Whether you noticed it on your morning commute or on your newsfeed, lots of people are talking about Woodgreen Community Services’ new campaign, which sends up our obsession with celebrity culture and asks what the world would be like if we spent as much time thinking, reading, and caring about women who live in poverty as we do thinking about the Paparazzi-targets who fill the pages of People Magazine and US Weekly. The goal of the campaign? #ChangeTheConversation.
The ads caught the attention of Jezebel, who called the video portion “the gem of the campaign.” In it, real women get a version of the celebrity treatment—TV talking heads promise an “exclusive look” into the apartments, jobs and lives of single mothers who are struggling to support themselves and their children.
The master stroke here is that the women featured in the ads aren’t actors, but students and graduates of Woodgreen’s Homeward Bound program, which helps single mothers earn a college diploma. They get the support they need—childcare, housing, and more—in one place, so they can work towards a secure future.
I spoke with Kimara, a Homeward Bound participant finishing up her degree in accounting and payroll this semester, about her experience with both the program and the campaign. (And was treated to some adorable interludes from three-year-old Kayla, home with a cold and reminding all of us that single moms are masters of multitasking.)
SDTC: When you first heard about the campaign, what was the most exciting thing for you about being involved?
Kimara: I wasn’t sure exactly how public it was going to be, but just knowing that I could be a part of showing that Homeward Bound is such a great program, that part made me want to apply for the commercial.
SDTC: Can you tell me about how you got involved with Homeward Bound, how you got started at Woodgreen and why you feel so strongly about the program?
K: My daughter was born premature at 25 weeks, and she was at the hospital for three and a half months. During that time, a social worker was assigned to me, and she knew that I was looking for a place and I was having a hard time finding something before I came out of the hospital. A colleague of hers forwarded her the information for Homeward Bound and she brought it to my attention. She gave me a flyer, and reading everything that they provide you with, an apartment, daycare, they pay for your school, they provide you with any sort of upgrading that you may need and what not, I looked at that, and I looked at her and I said, “Yeah, okay, what’s the catch?” Because everything is just free. Nothing is free in Toronto. [Laughs]. I contacted them to get some more information, I got the application package, and that worker was more than happy to be a referral for me, so I sent that in, and that’s how things started. I went in for the information session, it still sounded like a great opportunity and something that I wanted to do and try to get into. Believe me, it was not easy, but I stuck it through and I’m here today, and I got accepted.
SDTC: Even with the help of a program Homeward Bound, being a single mom and getting a college degree must still be incredibly challenging.
K: Oh, definitely.
SDTC: What are some of the biggest challenges, and what are some of the ways that you’ve found to overcome them? How did Woodgreen figure into that?
K: My biggest challenge right now is making sure that she stays healthy throughout the time that I’m in school, because I feel that I can’t afford to miss the days at school. That’s my biggest worry and my biggest challenge is just her staying healthy and me staying focused. If she’s good, then I’m good, and I can be focused. It’s hard when she’s home with me to get my homework done, to wrap my head around what I’m doing at school.
SDTC: How do you feel about the larger idea of the campaign, “Changing the Conversation?”
K: I think it’s a wonderful thing. Definitely the program does need to get recognized some more. I wasn’t aware that there was such a lack in funding, if that’s the right thing to say. But if they do get the funding, I would be the biggest supporter. In the back of my mind, I’m always thinking, “When I leave here,”—so I’m thinking positive— “When I leave here, I still want to reach out to my sponsor Tashka, who takes care of me in Homeward Bound, and ask her, how can I still keep in contact with you guys to talk amongst the women, to express how I went through the program and how much it changed my life and how much it helped me, just to be an advocate?”
SDTC: If you hand’t found out about this through a social worker, would you have known that resources like this were out there?
K: No. I wouldn’t have had the slightest clue at all. Anyone that I’ve mentioned it to, they’re surprised. They think there should be more programs out there for single mothers who are serious about getting their life together, if they need that help.
SDTC: You said in your video that you were raised by a single mom as well. What do you think the most important thing is for single moms who are struggling to balance supporting their family emotionally and financially?
K: That’s a loaded question. Most importantly, let your child know that she is loved. It’s not a bad thing for them to know that you may be struggling in certain areas, but my daughter’s so young that she doesn’t understand that. Just let your children know that they’re loved and just be truthful to them. There’s no sense in showing them how life could be, when it’s not like that at the moment. Just show them that you’re trying your best, that you don’t want this for them, that you’d like them to do more than what you’re doing right now. That’s the best that I can say.
SDTC: What are some of your goals and hopes for the future?
K: My goal right now is to graduate from my program. I’m in my last semester right now so I will be graduating in the summer. I will still stay within the Homeward Bound program, we have some extra time, we can stay if we want to, so I’m going to stay, and hopefully I’ll get a good enough job to be able to afford—I don’t want to rent, I’d prefer to buy, so if I can buy after I leave here, then that would be great. That’s my focus right now, graduating, getting a job, and hopefully being able to buy a house or a condo.
SDTC: What advice would you give to young women who are in the place that you were in three years ago? Who haven’t found that support yet, and are struggling?
K: Don’t give up. There is support out there. If you have it within yourself that you want to rise above what you’re going through, or whatever situation that you are in, it is out there. Look for it. Connect with people. Don’t be afraid to talk to people sometimes. Don’t give up. Don’t blame yourself for what you’re going through. If you were the one who found yourself in the situation that you are, just be positive. That’s all I’ve done, I’ve just been positive, and I’ve stayed away from any sort of negativity and I’ve just been positive about it. And my daughter is a loving child, so just be positive and just look for that help, because it is out there.
SDTC: Do you think there’s anything that could shift so that the struggles and accomplishments of single mothers are more acknowledged and more celebrated?
K: That’s another loaded question. I never thought of it like that, definitely if there was more of an awareness, province-wide, and there was more funding for programs like this, I don’t think single mothers would struggle so much. But then again it also depends on the individual. You have to want something bad enough for it to actually happen, and I want this. I can taste it.
SDTC: Do you have any other thoughts about Woodgreen, Homeward Bound or the campaign?
K: I just want to say that the people who did the commercial, they did a great job with the campaign, they did a great job with the commercial itself. Me looking the way that I look on the ads in the subways, that’s hilarious. They did a great job, and the message has been brought across, it definitely has been. When I first saw the commercial, I got it instantly. The first thing I thought about was E-Talk, how they talk about the celebrities and stuff. That was a fantastic idea. They did a really great job. I’m really happy with it.
SDTC: Did you have a really clear idea of how it was going to look, or was it a surprise when you saw the final campaign?
K: We had no idea. It was a surprise. Everything has been a surprise. I had no idea how it was going to turn out, nothing at all. I had no idea it was going to be so public. I’m happy that Woodgreen got what they wanted from it.