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University women continue promoting knowledge and education

'Something that I think is in all of us is just finding a way to help those when you see a need. Our group just really believes in that and a lot of the work we do is just done quietly, without a lot of fanfare'

Since 1941 CFUW (Canadian Federation of University Women) in North Bay has had the goal of helping the community of North Bay and beyond in three key areas.   

“We have three goals which haven’t changed in the last 80 plus years;  the pursuit of knowledge, the promotion of education, and the improvement of the status of women and human rights,” says Natalie Brunette, Co-President of the club.   

There are many different interest groups that fall within the terms of the pursuit of knowledge.  

“At our monthly meetings, we have a guest speaker who will follow that theme of education. For example, we recently had a speaker who works for the Ontario Securities Commission who spoke about fraud and specifically seniors' fraud. So, every month there is a different focus on that area of gaining knowledge on different subjects,” says Brunette.  

She adds they also have an interest group dedicated to issues and advocacy.  

“This can be addressing something that’s international or something that’s local,” says Brunette.   

“Last year CFUW Canada were the founders of a virtual walk to support women in Kabul. We did an online culminating session where we had five professors and doctors in Afghanistan speaking to us. Locally, our group was already doing a virtual walking group and the idea was picked up nationally and all of the participants eventually walked enough miles where we had the equivalent of walking from Canada to Afghanistan.”  

Under the theme of the promotion of education, Brunette says that is a major focus for the group when it comes to their fundraising efforts.   

“We fundraise annually through personal donations and other activities to raise enough money to provide scholarships to help young women to pursue their academic goals at Canadore College, Nipissing University, and a local Secondary School. We are pleased that our secondary award rotates schools every year,” she says.  

“We’re also setting up a fifteen-year, $1,000 scholarship at Nipissing University named after Dr. Diana Walton who was a professor at the university and we’re really excited about that.”  

As a Guidance Counsellor by profession, the reason Brunette originally joined the group was that “I figured after all these years of giving out this award, I wanted to find out more about what is really behind the award.”   

“In the beginning, I didn’t really know what CFUW was and once I got in, I realized how near and dear to my heart this group was. I’ve always been a volunteer and looking to support a cause. It was less than a year before I became a part of the executive.”  

Brunette says they are also always actively looking for new members.  

“In fact, just this past year we recruited a member through social media,” she says.   

“One of our younger members set us up with a Facebook account and a member of the Canadian Armed Forces got in contact with us. She was in the United States but was going to be posted in North Bay and was interested in joining our club. That was two things we never had happen before; online recruiting and having a member of the CAF in our group.”  

Brunette says the group was able to learn a lot from that new member.   

“That opened a whole new world for us as she was able to make a bunch of contacts for us as well as sharing all of her knowledge and experience of being stationed overseas.”  

Brunette says that isn’t something happening every day though as recruiting new members is a difficult process because the next generation of young adults is very busy with other commitments.   

“Between raising their own families, and working full-time jobs there just isn’t a ton of time to lend,” says Brunette.   

“A lot of the women who started CFUW all those years ago weren’t working at the time, it was a large group of young mothers who would get together with their kids and find common interests and causes to support. Now, young people have to find time between their jobs, and their kids’ extracurriculars to be able to have time to get to meetings and events.”  

Brunette continues, “It’s a challenge but we’re trying different things to bring in that next generation. Unlike the founding members, a university degree is not required for membership. Any woman who shares our goals is welcome to join. 

We’re finding that people will join if they know other people, so when we get one person to sign up, we encourage them to bring a friend. I first joined knowing three or four people beforehand. If you don’t experience CFUW, you won’t know if you like it, and so we encourage people to attend a meeting and research our local group online.”  

Brunette says as they try to build the club, they remain steadfast in their goals that help the community.   

“Another big event is our charitable trust dinner that is held in December in memory of the 14 women that were killed at École Polytechnique in Montreal in 1989,” says Brunette. The money donated by members at the dinner is sent to the CFUW Charitable Trust, which awards scholarships to a postgraduate female students studying a topic of relevance to women.   

And that’s not the end of their charitable outreach.  

“We help the AIDS Committee of North Bay and Area with the Red Scarf Campaign every year,” says Brunette.   

“Our group does a lot of the scarf making.”  

“There’s also our “Bathtub Project” where we collect toiletries and people bring those things to our meetings. When we collect enough products, we make a big donation to the AIDS Committee who will then give those out to their clients.”  

As well, every year at Christmas, they make sure the Christmas spirit is alive and well for those who need it most.   

“Our big one at Christmas is that we donate wrapped Christmas gifts to women and children at the Transition House, a shelter for women and children as well as True Self, which is a group that helps women who are looking to get back into the workforce,” says Brunette.   

“Gifts are handed out by Santa at a Christmas party. Everybody in our group chips in for that one, and last year we had 160 packages.”  

Brunette says, “One of the neat things about our group is that we overlap with what other groups in the city are doing and that just helps so many of the causes get so much more.”  

She adds, “Something that I think is in all of us is just finding a way to help those when you see a need. Our group just really believes in that and a lot of the work we do is just done quietly, without a lot of fanfare.”  

Brunette says that was one of the things that was so interesting to her with the 80th anniversary of the local group (in 2021)  

“So many people had no idea about all the things this group has done and participated in over those past eight decades,” says Brunette.   

“During that anniversary celebration we got to reconnect with some of the students who were recipients of the grants and the fundraising that we did and they shared stories of success with us. They were able to say ‘this is what that money did for me’ and that was very heartwarming and we were able to pass that information along to all our members, especially our older members, some of whom have been a part of this group almost since the beginning. In fact, we do have one member still who was one of the founding members of the local chapter.”  

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Matt Sookram

About the Author: Matt Sookram

Matthew Sookram is a Canadore College graduate. He has lived and worked in North Bay since 2009 covering different beats; everything from City Council to North Bay Battalion.
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