Scarborough Women’s Centre celebrates 29 years of female empowerment

What a woman needs to succeed is other women, say the users of the Scarborough Women’s Centre (SWC).

SWC is a non-profit resource centre that has helped Scarborough women overcome hardship for almost 30 years.  On Sept. 29, the centre held its 29th annual meeting to discuss its way forward.

Lynda Kosowan, executive director of SWC, said the centre is all about possibilities.

“[…] It’s possible for women to move past barriers and through struggles, and become happy, independent and active people who have achieved their goals,” she said.

“[…] It’s possible for women to make these huge transitions when they have support and know they’re not alone.”

Having served for 25 years as the centre’s executive director, Kosowan has seen first-hand SWC’s progress over the years, but more importantly, its significance to Scarborough.

The centre opened in 1982, when a group of community members and agencies sat down to look at the needs of women in Scarborough.

“They noticed that there was an increasing amount of poverty as people were forced out of gentrified neighbourhoods downtown and had to move where they could afford to live,” Kosowan said.

Now, Scarborough is home to six out of the 13 high priority neighbourhoods identified by the City of Toronto and United Way Toronto as requiring support to overcome inequities.

Since its beginnings, the centre has added several programs geared not only towards those living in poverty or new to the country, but to all women.

SWC’s current programs include personal development workshops and education on financial independence and domestic violence.  The centre also offers two special outreach programs geared towards women between the ages 15 and 19, and women with disabilities.

Marcia Jarmin, a member of SWC joined the centre many years ago seeking confidence and assertiveness after an abusive past.

“[The centre has given me] a voice, self-esteem, long-term friends [and] a social status,” she said.

“All in all, [it has given me] self-worth.”

In the last year, 87 per cent of all calls and inquiries made to the centre were from Scarborough residents.  Almost 900 community members attended SWC’s workshops over the past year and according to the centre’s annual report. Many noted leaving with positive outcomes relating to employment, education and emotional health.

Annisa Mohammed, vice president of the centre, says what visitors need is a little push.

“Many women have the ability to achieve great things in their lives but often need help getting started,” she said.

“Scarborough has been my home for many years and it’s important to give back,” she added.

The centre addresses concerns that resonate with visitors of all ages, Jarmin said.

“I have been in many group sessions with a vast age range and that has never posed a problem.

“I think the wisdom of the aged help and the young bring innovative ideas. Young and old have brought so much knowledge and light to each and everyone.”

The centre hopes to expand accessibility of existing services to meet the needs of Scarborough women, increase the financial stability of the centre and raise its profile in the community.

“We would like more and more women to be aware of the centre — how we can support them build brighter futures for themselves and their families, and how they can help us as volunteers, donors and allies,” Kosowan said.

The centre is funded by the City of Toronto, the Ontario Women’s Directorate along with community service partnerships.