It’s rare that a woman gets to take on the titles of student, mother, and working professional, all while living with the knowledge that their housing and child care are supported. But for the women of WoodGreen’s award-winning Homeward Bound program, this is reality. Participants receive four years of wrap-around support, including support from the Industry Council when they exit the program.
One of these committed council members is Kelly Catena, Associate Vice President of Human Resources at TD Bank Group. She has been an Industry Council member for the past 10 years, advancing from a support position to a more formal role after realizing her passion for WoodGreen’s mission and the women involved with Homeward Bound.
To Catena, Homeward Bound’s holistic outlook is what makes it a life-changing experience for the participants, both during their time with Homeward Bound and after their graduation. “The Homeward Bound program plays an incredibly important role in their transition to success,” says Catena. “It is a testament to the resilience, strengths, and successes of these very dedicated women.”
Leading the way for aspiring professionals
Homeward Bound is Canada’s only experience of its kind, providing comprehensive and integrated services for single mothers who are homeless or precariously housed. With wrap-around supports, women in the program can move beyond societal barriers to obtain a college diploma, launch their careers, and create security for their families.
“It is a safe space for women to grow, learn, and champion their own abilities and accomplishments,” says Yordanka Petrova, Homeward Bound’s Senior Manager. “They receive invaluable support throughout the journey, but they ultimately lead the way to their own successes.”
Mothers who are caring for children while working or studying understand that it takes a coordinated effort to keep things afloat, and the women of the Homeward Bound program are not in this balancing act alone. Aside from the support of the Homeward Bound program staff, participants also receive unparalleled mentorship from some of the country’s leading names in business, technology, law, construction, and retail management. Enter Homeward Bound’s Industry Council.
Industry Council members, like Catena, are professionals from various sectors who help Homeward Bound participants through mentorship and strategic direction to make their transition from school to the workforce successful.
“The Industry Council’s commitment to provide internships, job training and placement opportunities to Homeward Bound participants has been invaluable,” says Petrova.
Industry Council’s guidance benefits Homeward Bound participants and employers
Not only do the program’s participants benefit from the connections the Industry Council offers but corporations across the country gain the opportunity to increase their talent base and inclusivity by building a team of diverse professionals who share their values.
“WoodGreen strives to provide a supportive space where women can get help choosing college programs, landing internships, and navigating their industry landscape overall,” says Catena. “We make it a priority to ease the pressure and make their experience as welcoming as we can.”
Catena and her fellow Industry Council members meet once every quarter to discuss these placements, which focus on fit and tailor-made strategies.
“The process centres around finding the right opportunity for the right professional. It’s very individualized; what works for one person might not work for another, and it’s crucial to be mindful of that. Once we have an idea of the individual seeking an internship or employment opportunity, we’re focused on ensuring that they are placed somewhere where they can really see themselves thrive,” says Catena.
Industry Council members feel rewarded seeing women reach their potential
And by somewhere, Catena means almost anywhere. Last year alone, Homeward Bound participants studied business, early childhood education, law, information technology, construction, fashion management, and administration.
Following their studies, over 75 per cent of last year’s participants skipped the internship stage altogether and secured full-time employment in their desired field. The Industry Council’s connections and mentorship play a leading role in getting women where they need to go to kickstart their careers and helping them sustain success once in them.
“It’s easy to downplay your strengths. We’ve all experienced it. When I connect with a woman in the program who feels this way, I do my best to remind them of their successes, both past and future,” says Catena. “It’s rewarding to watch them realize their potential.”
The entire program is a coordinated team effort between participants, program managers, and volunteers, most especially Industry Council members. And, as Catena says, all members of this team have something to learn from each other. “We see it as an opportunity to be on the receiving end of a wealth of knowledge and experience; we gain so much from mentoring such a diverse set of women and learning their stories, strengths and successes.”
Creating lasting relationships through fulfilling career placements
One of the most special parts of the Homeward Bound program comes from the relationships that continue after the program’s completion.
Industry Council members have ample opportunity to form a bond with Homeward Bound mothers and create this lasting friendship. Aside from placing them in suitable positions, members organize mock interviews and negotiations to help women prepare for meetings with prospective employers.
They also provide feedback and advice on application materials and act as advocates for women when it comes to landing the perfect spot. The closing of these barriers is essential to allowing them to thrive and reach their true potential.
“Providing a safe space for women to practice these skills is crucial to their growth, professionally and personally,” says Catena. “We’re honoured to be able to act as mentors on their journey to their dream career. Even more, we’re honoured to know them all and to be a part of their story.”