By Caro Rolando
Photographs by author
Pictured in top image: Executive of Humewood House (left) and Sara Jaggernauth, a mother who accessed Humewood’s services at the age of 16.
The walk up Humewood Drive is longer than expected. The street meanders teasingly; its cozy well-to-do homes hug the tree-lined sidewalks, inviting you to take a left onto Humewood Gardens or a right into Humewood Park. Or maybe, just maybe, you’re tempted to continue walking toward that red brick building up ahead, marked ‘40.’ Without realizing it, you have reached the Humewood House.
Situated in Wychwood Heights, the Humewood House is a young parent resource centre that serves pregnant and parenting adolescent women from across the Greater Toronto Area.
To Louise Moody, Executive Director, the walk up to Humewood is symbolic of the choice that countless young women have made in accessing its services. In addition to providing a residence to ten women under the age of 21, Humewood doubles as a children’s mental health centre. It boasts a daycare, a high-school program, pre and post-natal services and a community garden.
‘From Shape to Empowerment’
In 2012, the centre will be celebrating its centennial—a feat that Moody is not taking lightly. The executive director created a centennial committee in 2006. In an interview earlier this month, she spoke about why Humewood chose to plan the event so far in advance.
“There’s such an involved story,” Moody said, “The history of women over that hundred year period is pretty daunting. If you think of the advent of birth control… if you think of how women got the vote— women’s lives have just changed. Young women…are leaving here to be often sole-support parents, successfully and independently going to school and taking care of their family. When the first women came here… they were tarnished,” she said.
This historical shift will be reflected in an archival project created by the Centennial Committee. Entitled “From Shame to Empowerment,” the project examines the story of one young woman per decade of Humewood’s existence. “One was exploited by a foreman and got pregnant…was blamed, and…had to leave,” Moody said of a woman highlighted in the project. “Someone was a teacher and lived in a northern community and got pregnant and had to leave,” she said of another. Powerful photographs—such as that of a 12-foot wall that used to surround the home— are also included to demonstrate the shame permeating teenage pregnancy in the 1900s.
Now, Moody says, it’s time to take ownership of the shift that’s occurred. Humewood plans to put up a sign in front of the home—something that has been lacking since the centre’s inception. “It’s a really interesting statement,” Moody says, “…that there’s nothing that says ‘this is Humewood House.’ Maybe in a hundred years we can start to feel that we can be identified. That ‘I go to Humewood House and [it] isn’t negative’…kind of like going to other social service agencies, and we can wear it with pride.”
Sara Jaggernauth is an example of someone who already takes pride in her Humewood experience. Jaggernauth began accessing Humewood’s high school and parenting programs in 1982; she was sixteen years old and had recently given
birth to her daughter, Patricia, who is now a successful television host. Jaggernauth says she does not know where she would be today without the support of Humewood.
“What I want do now is give back to the community that really, really helped me,” Jaggernauth said in a telephone interview this month. “That’s why I went back to school after so long,” she added.
Jaggernauth is currently enrolled in the Social Service Worker Program at George Brown College. She is doing her placement at 1900 Sheppard Ave—another young parent resource centre affiliated with the Humewood House. Although Jaggernauth is content with her experience, she remains critical of the scarcity of resources available to young, pregnant women. “I wish they had more places like Humewood House for young moms…that inspire them,” Jaggernauth said.
Support not Judgment
And although there are more places, they may not be enough to fulfill the demand of all those needing support. There are only two other young parent resource centres in the GTA that offer residence programs: the Massey Centre for Women and Rosalie Hall. Luckily, the three programs are supportive of one another’s initiatives. In a telephone interview this month, Alan Nickell, Executive Director of Rosalie Hall, spoke about Humewood’s centennial project.
“I think it’s good they’re looking at the theme[From Shame to Empowerment] because there’s still tons of stigma in terms of how young women are treated in the community,” Nickell said.
But Moody hopes the centennial will reach a larger audience, too. Instead of alienating the young women who access Humewood, Moody hopes Torontonians will see the bigger picture: “You don’t need to judge an older mom, you don’t need to judge a younger mom. All kids and all families need support when there’s a new baby. And sometime’s it’s easier. Humewood House is one place to come to that will support you if you’re young,” Moody said.