Program gives Indigenous mothers a fresh start on their future

NIAGARA-ON-THE-LAKE — A new program to be offered soon through the Niagara Regional Native Centre (NRNC) will use what is called a “wraparound” approach in order to address the barriers Indigenous mothers face in improving their lives and creating a brighter future.

The Urban Indigenous Homeward Bound program, which has been in the works for the past year and is set to launch in March, is a four-year project that follows the housing-first approach to help women who are or have been at risk of homelessness obtain the education they need in order to pursue their career goals.

Co-ordinator and developer Debbie Sexsmith said women will be selected through one of several referral agencies based on a number of criteria, with the most important being that they’re prepared to make a four-year commitment.

“The key piece is making sure the women are ready for this step in their lives,” she said.

The program involves three stages: planting, nurturing and harvesting.
The first phase is a time of preparation, healing and discovery, during which they will be put into transitional housing and signed up for child care while they undergo academic upgrading and life skills, as well as computer and financial literacy training.

Sexsmith said they are currently working with a landlord in Thorold who has arranged for five units.

Participants will then tend to their personal and educational growth by enrolling in a college program and continuing with their physical, emotional and spiritual development.

Lastly, they will take part in an internship resulting in guaranteed employment with one of the program’s growing list of industry partners.

These industry partners, Sexsmith said, are key to the program’s success. In fact, she added, a similar program run out of WoodGreen Community Services in Toronto, which Homeward Bound is modelled on, was initiated by one of their industry partners.

She said these partners act in a mentorship capacity throughout the program.

“The mentors are involved right at the beginning,” she said.

Sexsmith said the “wraparound” approach is crucial, as it gives participants the peace of mind of knowing their basic needs are being taken care of while they seek to improve their lives.

“It allows them to focus on their studies,” she said. “It removes barriers.”

On Thursday, the NRNC invited partners to a ceremony commemorating their support. Among those recognized were the Ontario Trillium Foundation, which provided a $75,000 grant, and the region, which provided $104,000 through the Niagara Prosperity Initiative, which seeks to address the underlying causes of poverty.

Walker Industries was also recognized for being an industry partner and for its help in the redevelopment of the centre’s large property on Airport Road, where a healing garden is planned.

Sexsmith said they have obtained other sources of funding that, while pledged, still need to be finalized. This will help the program to grow, allowing them to purchase a 12-unit building in St. Catharines.

Participants will transition out of the housing units once they are through the program, in order to allow the next crop to enrol. However, they will enter a pathway to home ownership program through Ontario Aboriginal Housing.