Like every Thursday for the past 10 months, Yolanda Bonilla arrived at 1 o’clock at the Westmount Family Centre in London. There, she met with other women of her community. For two hours every week, they share their difficulties and try to help each other to solve them.
For the 32-year-old, this is one of her favourite parts of the week.
“I never miss my meetings. It doesn’t matter if it is raining or snowing, I’m always here,” Bonilla said.
Her group is one of 10 organized by the Merrymount Family Support and Crisis Centre all over the city, as part of its Mutual Aid Parenting Program (MAPP), a program that aims to empower people to face their difficulties by supporting one another and help them access different resources such as counselling, parenting advice, access to transportation and health-care services.
But running programs like this one is expensive.
Fortunately for many families in London, behind programs like MAPP there is a huge network of workers and volunteers who work all year long to make programs such as this one possible. And one of the most important players is the United Way of London & Middlesex organization.
In fact, United Way helps fund nearly 80 social programs that aim to improve the community, including MAPP.
“We exist to make positive change in people’s lives,” said Andrew Lockie, CEO of United Way. “We facilitate the opportunity to different organizations to produce positive social outcomes.”
Although under different names throughout its history, United Way has been an active member of London’s community since 1896. For its 2014 campaign, United Way set its largest campaign goal. The organization aimed to raise $9 million to continue funding all the social programs they support. And Lockie knows Western will be there to help United Way reach that goal.
“It is inspiring. It is a wonderful thing that a university in our community demonstrates, on so many levels, an interest and passion for the community in which it resides,” said Lockie, who is also a Western graduate.
Announced last month, Western’s United Way campaign hit a major milestone as this year’s fundraising total of $745,014, pushed the university’s cumulative total over the $10-million mark since organized campaigns began in the 1990s. Western has consistently been one of the largest single donors to the campaign and has now raised $10,216,722 over that time frame.
The fundraising total of United Way of London & Middlesex will be announced Feb. 28.
And although Lockie recognizes Western’s economic support is vital to the success of all their programs, he believes the importance of the university’s partnership goes beyond the economic aspect.
“Western is right through all volunteer levels of our organization. We have a Western professor on our board of directors. We have Western volunteers on our impact councils. We have research partnerships,” Lockie said. “The partnership has so many layers to it, (and) that is critically important to the health of London and Middlesex.”
And Bonilla is an example of that. For the time she has been a member of the MAPP group, she believes she has found the support she needed during her difficult times.
Bonilla, originally from Mexico, arrived in Canada nine years ago, but after living for eight years in Vancouver, B.C., she and her family moved to London in October 2013. The change proved difficult for her.
“I was going crazy at home. I was pregnant at that time. I didn’t know anybody in the city. I had no friends. I was starting to feel depressed,” Bonilla said.
One day, however, she was invited to one of the Spanish sessions of the MAPP program.
“I didn’t know what it was about. I was simply told that every Thursday some women got together and that they spoke Spanish and did different activities,” she said. “I was so desperate at the moment that just the possibility to talk with other people sounded to me like a great idea.”
When she finally made it to her first meeting, she immediately fell in love with what she saw in the group.
“It was amazing for me at that time to share my problems and realize that I was not alone. That other people have gone through the same situations and that people can help you. We talk to each other. We help each other,” Bonilla said. “This is a group that gives and gives, and it is really concerned about your well-being.”