Gould family donation to grow YMCA women in business program

The late Millie Gould is widely remembered as Hamilton’s first lady of fashion – a fierce, entrepreneurial powerhouse whose shrewd business sense and keen eye for styles and trends gave life to a retail empire.

But beyond her legacy as a design icon was someone who gained a deep sense of “nachas” — the Yiddish word for unbridled pride or joy — from watching other women succeed.

“My mother believed in philanthropy in general, but in women’s empowerment in particular,” says Ben Gould, Millie’s son. “Seeing women succeed in business gave her great joy because she knew how hard it was and is. She had been through it herself.”

It’s a big reason why the Gould family called it a “significant investment” this month in the women’s leadership in business program that bears Millie’s name at YWCA Hamilton.

The Millie Gould Entrepreneurial Center will act as an education and training center for women-led businesses, offering a range of services from one-on-one coaching and planning workshops to financial literacy training and digital tool supports.

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While entrepreneurship programs for women at the YWCA have long existed, CEO Denise Christopherson said the Gould family’s “transformational” gift — spanning five years — will add additional capacity to the support it already provides.

“This investment only goes a long way in continuing our support for these much-needed services for women in southern Ontario,” Christopherson said in an interview. “And just the fact that it’s now named after Millie … she’s been a source of inspiration for so many people because of the success she’s had in her business.”

Indeed, Millie, who died in 2019, embodied the definition of “self-made,” building her clothing boutique in an era when women were not common in the profession. And she did so on the heels of tragedy, when her first husband and daughter died in a house fire when she was just 25.

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“Overcoming obstacles, that’s how she lived her life,” Ben said. “Women like my mother starting out in the 1960s and 70s faced more obstacles than they do today, but they still exist in various forms and our family has always recognized that.”

Ben noted how his mother’s empire began — a $5,000 family loan “she couldn’t have gotten without my father’s name (Alan Gould), because that’s what it was at the time,” he said.

The idea of ​​helping women overcome obstacles and giving someone an opportunity in business programs at the YWCA inspires their family’s continued support, Ben said. A 2008 Woman of Distinction Award winner, Millie made a strong commitment to her namesake program before she died by donating $50,000 through the Allen and Millie Gould Foundation.

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“When we learned more about the program and met some of the graduates with similar stories, we thought it was worth it,” Ben said of the most recent gift, the amount of which he declined to disclose.

Bain said the gift is intended to “supercharge” the existing program and give it life.

“We see it as an investment, as a restocking of the lake — not a handout,” he said, adding that more money could be pledged in the future. “We want to give all these women a chance to start their business, even if it’s a small one, like my mother started.

“It gives her great joy to know that she is helping women launch into their successful business endeavors.”

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