Ontario Trillium Foundation (OTF) Grow Grant Planted the Seeds for Growing Youth Leadership in Scarborough


Scarborough - YWCA Toronto is seeing the power of youth leadership thanks to a three-year, $316,700 Grow grant it received from the Ontario Trillium Foundation in 2017. Thanks to the grant, participants from YWCA Toronto’s Girls’ Centre in South Scarborough have been able to take part in a peer mentorship program, known as ‘Girls’ Talk.’

“I am so proud of the hard work of our local YWCA and their accomplishments during the last three years with the assistance of Ontario Trillium Foundation,” said Doly Begum, MPP for Scarborough Southwest. “While many children in areas like Scarborough Southwest face challenges and the hard realities of poverty, programs such as Girl’s Talk help to empower young individuals build self-esteem and provide them with a strong support network through mentorship and enhanced personal development with the assistance of dedicated staff members.”

Girls’ Talk created a strong network of peer support by pairing girls ages nine to 13 with older mentors, 14 and up. Mentors offered advice and support around issues their mentees faced and planned and led weekly activities that helped their mentees grow their social skills, self-esteem, and resilience. A total of 87 girls took part in the program.

“We are so grateful for the Ontario Trillium Foundation’s support over the last three years,” said Nina Gorka, Director of Shelters, Girls’ and Family Programs at YWCA Toronto. “The Girls’ Talk program has been an incredible opportunity for our participants to build the supportive relationships and resilience that will lay the groundwork for future success. Our mentors have really stepped up to be amazing role models for their younger mentees and have gained so much confidence in doing so.”

Tenisha, 12, explained what being a mentee in the program has meant to her: “This is a program to make friends and to find people you can trust. It is a fun and friendly space where you are not judged by who you are or what your background is… Everyone is treated equally and not left out and you can open up about anything and you will always have people to back you up.”

When the COVID-19 pandemic hit in March 2020, the Girls’ Talk program went online. While that presented some initial challenges for staff, the chance to connect and support each other every week was a lifeline for girls who were isolated at home.

Nina Gorka explains how the current crisis is affecting communities facing marginalization who access the Girls’ Centre: “Due to poverty, violence at home and other social issues, our participants are disproportionately impacted by COVID-19. Running virtual programs like Girls’ Talk has helped to bring a sense of normality to their lives, but the girls can’t wait to be back together in person.”

As well as providing personal development and leadership experiences for the girls who took part in the Girls’ Talk program, the three-year Grow Grant has also created a successful framework for future peer mentorship opportunities at YWCA Toronto.

If you are interested in learning more about YWCA Toronto’s Girls Centre, our programming or the Ontario Trillium Foundation please contact Nina Gorka, Director of Shelters, Girls’ and Family Programs at ngorka@ywcatoronto.org.

YWCA Toronto transforms lives. As the city’s largest multi-service non-profit organization, we help women escape violence, move out of poverty and access safe, affordable housing. We work tenaciously to break down barriers that hold women, girls and gender-diverse people back from achieving equality. Annually, our Association serves over 13,000 people including trans and non-binary community members. To learn more visit: https://www.ywcatoronto.org/

The Ontario Trillium Foundation (OTF) is an agency of the Government of Ontario, and one of Canada’s leading granting foundations. OTF awarded $115 million to 644 projects last year to build healthy and vibrant communities in Ontario.