposals,” says Lin, “It breaks my heart that this may be the first in 15 years that we can’t just show up and make sure we’re there for the girls that need and expect us at each of Muskoka’s school through Girlz Unplugged. The demand isn’t going away, it’s actually growing, but competition for the grants is also growing and the number of funding opportunities and even the size of the grants are decreasing.”

The organization has hired a part time Development Coordinator, Tracey Mellersh who is focusing on individual donations and corporate giving.

Staff and volunteers are still hoping to raise $30,000 from grants, events and donations to be able to provide Girlz Unplugged to girls at 12 additional elementary schools in the 2016-17 school year and are investigating social enterprise options for further sustainability.

“R. gained so much confidence about herself, was surrounded by like minded girls and she felt so loved and respected. It’s a phenomenal program and I am so happy that she can be a part of it. All young girls should participate in a program like Girlz Unplugged, it is amazing the influence it has.” – Girlz Unplugged participant’s parent

For more information about YWCA Muskoka or if you have an idea about funding opportunities for girls, please contact Hannah Lin, Executive Director or Stacey Schat, Youth Programs Coordinator at 705-645- 9827 or email office@ywcamuskoka.com

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