Empowering young women to succeed - HERstory’s 7th year

Empowering young women to succeed - HERstory’s 7th year

June 10, 2015

​​diverse group of smiling young women posed in two rows
HERstory participants gather for a photo at the end of the one-day conference event.

Over 100 young women, 13 to 16 years, participated in the annual Toronto Community Housing one-day empowerment and leadership conference, HERstory: Chapter VII: Stronger than Ever, on Saturday May 23.

Young women were joined by Toronto Community Housing staff from Resident and Community Services, community partners, youth volunteers and female community leaders and activists at Alexander Stirling Public School.

The day’s activities were emceed by Nadine Liverpool, former national team soccer player, sports personality and digital marketing specialist. An inspirational women’s panel moderated by Paulette Senior, Chief Executive Officer at the Young Women’s Christian Association (YWCA), included women from all walks of life, including former residents, community leaders and activists.

diverse group of smiling women, posed in two lines
Panelists from the Survivorship plenary (left to right) Tashika Mason, Nadine Liverpool, Marsha Brown, Leisa Washington, Sonia Thomas, Paulette Senior (bottom left) Leanne Abdulla and Emily Forward.

Panelist Marsha Brown explains the significance of speaking to young women.

“It is important to see folks who are from the same communities achieving their dreams. It’s impactful and inspiring. It validates their own stories and experiences, and empowers them to overcome the barriers they face in realizing their own dreams,” said Brown.

Leisa Washington, sports agent for the Women’s National Basketball Association (WNBA) and National Basketball Association (NBA), was also a featured panelist. She explains why she wanted to inspire young women.

“I lived at Swansea Mews in Toronto Community Housing for 22 years,” said Washington. “My mother was mentally ill with schizophrenia and I watched her struggle daily. I can relate to these young girls’ experiences, and I wanted to tell them: ‘It doesn’t matter where you live, or where you come from. You can make it in life!’”

Smiling young girl, wearing a hijab and holding a sign that reads "I have value"
HERstory participant Hajira Seyed shows her worth.

HERstory participant Hajira Seyed, 14, describes how the inspirational speakers’ panel impacted her. “I’m so happy I came. It was so important for me to hear what people said—to hear about their experiences. Sometimes I lack confidence, but now I know that I am not alone and that I overcome the things I am struggling with, even though sometimes it doesn’t feel like it.”

diverse group of female youths and women seated on chairs in a circle
HERstory participants sharing experiences at the women’s wisdom circle in the Alexander Stirling Public School gym.

The event also featured networking opportunities, wisdom circles, entertainment and interactive workshops. The workshops explored themes of mental health, violence, healthy relationships, social media and identity. Workshops were facilitated by some of the community partners, including the Metropolitan Action Committee on Violence Against Women and Children (METRAC), WoodGreen Community Services, The Toronto District School Board, The City of Toronto, Power to Girls Foundation, Gashanti Unity, RAW Media, and Soul Space Community Hub and Youth Centre.

Toronto Community Housing is taking advantage of opportunities to collaborate with partners from across the city to provide residents with great programs and opportunities.

Since the program began in 2005, through working with our partners, HERstory has reached more than 3,000 girls aged 13 to 16 years, in priority neighbourhoods across the city. In addition to a conference, HERstory provides mentorship opportunities for young women through the Emerging Leaders program, for women 17 to 24 years, and the Phenomenal Women program, for women 25 and up. Toronto Community Housing also provides other programs that support women, including Business in the Streets: Women’s Edition for female entrepreneurs in the spring and Journe​ys to S​uccess​ for women in the fall.

picture of a man and two women smiling for the camera  
(Left to right) Manager of Sponsorships, Grants and Development Sherwin Modeste, Director of Resident and Community Engagement Simone Atungo and Manager of Community Economic Development Nadia Gouveia at the HERstory event.

When asked why it is important that Toronto Community Housing delivers these programs, Director of Resident and Community Engagement Simone Atungo said, “It’s vital that Toronto Community Housing supports programs like these. Educated young women are better able to support their families, make healthy choices and reinvest in their schools, homes and communities, it is imperative we create opportunities for them to build their potential.”

“HERstory and events like this allow young girls to see that it’s okay to experience challenges and obstacles in life. Living in housing doesn’t mean you can’t achieve great things,” adds Jamila, a local teacher at Alexander Stirling Public School.

“Being part of events like thi​s gives us a sense of empowerment as women. It’s great to see females from the community come together and motivate each other to be the best we can be,” said resident and HERstory volunteer, Hafsa Isse.

Toronto Community Housing is home to brilliant young minds—about one-quarter of our residents are young people brimming with energy, brains and ambition. By providing opportunities for these youth to network, learn and grow, we are building a better city for all of us.

Visit the Facebook photo gallery to see more images from the HERstory event.