Category Archives: Uncategorized

Paige’s Journey

I didn’t want to spend another Christmas drugged with some stranger choosing what happened to me. I couldn’t do it again. Not knowing Niagara well, I was lucky one of the girls had slipped me a YW card. “If you can make it, they can help you.”

It was December 3rd. That’s the day I finally made it to the YW’s emergency shelter. I was terrified. I knew I had to ask for help if I wanted to live past 25. I’d been trying to get out of that horrible hotel room for months and months. It smelled like sweat, cheap perfume, and tears. Every time I tried, they stopped me. They hurt me. So I stayed.

The shelter immediately felt warm for my shivering, barely-clothed body. My sad eyes looking around for comfort landed on the women’s advocate. It didn’t take long before I’d told her almost everything. My worst times. How at 16 years-old, I had been hanging out with this guy, Derek, who was so good to me. He took care of me. Bought me things. He was my escape from my abusive step-father. I was going to meet Derek at the park, that’s where we always met. He smiled at me and I was excited. Seconds later I was being shoved into a trunk in Timmins and wound up in Niagara Falls. It didn’t take long before I was forced into sex work, addicted to drugs, emotionally and physically abused. I had almost given up.

It took everything I had but I made it to the YW. I was safe. I spent this year living in the emergency shelter’s on-site transitional housing. With the support of the advocates, I have been able to finish school. They provided me with an addictions worker to help me get through the withdrawal and stay sober. The best gift this year is that I get to move into the YW’s supported transitional housing, I can’t wait! This year, I get to spend Christmas in my own apartment still surrounded by YW supports and women who care about me. It hasn’t been the easiest year in the shelter, but my worst days are behind me and that wouldn’t have happened without you.

I am writing to you because I am not the only one. I just got lucky. There are other girls out there, who are lost and scared and they need YOU.
This holiday season, please consider making a donation to the YWCA Niagara Region.

 

Every little bit helps. The services they provide all throughout the region save lives.
I know they saved mine.

I wouldn’t be here today if it wasn’t for you and your support.

Yours, forever grateful to the YW – and donors like you,

Paige

Supporting Human Trafficking Victims

Over the course of our 90 years in Niagara, it has always been at the heart of our work to stay close to the needs of the community. They have changed over the decades from the need for recreational opportunities for women to supporting Canada’s efforts during World War II to helping women find employment. One of the challenges Niagara is facing today is an ever-growing industry of human trafficking.

Since we first started running our Sex Trade On My Terms program, more and more women have shared with our Outreach Workers that they have experienced exploitation.
Thanks to your advocacy and support, we have been able to educate the community and other service providers. Under the leadership of our Program Manager Krystal Snider, we developed a region-wide Emergency Response Protocol. Our support for survivors does not end there. Krystal has been training local firefighters and police officers to help them recognize signs of human trafficking. “The successes have been immediate,” explains Krystal. “Last week, we got a call from a firefighter within days of the training we provided. They were able to identify and report a suspicious motel room.”

Thank you for your continued support for our anti-human trafficking work.
Thanks to your donations and advocacy, we are able to provide education to the community and find solutions together.

Who Gets Mentored?

Recently, a good friend told me of a mentoring experience her daughter had at work. She’s a young lawyer in her first year at a big-city firm. When she returned from her post-articling break, she and some female colleagues were sat down for an informal meeting with some senior female lawyers. The first item on the agenda was a question: “so, what’s your debt?” As I was told this, I thought “now that’s direct.” But also important and thoughtful. The mentors were attempting to make a bridge and value the real-life situation of their newer colleagues who had come through eight years of schooling—many of them with debts ranging from the price of a new car to the price of a new condo.  They listened to them narrate their tales of navigation—some had families to support, others had families that supported them—and then offered suggestions, advice, and resources based on their own experience and knowledge of handling the first years out of law school.

