OPPORTUNITY FOR ADVANCEMENT
Helping women achieve success by offering support, resources, information, and practical tools.
Opportunity for Advancement has been developing and offering innovative groups for socially and economically disadvantaged women for over 45 years. We have proudly supported thousands of women to help themselves gain confidence, self-respect and move towards economic independence.
MISSION - Innovative groups for socially and economically disadvantaged women
Opportunity For Advancement (OFA) works with women in disadvantaged life situations. While poverty is an issue for almost all the women, other factors create additional barriers to well-being and equal participation in society. These include being a sole-support parent, being an immigrant or woman of colour, being disabled or chronically ill, or having experienced violence. The women we serve come to OFA from all cultures and with a wide diversity of history, experience and skill. They come to OFA open to an opportunity to learn to identify the things they do well and to learn to take the steps they need to begin to achieve a better life for themselves and their families. They overcome tremendous obstacles often simply by being able to get to the program each day. Their strength and courage is a powerful reinforcement to other women struggling to find a way out of poverty, lack of access to resources, illness and fear of the future.
Opportunity For Advancement has been a leader in the development of feminist group work models that address personal issues within a broader social context. Our approach recognizes both the strengths of individuals and the support that comes from the group process. Our programs help participants build self-esteem, reduce social isolation, explore the roots of problem situations, learn and share information and skills, and set new and achievable goals for themselves.
PHILOSOPHY - Assistance and support for women who want to change their lives
We believe that everyone is capable of achieving their goals and of changing their lives and we recognize the effect that social conditions and economic structures have on the ability of women to make those changes happen. Frequently, what women need most to help them achieve success are information, support, access to resources, and practical tools. We provide these tools at OFA.
Women learn skills that assist them in the short and long term to develop confidence and personal well-being, that in turn can increase their opportunities for economic independence. We help women recognize their strengths and actively seek to build upon those strengths. At OFA we actively evaluate our programs, especially our group work model to meet the constantly changing needs of the populations we serve.
Opportunity For Advancement has been a leader in the development of feminist group work models that address personal issues within a broader social context. Our approach recognizes both the strengths of individuals and the support that comes from the group process. Our programs work with participants to build self-esteem, reduce social isolation, explore the roots of problem situations, learn and share information and skills, and set and achieve new goals.
GROUP WORK - A feminist model of counselling
While feminism was an important concept, OFA developed a way of maintaining the principles of feminism and delivering these principles in a way that is meaningful and relevant for the women coming to our programs.
When we say we work from a feminist perspective we mean that we are guided by these central principles:
We work from an anti-oppressive approach that recognizes accepts, and values differences, acknowledging women’s many roles in and contributions to society.
We promote empowerment. We acknowledge the existence of systemic forms of oppression and work to eradicate these while promoting the growth of individual self-esteem, motivation, skills, and authority.
We promote a participatory environment. We strive to remain open and accessible and to encourage the participation of staff, board, group participants, and volunteers in all programs and activities.
We promote individual change, recognizing that this happens in a social context.
We acknowledge the systemic inequalities that affect the life choices of the women we serve.
We serve individuals who choose to participate. Participation in all programs is voluntary.
BRIEF HISTORY - Established in 1973
After a three year demonstration grant from Health and Welfare Canada, OFA incorporated as a non-profit agency with a Board of Directors comprised of community representatives and past participants. Over the years OFA has sponsored a variety of innovative projects in the areas of health promotion, women in conflict with the law, harm reduction and specialized pre-employment training for women. OFA has produced three group work manuals to support other groups in learning about the OFA model. Staff assist other agencies and groups locally, provincially and nationally by including OFA methods of successful social group work for women who live in poverty. We accomplish this through maintaining our roots of collective, feminist participation and consensus building.
OUR BOARD - Helping guide our mission
Mallory Hilkewich (she/her) has over 12 years of experience working the social impact sector leading program development and management. With education and training in social work and adult learning, she brings passion and commitment to capacity building, trauma-informed practices, intersectional feminism, and organizational development.
After 15 years spent working in all areas of Accounting for a large public construction company, the time came for a change both in lifestyle and career. As a Certified Life Skills coach, Sandy found employment in the Non-Profit Sector and for the next almost twenty years worked with clients dealing with substance abuse, mental health and other developmental issues. Continuous educational upgrading led Sandy to being able to do both one-on-one and group sessions in Pre-Employment and Employment Placement Programming. Working individually with clients assisting them in overcoming their own self-doubt and finding means to overcome barriers regarding, housing, child care, criminal record clearance, abuse led them, despite their own self –doubts, to becoming contributing members of the community once again.
In her free time Sandy enjoys watching women’s sports, reading, doing jigsaw puzzles, building a family tree and researching topics in the news that affect local community services.
B.Comm, B.C.L., LL.B., Lawyer
Aishah graduated with a B.C.L. / LL.B. from McGill University before moving back to Toronto to pursue a career in immigration and refugee law. Previously, she worked with legal clinics in Montreal and on the International Refugee Assistance Project. She has always been committed to supporting women and previously co-led a viral feminist campaign.
Maureen is a passionate community activist who has demonstrated a keen understanding of the challenges of the communities we serve.
A former employment counsellor, Maureen brings experience working with non-profit boards in a social services environment and extensive skills in capacity building and development. Maureen’s volunteer work includes Caribbean African Canadian Social Services where she served as Vice Chair and Secretary of the board, United Way, Community Microskills and COSTI- Immigrant Services.
EMPOWERING WOMEN ACROSS ALL WALKS OF LIFE.