The girl who works the reception desk at the YMCA wears a very colourful hat that comes down over her eyes, but her smile dispels any possibly doubts about the warmth of her welcome. The reception area is noisy and animated with the comings and goings of women and the second-hand clothing store that opens onto the entrance of the freshly-renovated building. Halloween brings out some unexpected characters and many of them take delight in scooping a candy off the plate on the counter.
I wait for Chantal Gariépy, the Centre filles (GirlSpace) coordinator, who is going to explain to me this program that has been offered since 2008 in most YMCAs in Canada. It is a program where the structure and colour are adapted to local culture. In Quebec, the program stems from the idea of female leadership, but with Chantal’s arrival in 2011, this program which had been initially focused on prevention was restructured and its aim now is the collective mobilization of young girls aged 7 to 17.
The purpose of the activities is to highlight the strengths of girls and give them the tools to develop their ability to take action, their self-esteem, their critical thinking and leaderships as well as to adopt healthy lifestyle habits.
Although Centre filles makes use of YMCA facilities, the facilitators also go out into the sensitive neighbourhoods to meet with groups of girls in partnership with youth organizations that are already set up in communities and schools. The mobile Centre filles reaches an average of twelve groups every week. An agreement with OMHQ has opened the doors in three affordable housing sectors in the city. Elementary and secondary schools are also targeted in these neighbourhoods. They work with community organizations that are already established and working on specific issues: Motivaction Jeunesse to get girls moving and Pignon Bleu for group kitchens, just to name a few. While having fun, the girls choose among an array of topics and workshops, allowing them to address the issues they face: stereotypes, body image, healthy diet, healthy relationships, sexuality, etc. They learn to speak, take responsibility and get actively involved in their group and community. The multi-ethnic reality comes to the forefront sometimes and requires action to develop tolerance and a better understanding of others. The girls are on social media and use this means of communication a lot to highlight their concerns and their actions.
In the Creative Girls program that is offered at the YMCA, girls can enrol and engage in creative workshops after school during the week: exploration of rhythm and sound, the visual arts, theatre, dance and circus performance are also among the activities offered. Social diversity is promoted. Parents are asked to make a voluntary contribution to cover some of the costs. Ties have been established with other partners such as the Institut de Réadaptation et de Déficience Physique du Québec (IRDPQ) and the CIUSS notably, to help integrate young girls with various challenges and have them engage in the activities.
Centre filles has three full-time employees and nine part-time employees. The later are finishing up their undergraduate degree or embarking on a graduate program in social work, anthropology, sociology, etc. They are enthusiastic, like to use their training and creativity and they connect easily with the girls. Between 160 and 200 young girls are reached weekly by these programs.
One of the employees suggested that the facilitators use a special creative method in the courses offered. Using this method, the facilitators propose transversal group discussions, allowing various group to think on various issues using a common theme. The process culminates in the creation of a group work. The topic proposed this year is the park. All the girls make use of parks and find the subject compelling. However, they will all find different ways to express themselves.
Twice a year, the Centre filles facilitators and their guests organize Space for Girls, a large gathering that is open to girls 9-13 years of age and includes a special evening of fun activities. More specific challenges are dealt with through play.
The Girls Committee is in fact a committee composed of 15 members and its activities are supported in part by Heritage Canada via the YMCA of Canada and it promotes the involvement of girls in the arts and culture. The girls address current issues. They visit cultural spaces and meet inspiring women.
Lastly, there is the Kaléidoscope project, which came about through the joint willingness of Centre filles and the various partners through a specific agreement on the status of women and which worked to develop an inventory of youth books promoting an egalitarian world. The inventory is accessible online and continues to be updated by Centre filles.
In addition to its regular projects, Centre filles creates special DIY projects for girls who are going through major difficulties. Lastly, the project involves making decorative objects using recycled materials. A half-dozen girls greatly enjoy this manual activity and are developing a feeling of competence. Once set up, it is easier for the facilitators to initiate discussions on the problems these girls are experiencing and to look for possible solutions.
FDG has supported Centre filles at the Quebec City YMCA since its creation. In our view, it is indispensable that we offer these young girls every opportunity to carve out a space for themselves in society, to enable them to fully develop themselves and make them into active and engaged citizens. In this respect, we share the same objectives as the amazing team at Centre filles.