What’s all the HOOPLA about? Linden alumnae launch new feminist non-profit to celebrate you and your big moments

Posted by Admin on February 18, 2021 at 12:00 PM

L-R: Linden alumnae: Beth McNeil, Hilary Straus (Holden) and Odette Hutchings are co-founders of HOOPLA.

When Linden alumnae Odette Hutchings, Hilary Straus (Holden), and Beth McNeil recently reached out to us to publicize an upcoming event, we thought it would be a great opportunity to catch up with them and learn more about HOOPLA, which they teamed up to found two years ago. HOOPLA —Honouring Our Own Personal Life Achievements — is a movement to raise up women, break down barriers, and make more room at the table for all. Their March 3rd event, Owning the Virtual Job Hunt is for people who are navigating the job hunt amid the current COVID-19 pandemic. All Linden community members are invited to join this event, especially Grade 12s and recent graduates who might be looking for summer roles. Learn more below and scroll down to read our interview with the three co-founders. 

Stuck in an online job hunting rut? Click here to join HOOPLA for a panel discussion on the ins and outs of finding a job in our new virtual world.

Featuring: Rosie Given, Inclusion and Diversity Recruitment Lead for Accenture Canada, Elaine Lam, Ph.D., Chief of Research, Education and Inclusion at The Conference Board of Canada, and Natalie Campbell, Talent Acquisition Consultant with AIR MILES. Moderated by Odette Hutchings, Director of Professional Programs and Partners at Women in Capital Markets.

Interview with HOOPLA co-founders Odette Hutchings, Hilary Straus (Holden), and Beth McNeil

Linden: What inspired you to start HOOPLA?

Odette: HOOPLA came about as a response to seeing the lack of celebration around many of the big moments in a woman’s life, both big and small. Things like getting a promotion, buying a first home or car or learning a new skill. Outside of marriage and babies, we didn’t see women getting to celebrate the wins in their lives and we wanted to change that. 

Hilary: When I was getting married and being celebrated by my friends in so many lovely ways — a bachelorette, two showers, gifts, kind thoughts — I had three thoughts. First thought: this is amazing. I hope it never ends. Second thought: this is the only time in my life I will be celebrated like this. We all have birthdays, I might have a baby one day, but this is the only life choice I will ever make that will be celebrated in this manner. Third thought: for many women, they will NEVER get this kind of celebration of an achievement. It’s specific to a certain time in a certain lifestyle — I was 25 and white and cis-gendered and straight and a bride, many people would never tick all those boxes at once.

I shared these thoughts with my maid of honour, Odette Hutchings, who agreed — this was ridiculous! So we conspired to come up with a way to celebrate our girlfriends. We first envisioned it being smaller — a party once a year to celebrate the amazing things our friends had done outside of marriage and babies. It grew into a bigger idea, and eventually, with Beth’s involvement, to the HOOPLA organization. 

Beth: It was something we kept coming back to, this idea of there being only one type of life path for a woman that was celebrated, through all the weddings and wedding showers and bachelorette parties you go to as a person in your twenties. I knew if I threw myself a promotion shower, for instance, that would be completely outside the norm and probably no one would come. 

I had mentioned the parties to my director at the time, who was a woman in her 40s, and she thought the idea was incredible. I knew then we had stumbled upon something truly all-encompassing — that it wasn’t just us or our friends that were feeling this way, that most women somehow feel left out of the narrative of how to be a successful woman “properly.” 

Linden: Who is HOOPLA meant for? What type of programs do you offer?

Odette: HOOPLA is for every woman, no matter her walk of life. We are working hard to make our programming diverse and inclusive so that we have something for everyone. Examples of upcoming programs include Owning the Virtual Job Hunt, Expanding Feminism: Beyond a Seat at the Table — in partnership with Black Girl Galaxy. We have previously done corporate and association workshops designed to get women reflecting on their proudest accomplishments and owning them.

