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Photo courtesy of United Way Ottawa

Community Builders: EcoEquitable and the power of work

By Hayley Robateau on July 18, 2018

Hayley Robateau is one of Apt613’s correspondents at United Way Ottawa. With its Community Builder Awards program, United Way honours Ottawa’s outstanding volunteers: the organizations, partnerships, agencies, neighbourhood groups and individuals who work tirelessly to make our city a better place for everyone.

Moving to a new country is no small feat. Newcomers may experience challenges with language, culture shock, difficulty navigating social systems to access things like childcare, healthcare, employment and other supports, and there may be lingering trauma to overcome.

Anouk Bertner, Executive Director of EcoEquitable, accepting the award at United Way Ottawa’s 2018 Community Builder of the Year Awards Gala.

EcoEquitable is a small, dynamic social enterprise that supports people in need—especially newcomer women—looking to develop connections with their community and increase their financial stability through sewing training.

On May 31, 2018, the organization received the ‘From Poverty to Possibility’ Community Builder of the Year Award from United Way Ottawa.

The award recognizes a person or organization who is working to improve the lives of vulnerable people, including homeless youth, immigrants and people with disabilities.

Integration is not an overnight process

In order for newcomers to feel comfortable in Canada, they need significant support and encouragement in a safe environment over an extended period of time. This program seeks to create long-lasting change in participants by fostering increased confidence and strong personal and professional networks.

“We start off with hard skills: sewing, pattern making, learning different kinds of fabrics, learning how to use different kinds of machines,” says Anouk Bertner, Executive Director of EcoEquitable. “But what we actually do is much deeper than that. We work to create a community for our participants, decreasing their social isolation, supporting them in learning a language and in really becoming fuller citizens and finding their place.”

“We start off with hard skills… But what we actually do is much deeper than that.”

As a social enterprise, EcoEquitable operates business activities to generate revenue for its social programs. Specifically, EcoEquitable does contract sewing projects (if you’re ever in need of conference bags, gifts, wallets and more, this is their catalogue), public sewing courses, and textile recycling—diverting more than 10,000 pounds of fabric from landfills through their services each year.

Photo courtesy of United Way Ottawa

Women leave EcoEquitable with increased self-confidence, workplace skills, and a feeling of belonging, which can have a ripple effect throughout the rest of their lives: they can be more involved in their community, they can advocate for their families, and they can be self-sufficient.

“It’s so important for people to feel like they have a place in the world and that their work is meaningful and they’re contributing to something,” says Anouk. “At it’s core, EcoEquitable is a community. It is people coming together to do good.”

Through research, evaluation and partnerships with community experts, United Way Ottawa identifies the root causes of the biggest social challenges facing our community, and helps find solutions that change tens of thousands of lives for the better. One hundred percent of donations stay in Ottawa to help those most in need.