Five years ago Sister Elizabeth Kinsella of the Grey Sisters of Mary Immaculate came to the shocking realization that Ottawa was failing to meet the needs of pregnant teenagers, already overwhelmed not only by their situation, but also the need for shelter, caring for their babies and completing their education.
Supported by a board of eight committed individuals, Sister Betty Ann, as Sister Kinsella is know, set out to provide a home, a nursery and a school – all under one roof.
Her religious community provided a gift of $15,000 plus a loan of $100,000. The Ottawa Roman Catholic Separate Board donated ten years free occupancy of a school building together with a renewable lease for another ten years.
The $230,000 needed for renovations and repairs was raised by churches, clubs and individuals, while an army of volunteers scrubbed, painted, replaced windows and doors, provided equipment and moved furniture.
March 12, 1987, saw the arrival of the first babies at the center, called Youville after the foundress of the Grey Nuns who since 1990, is Canada’s first native-born Saint.
School for the mothers began eleven days later. To date, the Ontario Ministry of Education has paid the salaries of three teachers, while Principal Tom White has provided correspondence courses for 25 girls.
In June 1990, 28 girls graduated from high school. Several have gone on to community colleges and universities.
Youville offers a temporary full-time home to five girls and their babies. They can stay from three to six months before finding alternative accommodation and coming to the center as day students.
Ten babies and fifteen toddlers are cared for at Youville, which is visited by a nurse twice a week. Two lawyers provide immediate services in crisis situations.
One of the many uplifting aspects of this project is the generosity of organizations and businesses on the fringe.
While a local food bank continues to provide food, contractors give meaningful discounts. A van donated by the Ottawa Lions Club makes it easier for girls living outside to get to school.
Each student is given a membership by a local fitness club and classes finish early on Wednesdays so that the young mothers may attend exercise classes or keep appointments while their children are lovingly minded.
Acutely aware of and grateful for the non-judgmental acceptance shown by Sister Betty Ann and everyone associated with the center, the girls have become active in community endeavours. In December 1990, they shared Christmas gifts and food with mothers and children at Interval House, a center for battered women and their children.
A loving option
Youville Centre, situated at 19 Melrose Avenue, Ottawa, is the result of the unconditional love offered those who saw the absolute necessity for the survival of human dignity. Centers such as this must be seen as a very positive option for young girls who, attempting to function under desperation and rejection, might be pressured into taking the lives of their unborn children and exposing themselves to all the consequences of abortion.
Speaking at the 1990 graduation ceremony, one profoundly grateful young mother voiced the sentiments of her companions, “Thanks, Youville, for giving me back my future.”