For the first time in the township, the Woolwich Youth Centre will be facilitating a program exclusive to male caregivers and their boys.
The free semi-structured program is open to 8-12 year old boys and their fathers, grandfathers or male mentors, focusing on leadership and healthy masculinity through games and activities.
William Fujarczuk, an educator with the Sexual Assault Support Centre of Waterloo Region, will be leading the program. His work is focused on public education to teach men and boys in engaging conversation around healthy masculinity, consent and gender-based violence.
“This program specifically is looking to engage male caregivers and mentors,” he said. “It’s from our partnership with the YWCA Cambridge, they have been doing workshops with mothers and daughters for a long time where they talk about body image issues, they talk about gender and sometimes it’s just arts-based activities, just creating a space for [them]. They recognize the need to have a similar programming for men, so it was a natural fit to work with us male allies.
“We thought that it would be great to work with different partners instead of running our own programming and just finding a space. Instead, finding agencies that already exist that are known in their communities, promoting through them through their contacts that they already have,” he explained.
After connecting with Tina Reed, coordinator of community support with Woolwich Community Services, Fujarczuk felt that he had found a great partner for a Woolwich-led group.
“Tina was so excited about the prospect of this programming. It is not something that you really see offered much in the world, much in the region, for male care givers explicitly to spend time with youth. So it just felt like a really natural fit,” he said.
For Reed, the program extends WCS’s current programming.
“A large part of our Family Violence Prevention Program is the building of healthy relationships and the program offered by Male Allies provides the niche of the male relationship component,” she explained. “We felt that we had the perfect space at the youth centre for a program like this. Having a pool table, games and all we have there can give them something to do together while opening the door to growth in the relationship.”
Having a safe space with activities was important for the success of the program, Fujarczuk explained.
“Here we have video games and we have a pool table and puzzles and all sorts of room for creativity, so there is definitely a lot of time to make use of the space,” he said, noting that the workshops are created to fit with this intergenerational group of participants that will be attending.
“[We’ll be] looking at our role as men in ending gender-based violence, what it means to be an ally to women in this work and recognizing that these really rigid notions of masculinity that society places on us, that we sometimes place on ourselves, are really harmful to men’s mental and emotional and physical health. They are things that aren’t talked about a lot.”
The program is focused on creating a space for men to feel comfortable to talk about what it mean to be a guy, what healthy masculinity look likes, and promoting that with youth.
“We know men want to be caregivers. We know they have different pressures, so I think that this is kind of bridging these two things and saying, ‘let’s create space to do this,’” he explained.
Although the program is set around open conversation, Fujarczuk says people won’t be launched into it.
“Let’s talk about this a bit, we aren’t going to sit here for two hours and talk, but we are going to talk about it a bit and then let’s play some video games and let’s just hangout and have a good time together,” he said. “I am not here to push people to points where they are extremely uncomfortable but I really want to just open room for dialogue and guide us bit by bit.”
Dialogue is important to motion change, however he says he understands that there may be barriers people are facing to get there – those he would like to help whittle down.
“I think it can be tough. I think men don’t know what to expect from these kinds of things and if they do it can be an uncomfortable conversation.”
Specifically to Woolwich, Reed says the program fills a void to male caregivers that currently isn’t being addressed.
“Sometimes male caregivers or male mentors don’t know what to do to spend time together, and options in a small town can feel limiting. Now we can share this space with Male Allies to allow the men and boys to make connections, communicate, and focus on positive relationship building and role modeling,” she explained.
The first session will be a low-key one, allowing participants to get comfortable with each other, playing games and using the facilities.
The new program is starting at the Woolwich Youth Centre October 2, and happening the first Monday of every month thereafter running from 6:30-8:30 p.m.