Hilary: HOOPLA is for everyone! We tend to focus on female empowerment because we know women are less likely to show pride in their accomplishments, and as three women we are more focussed on this issue, though we welcome mixed groups as well. We offer in-person and online workshops and also instructions for smaller, more intimate gatherings such as book clubs and parties. 

Beth: A lot of women’s organizations focus on how to get women into boardrooms, into C-suite positions and other leadership roles. We wanted to focus truly on everyone — whatever success looks like for you, whatever empowerment looks like for you, because it means different things to different people. So we offer programming not just about empowerment but about how to look for a job, how to speak up and how to acknowledge the hard work of people around you. We’re planning a series right now on your rights when you get laid off or want to go on maternity leave, and we’ve got plans for an event around medicine and things you should know — because a lot of what is considered “normal” is actually only normal for men. 

Linden: Do all three of you work at HOOPLA currently? Or is it a part-time gig? If yes, where do you work and what kind of projects are you working on? 

Odette: HOOPLA is a passion project or side-hustle for all three of us. In my day job, I am currently the Director of Professional Programming and Partners at Women in Capital Markets, a not for profit focused on increasing diversity in the capital markets industry.

Hilary: None of us works full time at HOOPLA. I am currently a stay at home mother to Gwendolyn, 2, and Holden, 6 months. I also run a small sewing business. In creative pursuits, I’m working on a screenplay spec with another friend of ours, a modern-day adaptation of Jane Austen’s Northanger Abbey.

Beth: I work for Scotiabank, managing their retail redemption portfolio for the Scotia Rewards loyalty program. Previously I’ve worked for companies like Indigo and Air Miles, also in the loyalty marketing space. 

Linden: How do you fund HOOPLA? How can the Linden community support you or help spread the word?

Odette: At present, HOOPLA is primarily funded through grants and through ticket sales from our events. The best way the Linden Community can support HOOPLA is by attending our events and spreading the word about HOOPLA to women they think would like to be part of the movement. 

Hilary: HOOPLA is currently grant and registration funded. We appreciate any support the Linden community can give us! We would love to one day have an in-person HOOPLA all-school activity, we’ve always talked about doing this! 

Beth: HOOPLA is a registered non-profit, so all our financial support comes from grants and donations. We’d love Linden community members to get in touch — either to come to an event, or suggest an event they’d like to see at their workplace or in our broader community. We’re always looking for ideas!

Linden: How many years were you at Linden and how did the school inspire you?

Odette: I was at Linden for 4 years and graduated in 2007. Linden encourages its students to take initiative when they see something they want to change or improve. That spirit is exactly what inspired us to create HOOPLA. The Linden spirit is very much infused in the organization. 

Hilary: I spent four years at Linden, from Grades 9-12 (2004-2008). Linden shaped me into the person I am. The thought of an unwelcoming high school, a place where you spend the majority of time during such a vulnerable stage in your life, gives me shivers. I feel so fortunate to have spent my high school years in such a warm welcoming place. It challenged me academically and personally but also made me feel so safe and secure in such a difficult and evolving time in my young life. 

I felt so encouraged to share my thoughts that I didn’t realize it was a special opportunity. I took it for granted. It was much later, in university and beyond, that I realized not every young woman felt like this. Debating with my teachers (special mention to Andy Ranachan) and voicing my opinions without fear of mockery became so normal to me that I wasn’t intimidated to do it later. 

To this day I’m surprised and a bit sad when I meet a woman who didn’t have the same privileges — who says “sorry” whenever she voices an opinion, or gets interrupted and doesn’t feel she has the right to speak up about it. I do my best to counter it, to the point it’s probably obnoxious — no, don’t be sorry. You deserve to take up space as well.

Beth: I was at Linden for 6 years — I started in Grade 5 and left after Grade 10 (2001-2007). The school was such a formative part of my upbringing — something I took for granted at the time because it was just so normal in my life that I was encouraged to use my voice, to speak out and to have opinions. It wasn’t until much, much later that I even really encountered sexism in practice and I was just so blown away because I didn’t have that type of thing ingrained in me the way so many other of my female colleagues do. 

