The Origins of MumNet
The roots of MumNet go back over five decades. Starting over 50 years ago, the YWCA sponsored a popular program for women called Take-a-Break (TAB). This program operated in many parts of the country and focused on group discussions, speakers, craft and cooking demonstrations etc., designed for low-income or single mothers who had no other means of getting a break from parenting.
In Toronto in the early 1960s, the model for TAB was changed to one based on group work principles, with group leaders trained to facilitate discussions and tailor the content to meet the needs of the participants. In addition, a fitness component led by a YWCA qualified instructor was introduced and childcare was offered.
By 1989, there were 18 TAB groups in Metro Toronto, with two paid part-time co-coordinators who worked three days each. In addition, a part-time child care supervisor was paid to recruit, hire, train and supervise the 54 sessional childcare workers. The co-coordinators were responsible for supervision of the child care supervisor, recruitment, hiring, and supervision of 18 sessional fitness instructors, recruitment, training and supervision of volunteer area supervisors and the administration of the program. Groups met in churches where there were facilities for fitness and childcare, and generally paid a small honorarium for the use of the space.
In late 1989, the YWCA in Toronto made the decision to cease funding the TAB program. For several months, efforts were made by many TAB members, volunteers and staff to convince the YWCA to reverse its decision, to no avail. In January of 1990, TAB was no more.
With the assistance of Marilyn Duncan-Morris, former paid co-coordinator of the TAB program, the groups negotiated to finish the year in their churches, as church programs. This support from the churches was most welcome, and strengthened the attachment of the groups to their facilities.
Marilyn Duncan-Morris, Joanne Pauli and Christine Jackson were at the core of the effort to keep the TAB program alive. These dedicated women eventually formed the Steering Committee in the summer of 1990, and they invited Frances Hodgins, Diana Stinson, Katherine Turner and Sheona Duthie to join them. By August 1990, a provisional structure was in place, with draft job descriptions, a budget and a long list of fundraising projects. The volunteer supervisors continued their work in recruiting and training new group leaders, so that the year began seamlessly for participants.
In June of 1991, the “Mothers Network” was born. The provisions of the Steering Committee were adapted to become by-laws and the first Annual General Meeting was held at Fairlawn United Church to elect the new Board of Directors, with Joanne Pauli as the Chair. The first by-laws included provision for representation on the Board from area supervisors and group leaders. When the New Year began that September, there were 15 day time groups with 254 members, three evening fitness groups with about 20 members, and one Wellness group with 11 participants. The first Board arranged for the incorporation of the organization, under the name “Metro Mothers Network”, and began the process of obtaining charitable status.
Today, MumNet has grown into a network that provides community and support to over 400 members. Through two types of groups – MumNet, for mothers with small children, and MumVet, for mothers with older children – the Metro Mothers Network continues to reach out and support Toronto mums.