The Aecon Women Inclusion Network (AWIN) has declared its Shoebox Project charitable venture during the recent holiday season a major success, a result that is encouraging AWIN organizers to work to expand the network’s various missions and outreach efforts heading into 2020.
On Dec. 5 AWIN delivered 316 shoeboxes with hand-picked gifts and personal care items to the organizers of the Shoebox Project, to be sent to women impacted by homelessness in the Greater Toronto Area. The local AWIN effort involved some 25 employees volunteering to shop and set up the shoebox gift packages, and 125 women in total supporting fundraising efforts that brought in $10,000 worth of donations.
The support represented a tripling of AWIN’s Shoebox Project contribution from the previous year, explained Beth Cartlidge, a six-year employee of Aecon who works as vice-president of operational finance shared services in Toronto. She has been co-chair of AWIN for two years.
“This year we had the whole year to plan it out and we wanted to make it bigger and get more people involved,” said Cartlidge, noting 2018 was the first year AWIN supported the Shoebox Project, an international program organized by the group Dream.
“Our goal was 300 boxes and we ended up doing 316.”
The effort shone a light on previously unknown talents with the company, Cartlidge said.
“When they heard what we were doing they came and said, I make scarves, for donations, is that something we would consider? And their mothers making hats and scarves. We welcomed them all to donate them and they were a nice touch,” she said.
AWIN was founded in 2014 with the mandate to help female employees in the firm reach their full career potential. There is a mentorship program within the firm, and AWIN also has the responsibility of building strong awareness within Aecon of how female workers are an asset.
Then there is outreach — to attract new female recruits, to retain and advance women in the industry, and through community efforts like Shoebox Project to support the community and also boost Aecon’s profile.
Every female Aecon employee becomes a member of AWIN and there are 125 female employees in the GTA who volunteer and otherwise participate in AWIN programs.
AWIN is strongest in Toronto but there is now momentum in other parts of the country, Cartlidge said. The group’s participation in the Shoebox Project last year seems to have been a springboard.
“We had a very strong committee last year and we have had a lot of people ask to join the committee so we are looking at how we can expand more across Canada,” said Cartlidge. “We got so much feedback from people who participated and men who said, I wish we had known. We could have done more.”
The final number for the Shoebox Project locally was a record, with organizer Jessica Mulroney reporting 57,000 shoeboxes packaged and delivered.
Cartlidge foresees big things for AWIN in 2020.
“For 2020, we are really focused on community and careers,” she said. “Things we can do in our community to get more women into the trades, to get young girls who are deciding what they want to do, to provide more community awareness as far as trades as an option.
“The Women in Trades program is part of it, and expanding our speed networking and our book clubs, we are doing all of those things, trying to get the word out. A lot of it is networking and getting people to have a bigger network of cheerleaders for them to have a real network of supporters in their careers.”
Follow the author on Twitter @DonWall_DCN.