There was an Audre Lorde quote that used to hang in the hallways — maybe it still does — “When I dare to be powerful, to use my strength in the service of my vision, then it becomes less and less important whether I am afraid.” I think that type of thing just seeps into your bloodstream at Linden, it becomes a part of who you are. 

Linden: What are your favourite memories of Linden?

Odette: There are too many amazing memories to pick just one, so I’ll reflect on the overall way I felt being a student at Linden. Being at Linden was an incredible mix of simultaneously feeling free, safe, and challenged on a daily basis. Linden played such a big part in the person I became and the work I decided to pursue. 

Hilary: So many. Nasrin threatening to throw chalk at us (Nasrin actually throwing chalk at us). Putting on a skit for person’s day — Andy played Nellie McClung with a broad Scottish brogue (we didn’t ask him to, he just did this). Eating lunch in the hallways. Making friends with people in different grades. Waiting in line to get the whole school to sing a friend happy birthday during all-school. Calling our teachers by their first names — it seems weird to me now when people don’t do this. I made relationships with many teachers that I’m still in contact with. 

Beth: Too many to name. The idea that there was always room for you, no matter what you wanted to do. I was able to play just about every sport under the sun because Deidre’s Phys. Ed program was so inclusive that it didn’t matter that I wasn’t innately talented at sports. I was able to take on leadership roles with the yearbook and band and some of the other clubs that would have been out of reach at the age I was at any other school. If you were interested in it, you could start a club for it, and you would very quickly find other people who were too. Diane was always my champion, and I think having someone believe in you so passionately is something that never leaves you.  

Linden: What thoughts would you like to share with the alumnae community?

Odette: After a hiring freeze that affected many industries early in the pandemic, we’re seeing more hiring going on now. We are also seeing that remote interviewing and onboarding are likely here to stay, at least for the next year. So, if you are currently looking for a new role, start brushing up on your Zoom interview skills and make sure you come to HOOPLA’s Owning the Virtual Job Hunt event on March 3rd

Hilary: Go gentle on yourself. Celebrate the little things and don’t diminish even minor victories. One of the reasons we broadened the scope of HOOPLA was that we realized how important it is for women to be able to advocate for themselves and take pride in their own accomplishments and be able to share them — do this all the time and never let yourself pretend you’re not proud. 

Beth: Take your time. I’m a naturally impatient person, and I hate being told this myself, but it really is true — you need to look around once in a while, stop and breathe, enjoy the moment. I think our culture these days is so much about looking at other people’s lives and wishing you were them — about going out and wishing you were home, being home and wishing you were out. But the grass really is greener where you water it, and it’s a losing race to compare yourself to other people. That’s the thing about the HOOPLA philosophy — it’s about celebrating yourself and everything you bring to the world, not competing with anyone else. Which is an incredibly unique thing about Linden too, it was competitive but not in a way that tore other people down. 

Linden: What thoughts would you like to share with our current students?

Odette: HOOPLA is for you too! We are in the midst of crafting student-focused programs and we are looking forward to bringing those programs to Linden students in the near future. In the meantime, follow us on Instagram (@hooplamovement) to keep up with all things HOOPLA. 

Hilary: The things you learn at Linden will always be with you. I always say — you can always spot a Linden girl. The way you are being taught to interact with the world will always serve you well. 

It might seem normal to you but it’s not, it’s special and a gift you are receiving that hopefully, you will be able to share with others your whole life. 

Beth: Let yourself try anything and everything, even if you don’t think you’re good at it. Hell, especially if you don’t think you’re good at it. There will be so many other places and spaces in your life that will tell you you can’t participate unless you’re talented, or unless you have 3-5 years of experience. Linden is above all else a community that will support you, will hold you up and let you make mistakes and experiment with things and that type of support is so invaluable when you’re figuring out who you are and who you’re going to become. 

Learn more by visiting the website: https://www.hoopla-movement.ca/ or follow us on Instagram: