What do you do when, as a mature woman, you find yourself with time on your hands and a desire to socialize with others who speak your language? Perhaps the children have moved out and you're at loose ends. Maybe your husband is retired and underfoot. You're working from home and feeling isolated... or you just know you'll benefit from making new friends.

That's exactly what the founding members of the Laval Women's Group – a few English-speaking stay-at-home mothers – were thinking three decades ago, in 1983. At the time, there were social groups for French-speaking women (over 73<>percentage<> of Laval families speak French at home[1]), but none for Laval's English-speaking community. So a small band of pioneers, including Margaret Vincent, Helga Vezina and Helga Gutenkust, began meeting once a week for social and moral support. The rest is herstory.

Today, the group boasts an impressive membership of over 100 women who meet every Monday to hobnob with each other. Throughout its organic growth and many evolutions, it remains committed to its original purpose -- providing an open social network for English-speaking women residing in Laval – while expanding to include charitable work, fitness programs, seasonal celebrations, organized activities and more.

"We all benefit from the camaraderie," noted Sally Lapointe, a member for 15 years, "and even if I don't make it to every weekly meeting, it's undeniably an important part of my life." Members have access to a supervised agenda, which includes exercise, dance classes, guest lecturers, a monthly raffle and interactive games, among others. The women bring their own lunches and sit in casual groups at mid-day, and once in a while go out to enjoy a local restaurant.

On a recent visit, I found myself watching a young gal instruct a group of women in armchair weight-lifting, with other members doing Tai Chi in a room nearby. Smaller groups of women milled around the common area, conversing and waiting for newly-elected President Vicky Koscher to take the microphone and provide a weekly update on events and projects. That day, the buzz was about an upcoming luncheon -- an annual Valentine's Day event that has special meaning this year as the group celebrates its 30th anniversary.

Women's groups have a strong history in Canada, including the Hebrew Ladies Sewing Circle founded in 1869, the first female missionary society in Nova Scotia in 1870, the Woman's Christian Temperance Union in 1874, and the Young Women's Christian Association, or YWCA, founded in 1875. Networking and sharing information seems to come naturally to many women, especially those with family experience, who are embedded in the community.

Over the past 30 years, the group has seen its share of women coming and going, but most members come and stay. "We help each other get through tough times," said Beverly Beauchamp, ex-President and long-time member, "We share what we learn and know; we enjoy bonding with each other. When you bring a question or a problem into the group, you truly feel supported and listened to – we're here for each other."

Program Chairperson Wilma Gumpert was interviewed by phone from her home, where she was recovering from a fall on the ice. Wilma is enthusiastic about new members coming into the group. "We are always looking for different ideas and fresh blood," she noted. "We are looking for speakers who can share information with us, too – for example, we had one person come in and talk to us about Alzheimer's, and some of us want to know more about computer technology."

New members also means new volunteers, of course. The group gets a small annual budget from the province as a chartered non-profit organization (as well as some private donations), but relies on the generosity of member volunteers for the work involved, including book-keeping, leadership, event management and more. "I love organizing the group's activities", said Gumbert, "but I turn 80 this year. Perhaps someone a bit younger can take over soon." In fact, a large percentage of the women in the group are octogenarians and proud of it. During my visit, a few of them proudly proclaimed their 80-something ages with sparkling eyes, mischievous smiles and a generous dose of humour.

"Mind, body and soul -- the Laval Women's Group is about health and wellness, support and friendship," concluded Gumbert. The group's ongoing success is a testament to its enduring spirit, and the growing numbers prove that it is still meeting a vital community need. At the time of publication, it remains the only seniors' organization of its kind in Laval.

Interested in joining?

If you, or someone you know, wants to join the Laval Women's Group, contact President Vicky Koscher at 450-625-1788 for more information. The group meets every Monday at JP Campeau, 3781 Blvd. Levesque, from 9;30 a.m. to 3;30 p.m. Membership is $25 annually for Laval residents, $50 for women residing outside of Laval. There are additional minor fees for some of the physical fitness classes. According to Koscher, "We are mostly seniors, but we welcome English-speaking women of all ages and cultures. The more, the merrier!"

Lorrie Beauchamp Lorrie Beauchamp | Author

Lorrie Beauchamp is a Montreal-based journalist, freelance writer and business owner. She is a member of the Quebec Writers’ Federation, former student of and editor for the Thomas More Institute newsletter, and co-founder of The Writers’ Bloc, a literary group celebrating English writers in a city where everyone, including the majority, is a minority.

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