Grace Campbell and WOR in service of women

Grace Campbell and WOR in service of women

As she prepares to exit a position that kept her on the frontlines in the fight to empower women, Grace Campbell stands proud of the achievements of Women On The Rise, the organization she been leading for the past two decades and the gains made among those whom they serve.
She spoke with the CONTACT about the past 20 years and the highs and the lows that she says have made the organisation stronger.
It started as Black Women on the Rise in 1991 following two studies conducted by the CLSC in NDG that showed Black, English-speaking women many of West Indian origins were reporting higher levels of isolation and at the same time accessing family resources at a significantly lower rate than average Montrealers.
In response, a group community advocates, among them Jasmine Williams, Shirley Williams, Darleen Gargul, Denise Pierre and Erica Hernandez partnered with the CLSC to create a program that would connect women of color residing in NDG with available resources. In the early days, the organization whose aim was, “helping mothers help themselves,” thrived with support from The First Baptist Church in NDG and the CLSC-NDG.
Ms. Campbell took the helm of organisation in 2002 as executive director and immediately had to deal with funding challenges which eventually lead to a name change when it became “Women on the Rise.”
This was done she says to meet funding requirements and also to reflect the organization’s fundamental policy of inclusivity and catering to all women, regardless of race.
“We realized that it was not just Black or West Indian women who had problems but Caucasian, Asian and Arab women too and we wanted to help all women,” Campbell explains.
She added that realizing many of these women all face common challenges, spurred WOR into broadening its focus

“Women from all races were facing abuse in their homes and didn’t even know how to get out of these situations or even how to protect their children,” she says. “We also noticed that there weren’t as many resources for English speaking immigrants came in Montreal and so we wanted to ensure that when they came here they were aware of the programs and services available to them also to offer trainings on how to integrate into the society”

With time WOR offer of additional programs all aimed at strengthening the bonds of family such as: family coaching, mindful movements, life coaching among others.
As well, the organization has developed an expanded program for children between the ages of 2-5 years old, which Campbell says supported their natural development through socializing and introducing routine.
Every year more than 60 women participates in the programs and services of WOR. Among them are success stories of those who left abusive situations, those who have managed to grow from the training to find financial stability for themselves and their children and those who’ve chosen to go back to school.
Even with its positive impact on so many women lives, it has not always been smooth sailing for WOR.
“We’ve had a lot of high moments and also a lot of challenges,” Campbell says.
In 2016 they lost the $80,000 in annual funding from Centraide, forcing them to face some difficult decisions.
“We were faced with the possibility of closing. But that was not an option, so we decided we would reduce the pay but still work full time because we knew our services were necessary to for the community,” she remembers.
But she added that the tough time also brought support and solidarity from various community organisations that rallied around them.
Campbell had special praise for Mont Royal United Church that provided funded for three years as they continued to give essential services to the community.
Through it all, recognition for the work that Campbell and the organization slowly came.
A significant one for her was being recognized as a true agent of social change for her innovative work, positive influence, and community involvement with Women on the Rise by the Montreal Canadians. She received a personalized special edition warmup jersey as well as $1000 in funding for the organisation.
The organization also received the Martin Luther King Junior Legacy Award from thew Black Theatre Workshop.
In 2019 Campbell was recognized by the Round Table For Black History Month and was a laureate.
As well, the Cornucopia Association of Canada also awarded her for her dedication to the community.
More recently the organization’s front-line work and its commitment to those it serves during the COVID-19 pandemic was recognized by the federal government.

“We didn’t close our doors,” she says. “We had situations in which some of our members with kids in school didn’t know how to deal with Covid. (The authorities) would recommend that you separate and isolate, but this was difficult for people who live in apartments. Some are one or two bedrooms with so many kids. We had to find different ways to deal with that.”

Another recent highlight was the acquisition of laptops with the assistance of the Quebec Board of Black Educators that were used to provided training to the women on using zoom and other platforms.
For the organization’s many success stories, Campbell credits the staff and board at Women On The Rise who have contributed to the continued growth of the women.
And as she retires from the executive director position she hopes the organisation will “continue growing and helping mothers help themselves.”

They will be having a fundraiser gala on May 21st at Hampton Inn, Dorval from 6pm. More information can be found on