As a young woman of 21, Helen Kennedy left her native Ireland, where she had faced limited opportunities for women and little scope for political participation, and took a trip to Toronto in 1979. She has never looked back.
Helen began her career as an activist and change agent with her first job in Canada, with the Industrial Accident Prevention Association, where she became a champion of workplace safety and of people with disabilities, building awareness as Editor of the Association's magazine. Her efforts were recognized by the NDP, and in 1985, she was hired by the NDP Ontario caucus at Queen's Park - where she served the Party for 14 years, in opposition and government.
During that time, Helen retained a focus on community activism and organizing –founding the East York Tenants Association, which lobbied effectively for rent controls and tenant rights. She also established Citizen's for Access - an awareness campaign to open up public buildings to people with disabilities. In 1988, she ran for City Councillor in East York (the first campaign in Canada to provide campaign literature on tape for the blind), was readily elected, defeating two incumbents. She served until 1991, leaving due to the increased demands of her position at Queen's Park when the NDP won the provincial election and formed the government.
In 1999, Helen returned to her first love of community organizing when she joined Toronto City Councillor Olivia Chow's team at City Hall, as constituency assistant in the Trinity-Spadina Ward.
During her time at City Hall, Helen championed many causes taking on and continuing the fight to:
- Close the Toronto Island Airport.
- Organized the successful iDance Rally at City Hall giving youth safer places to dance.
- Pushed for and won changes to licensing of nightclubs throughout the city making them safer and more accountable to patrons and neighbouring communities.
- Fighting for the preservation of heritage buildings, Bishop's Block at Adelaide and Simcoe being the most recent success.
- Worked with community groups to undertake Heritage Studies of Queen, and Robert Streets and Madison Avenue, and a planning study for the future of Bloor Street from Avenue Road to Christie all currently underway.
- Successfully defeated the ROM tower on University Avenue.
- Successfully lobbied the University of Toronto to construct a 5,000 seat Varsity Stadium instead of a 20,000 seat Varsity Stadium which was to also host rock concerts.
- Working with the community to save the College Street St. Stephen-in-the-Fields Church and its social programs.
- Successfully lobbied for funding to save the Queer Parenting Network program.
- Found funding for the construction of a new basketball court in Atkinson Co-op
- Found funding for 2 new children's' playgrounds for Atkinson Co-op and Alexander Park.