Girls Night Out wants to expand.
The grassroots, girls-only, support group in Faro has been running since 2006. Since then, 100 per cent of the girls who live in Faro have been members, said organizer Heather Grantham.
“We have 28 past and present members of Girls Night Out,” she said. “Everybody has attended it and enjoyed being part of it. And many of the girls that have moved on and who are in college and university, and things like that, now are still a part of it and still communicate with us regularly.
“We’ve just gotten to the point with our group now that we want it to become bigger.”
To start, the group has expanded its acronym by three letters: from GNO to GNORTH. And, after a music camp the group hosted this spring for all girls across the territory, Girls Night Out-like groups are starting to pop up in other Yukon communities, including Carmacks, Watson Lake, Whitehorse and maybe even Haines Junction, said Grantham.
“We’ve had a lot of interest from community recreation programs and other community members calling us and emailing us about our group and how to start groups like ours in their community,” she said.
But so far, those other girl groups are being run separately from the Faro-based original.
Eventually, Grantham and her girls want to create a North-wide network of groups like Girl Night Out. But over the next few years, their goal is to create a territory-wide network where funding, programming and support can be shared throughout the Yukon’s communities. And they want to build a head office and main space for the organization in Faro.
“But to do that, we need funding,” said Grantham.
Oddly enough, an insurance company based in Scarborough, Ontario, may be the key to making this happen.
With a tip from the Victoria Faulkner Women’s Centre in Whitehorse, Girls Night Out was introduced to the national Aviva Community Fund.
Aviva is an international insurance company.
This is the third year of Aviva Canada’s $1-million community fund, said senior vice-president of national sales and marketing Debra Ambrose.
“As part of our corporate responsibility … We see the Aviva Community Fund being a perfect extension of helping others in times when they need it,” she said.
Anyone in Canada is able to register an idea for the fund. Ideas are broken up into three categories: small, which asks for up to $50,000, medium: $50,000 to $100,000, and large: $100,000 to $150,000. Once the ideas are registered on the Aviva Community Fund website, much like a facebook profile, they need to garner votes. There are three vote-based phases in the competition before the ideas are seen by Aviva judges.
“Essentially, we need people to register and vote,” said Grantham.
To do so, you have to go on the website and register with an email and name. Once registered, you are given 15 votes and you are able to vote once a day. At the beginning of each phase, you receive another 15 votes.
Only 90 projects get to the semi-finals, said Grantham.
In the last two years, 4,000 ideas have been submitted, said Ambrose.
Last year, the company funded fewer than 10.
This year has already been the busiest one yet – and ideas are still accepted until the end of October, added Ambrose.
Aviva is hoping to fund 15 to 20 ideas, she said.
There are no limits to what type of projects can be suggested.
As of Tuesday, there were 187 ideas for the same range as GNORTH, including playground equipment, free internet television, an arts centre and a toy museum.
Last year, an idea from Yellowknife, Northwest Territories, won $300,000 to build an animal shelter, said Ambrose.
So far this year, GNORTH is the only one in the Yukon, said Grantham.
“So we stand out a little bit,” she said with a laugh. “Which is good. We need all the votes we can get, coming from such a small community.”
Kirsten Ryan, who works with Grantham on Girls Night Out and GNORTH, knows a lot about small communities.
Before moving up to the Yukon, she spent years running literacy programs and teaching in fly-in, aboriginal communities in Northern Ontario that rarely had more than 500 residents.
The issues women and girls faced in those communities are similar to those Yukon girls face, she said.
“Girls who live in isolated communities are more likely to be prone to depression and low self-esteem,” she said. “Those feelings of isolation can really get to you. They can really affect the way that you see yourself and the world.
“There isn’t ongoing access to after-school programs or support groups and, as a result, girls can end up having difficulty making healthy decisions and healthy choices in their relationships and personal lives.”
Girls Night Out gives a safe place for girls to talk, ask questions and find answers without judgement, said Ryan.
Things that may seem small, like finding out about birth control, can be quite an endeavour for a young girl in a very small town rife with taboos and with little access to medical services.
“I think that girls need a lot of support through adolescence,” said Grantham. “I think that northern girls are very special. A lot of communities across the North have very deeply rooted problems with substance abuse and relationship abuse, suicide and broken families and no resources to help girls and women get out of those kinds of situations.
“One of the biggest issues is isolation. A lot of times, Yukon girls living in small communities aren’t part of a global community. So, the idea of actually leaving their communities and going away to university or college or to travel or to become women leaders is really hard for them. A lot of Yukon girls have never travelled out of their communities – they’ve never been on an airplane even. So they need a lot of encouragement and a push to dream bigger and think about what they want to do and what they want to be and how to do that.”
Since Girls Night Out began, Grantham has already started to see a difference in the girls involved.
“As the program has grown, the girls have grown also,” said Grantham. “They come to us more when they have a problem. And that’s a success for us. Also, they’re showing a lot more leadership. They want to be involved in this – they’re leaders in the Girls North project, it’s not just adults doing it, they’re doing it along with us.
“I think that we can change the Yukon and the North and Canada. I think that we can grow and expand and become bigger. And girls will become leaders and so strong if they’re given those tools.
Ambrose, at Aviva, hasn’t read the GNORTH application yet, but it sounds “fantastic,” she said.
“But it’s not up to me – it’s about getting the vote, and getting others to think that’s a great idea,” she said.
To vote for Girls North, go to www.avivacommunityfund.org. It’s idea number 11046.
Contact Roxanne Stasyszyn at