Young women’s conference to go ahead

The annual Young Women’s Conference—a weekend of workshops and fun activities to promote positive self-image—will go ahead this year despite provincial funding cuts.
The conference—offered in partnership between the Rainy River District School Board, the Atikokan Crisis Centre, and the Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario—marked its sixth year last April.
But there were some doubts it would see its seventh.
2005 was the last year for the Ministry of Education’s School-Based Services grant, so the local public school board had to look for other funding avenues to keep the conference going.
“The board has viewed this as a very special innovative project and [it is] prepared to contribute,” noted Diane Ross, human resources administrator for the RRDSB and one of the original organizers of the conference.
Education Director Jack McMaster said the conference provides important information and skills to young women.
“There are a number of activities around self-esteem, leadership, fetal alcohol syndrome, healthy lifestyle choices, parenting, and sexual assault prevention.
“There are topics that are extremely valuable to women,” he noted.
The school board will pick up much of the cost of the conference, although the ETFO also contributing. And Ross said the province may yet come through with some funding, too.
The cost to run the conference, which takes place at Quetico Centre, is about $25,000. The students attend for free.
The two-day retreat began as an opportunity for young women to get together to talk about violence. It has since expanded to include sessions on bullying, self-defence, body image, and fitness.
Experts on these and other topics donate their time to share their knowledge with the students.
The girls also have time for fun activities like games, movies, karaoke, and a talent show.
Last year was the first time the Northwest Catholic District School Board participated in the event, and Ross said that board will be sending students again this year.
The Superior-Greenstone District School Board will be participating for the first time in 2006.
“They’re coming to learn how to do it. We’re hoping the model is repeated in that part of the province,” Ross noted.
The Atikokan Crisis Centre has been involved in the conference from the beginning.
“They have always participated at the workshop in supporting us,” Ross said. “It makes good sense for them.”
The 50-60 students who attend the conference participate in the “Share to Care” program, where they each bring a toy or book, or other gift, to donate to the crisis centre, where they are given to children who come into the shelter with their mothers.
Nearly 300 young women have participated in the conference over the past six years, and it continues to grow in popularity.
“We have waiting lists. It’s really positive,” Ross enthused.