From Scarborough women’s shelter to career path

TheStar,com – Opinion
Published On Fri Apr 02 2010.   By Carol Goar, Editorial Board

Everything about Tina Dorsay bespeaks quiet competence: her calm voice, her self-assured manner, her tasteful business suit.

No one would guess that, three years ago, the confident law clerk lived a Scarborough women’s shelter with her 10-year-old daughter. She had no place to go, no job prospects, no hope of stability.

She had fled a violent relationship, the latest of many. Her history of abuse began at the age of 4, when she was molested. At 15, Dorsay was stalked, raped and left pregnant. She kept her child, but cut short her education. After that, nothing seemed to go right.

She still can’t quite believe she’s broken free of her past.

But the folks at Homeward Bound believe it. She’s the 20th homeless single mother who has turned her life around at their east-end “campus.” Dorsay has become a leader, a role model. They chose her as the valedictorian of this year’s graduating class.

Homeward Bound is a one of Toronto’s lesser-known miracles. The four-year program, developed by Woodgreen Community Services, offers the city’s most vulnerable women a chance to earn a college diploma, get a job with a future and become self-sufficient.

Participants live in a furnished two-bedroom apartment in a safe building. They drop their children off at a certified child-care centre next door. An adjacent building houses an after-school centre for older kids.

The mothers go through six months of academic upgrading, computer training and life skills counselling to prepare for college. Then they pick a career option: computer systems technician, law clerk, office administrator or early childhood educator.

Their tuition is fully paid. When they graduate, they enter a four-month internship at a bank, law firm, technology company or one of Woodgreen’s eight child-care centres. Then they’re guaranteed a job placement.

The success rate so far: 100 per cent.

Every woman who has gone through the program since it began in 2004 is either still employed or in university.

Homeward Bound is not cheap. It costs $65,000 per participant.

But four years of welfare for Dorsay and her daughter would have cost $48,240. And they’d still be living in poverty, they’d need social housing and they’d still feel like victims.

“When I came here, I didn’t consider myself a survivor” Dorsay said. “Now I do.”

Her daughter has also blossomed. She volunteers at a local church, babysits for the mothers in the program and has her own circle of friends.

None of this would have happened without an innovative social agency and an unusual banker.

The banker is Ed Clark, president and chief executive officer of TD Bank Financial Group. Eight years ago, he and his wife Fran decided to tackle homelessness, an issue that promised neither glamour nor glory. They picked the neediest group: single mothers.

Clark hired an architect to find lasting solutions. The researcher heard about Woodgreen’s model. He asked to see it. Then he asked for a second meeting. Then he came back again. “When do we start?”

Since 2002, Clark has become more than a philanthropist. He has persuaded all the other banks plus IBM, Microsoft and Rogers Communications to offer internships and job placements to Homeward Bound graduates.

He has brought other major donors on-board. And he continues to be a hands-on champion, working with the organizers to expand the program, getting to know the participants and celebrating their milestones.

Clark and his wife are hosting next week’s graduation ceremony on the 54th floor of the TD Tower. For Dorsay and her daughter, it will be a night to remember.

Days before the event, the valedictorian made another breakthrough. She decided to use her name – her real name – in this interview. “I’m strong enough to do it now.”

< http://www.thestar.com/opinion/article/789255–goar-from-scarborough-women-s-shelter-to-career-path >

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