After being the well-known face of YWCA Peterborough Haliburton for the past 35 years, Lynn Zimmer is retiring as executive director of the organization that supports local women facing violence, poverty, and oppression.
News of Zimmer’s upcoming retirement, effective November 30th, was shared at YWCA Peterborough Haliburton’s annual general meeting on Thursday night (June 20).
“It is with mixed emotions that the board of directors of YWCA Peterborough Haliburton accepted the retirement announcement of our beloved executive director Lynn Zimmer,” says YWCA board president Neera Jeyabalan. “Lynn has been the face of YWCA Peterborough Haliburton for 35 years and her departure will be a big adjustment for all of us.”
“During her years as the thoughtful and courageous leader of our YWCA, thousands of women and children fleeing violence and abuse have been given a safe space to find their way towards a better future. Her legacy with our organization will be everlasting and her achievements will be remembered with great honour and love.”
“We are thrilled for Lynn as she enters this new chapter of her life and we are certain, that even in retirement, she will continue to be remarkable and continue to achieve remarkable feats, in ways only Lynn can.”
Zimmer has been working to prevent violence and promote equity for women for almost 46 years.
The Kitchener native began her work career in 1969 as a reporter for the Peterborough Examiner’s “women’s page” which, at the time, was more about brides and social events. In her early twenties, Zimmer soon discovered and embraced feminism, and began writing about issues of real importance to women.
Her next move was to Toronto, where she tried law school for a year before dropping out (one professor would regale the primarily male students with stories of “funny” cases of sexual assault). With no immediate prospects for work, she began volunteering for Women’s Place, an organization for women.
The organization determined there was a demand for a temporary place for economically disadvantaged women (often with their children) who wanted to escape from unhappy marriages. Zimmer posted a note on the wall of Women’s Place, proposing a meeting to discuss the creation of a women’s crisis shelter. Eleven women came together to open Interval House in 1973.
After opening Interval House, the founders soon realized domestic violence was the real reason women were fleeing their marriages, with every woman entering the shelter reporting both physical and emotional abuse. Interval House not only became Canada’s first shelter for abused women, but laid the foundation for bringing the issue of violence against women to the attention of both government and the public. By 1987, there were 264 shelters in Canada for women fleeing domestic violence.
While Zimmer and her husband moved to Peterborough in 1981, she continued to commute to her job in Toronto. Three years later, after the Peterborough YWCA changed its mandate to focus on women fleeing violence and opened the Crossroads women’s shelters, Zimmer was hired as executive director.
Since then, Zimmer has been at the helm of YWCA Peterborough Haliburton, strengthening and expanding the organization’s support for local women and their children.
Today, the organization operates the Crossroads Shelter for women and children fleeing abuse, crisis support and outreach services, Family Court Support, START (Support Team for Abuse Response Today), Nourish, Homeward Bound, GirlSpace/BoySpace, Education Awards for abuse survivors, Centennial Crescent second stage housing community, and a crisis ‘safe space’ called HERS in Haliburton County.
Zimmer holds a bachelor of arts in communication arts from the Université de Montréal (Loyola College). In 2002, she received a master’s in management for the voluntary sector from McGill University.
As she approached her 35th anniversary as executive director, Zimmer decided it was time to move on.
“It feels like this is a good time to move forward into the next phase of my life, even though I still can’t quite imagine how it will feel not to walk in the door of the YWCA every morning,” Zimmer says.
“It’s been an incredible journey over the past 45-plus years, to be a part of creating the violence against women movement, being a part of opening Canada’s first-ever women’s shelter in Toronto, and looking at the extensive services our YWCA in Peterborough and Haliburton provides to women and children today, and all of the many steps we took along the way.”
The YWCA Peterborough Haliburton board of directors plans to begin a recruitment process later this summer for a new executive director.