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NATASHA BURFORD - Toronto, ON

My community, Jane and Finch, is known as a “priority needs” neighbourhood. I grew up seeing some of my friends murdered, seeing government-built townhouses burn down because they did not have fire alarms, and the families literally dying.

I just got tired of watching the news and seeing my community overshadowed by violence. I finally realized I could not wait for someone else to do something.

One of the first steps I took was attend a Girls Action retreat. I was able to hear what was happening for girls, not only in my own backyard but around the country. I had never been part of anything like that before, a gathering of so many different communities.

I decided to start my own group where girls and women can have a voice and help to shape the community. WORC IT! (Women of Race Climbing it Together) was born.

One of our proudest accomplishments is the Aspiring Leaders Project. Teen girls from the neighborhood take part in a year-long program, with eight mentors available for them on a continuous basis. The girls are looking at themselves differently. Sometimes I get letters from moms saying, ‘You don’t know how much you’ve changed my family.’ Not only are we affecting our daughters, we are affecting our sons because they start to see their sisters differently.

Girls Action provided a seed grant for the Aspiring Leaders Project. That gave WORC IT the momentum to apply for other sources of funding. This shows the ripple effect – from Girls Action, to our community organization, to the girls, some of whom are now starting their own projects.

I can honestly say that Girls Action has been WORC IT’s #1 supporter. It is an organization that really keeps in contact with its members. In my hectic life as a mother of 3, a teacher, a wife and a community advocate, Girls Action always stayed in touch with me. This contact helped me keep building my dream - to decrease the violence in Jane and Finch and create a strong network of people who can empower each other. This is where my heart is.  This dream is what gives me peace and keeps me going.

“I want girls to realize that they, too, can be change agents and that what they think matters. I also want to get away from the socialization of grooming girls only for the acceptance of boys, and de-mystify what it means to be ‘beautiful.’”