As the Founder and Chief Executive Officer of Sisters Achieving Excellence, that was one of the most powerful things the women we work with has ever said to me. When you work in non-profit, you know the work you do everyday helps people. But in moments like that, you realize the true change you can help to foster in communities.
I started SAE when I was 25 years old, when I started to notice that as a young woman, I was being told that there were a lot of things that I needed. Magazines, television, movies, they were telling me that I needed to have perfect skin. I needed a hot boyfriend; I needed to have long hair. I needed the perfect black dress, 150 pairs of jeans and I needed to know my shade of red lipstick.
Then I started to think- there are over 600 missing or murdered Aboriginal women in Canada. 1 in 3 women is sexually assaulted in her lifetime, but only 10% will ever report it to the police. Indigenous women are vastly over-represented in the criminal justice system, yet under-represented as leaders. The majority of women in the system, almost 90%, have experienced abuse or exploitation. 80% of these women need literacy training.
We, as women, do not need skinny jeans or red lipstick. To me, the solution is clear. Increase resources for women, and we decrease the need for criminality. We need programs that educate us, mentor us, and empower us. At Sisters Achieving Excellence, we work with at-risk young women to give them literacy skills, job skills, and most importantly, leadership skills. These skills move us forward as students, as women and as a community.
The women we support are often overlooked. Literacy is often overlooked as a necessary skill, because it is assumed that once you go through the school system, you are literate. That is why our grant from JustChange was so special. It was our first full year in operation, and with the money from JustChange, we were able to support our volunteers and train them to work with a group of young women who often do not receive the one on one support we provide. Our attendance rate of over 90% clearly supports the idea that when our volunteers receive this important training, they are better able to build connections and relationships with our participants and keep them engaged.
We also received an amazing opportunity to work at HUB Ottawa, which provided us with a location to do our volunteer training. It was so amazing to see our volunteers come into such a creative space and become inspired to do the amazing work they do with us. The energy at the HUB literally changes people- as I provided the training, I could see the volunteers sit up straighter, become more engaged, and feel energized to go out and really create a revolution!
I’ve spent some time considering the name “JustChange.” I love the idea that it really is that simple- if you want to see change in this world, just generate it as you go. So easy! But the more I think about how the grant we received has affected the women we work with, the more the name takes on a different meaning for me. One woman this year told us that her favourite thing about attending SAE programs was that she was able to come to us and be equal to everyone. What a profound comment; the women who we support do not often feel equal to anyone. Our program finally provided her with a rare feeling of equality- a just change for a woman who deserves that daily.
Bailey Reid, Founder & CEO
Sisters Achieving Excellence