Uncritical and Critical Mentoring

I was impressed by this story of women who, with knowledge of how it was for them—what supports were there, and what was missing—had stepped up to help their sisters with their experience. I was also a little covetous of the guidance. I have no idea if this is a common thing amongst women lawyers, but if it is I’d say it’s a good model. I wished that I had that sort of aid and nourishment when I started my career—or even throughout it. I don’t think I even understood what mentoring was when I was new to the regular work world. I had supportive co-workers, and even occasionally some who went the extra mile or gave (mostly unsolicited) advice. In one job, one of my older colleagues was selected to pull me aside and advise me on how best to deal with the boss’s drinking problem. I don’t think you could call it a mentorship, but it was helpful. When I mentioned advice here, I said “mostly unsolicited” because for most of my life, I didn’t even know I could ask for career or work life guidance. And I still feel that way, despite my age (don’t ask), and having navigated through different aspects of my career. I mean, I think for most of my life I saw mentoring as an exercise of the privileged over their younger (or less privileged) selves. To be honest, I still think that is what uncritical mentoring is: a one-way street where people who possess knowledge and the means set themselves up as pseudo TED talkers with clever words and deeds that gratify themselves, instead of the listeners.

Learning From the Mentored

Over the past decade, I’ve taken to following the teachings and suggestions of the younger women in my life (and yeah, most are millennials). I don’t know if they could be called mentors outright, but they use the tools of critical mentoring. They are inventive, smart, and enthusiastic. They listen and provide a platform when possible. And they don’t assume that a query or a question means I am a complete dullard who needs to be schooled. They encourage intergenerational dialogue but don’t idol worship what an older person says just because they are older. Maybe it’s because many millennials see how tenuous work is, and how we all need to share resources, Or, perhaps it is because they understand power but are not interested in wielding it like a weapon. I get such constructive dialogue from younger people who have an interest in mutual benefit—even if that benefit isn’t readily quantifiable.

Finding Your Place

When I was forced to think of words that describe my “work” self, I often got stuck on things like amenable, adaptable and accommodating.

Those words, in my opinion, can make one feel as if they are thought of as weak, malleable, controllable.

 When I first started my volunteer front desk position at the YW it wasn’t out of a burning desire to help, or to be a part of the bigger picture. I wasn’t passionate about the organization because in truth I really had no idea what the organization was about. I came and sat my first shift at the front desk because I was floundering. I was lost. I was in need of something to focus on aside from the mess I was in as a single mom who had just been fired from her job.

Passion… came later.

Being amenable

I wasn’t satisfied just sitting there answering phones when I could see so many staff run off their feet trying to get their days work accomplished. And so, I made myself amenable to them, offering any sort of assistance they could use. I looked around the space I was in, and saw that the one thing my perfectionism and OCD had going for me, I could use here. When I was offered a part-time front desk position, I leapt at the chance.

Being adaptable

In an organization this size, there are often gaps that need to be filled- quickly. Over the years, I found myself needing to be adaptable to all those changes, and often found myself in new positions trying to fill a void. I just felt this need and drive to mold myself to the place they needed me to be at the time. Though to be sure— I struggled with this. As my positions changed, as my work load increased because I was so accommodating I kept asking myself… is this what you want?? Are you happy?

Finding passion

I have never been a “career” oriented person, nor did I have an insatiable drive to run myself up the chain of command and be a “leader”. I was so much happier sitting on the sidelines—surviving, but with peace of mind. I desperately wanted to keep a place for myself within the organization as by then, through all the changes, the ups and downs, watching friends and even family go, I had found a passion for the work the organization was doing even though I hadn’t quite yet found a passion for what I was doing.

My professional journey with the YW has to date been over 10 years. I have watched this organization stand amendable, adaptable and accommodating to our community in so many different ways. As an organization we have changed and grown with the needs in this community for over 90 years, becoming more fluid, more elastic over time to address the considerable amount of need. We are constantly stretching at the seams, but yet we stay resilient because we have the power of so many dedicated amenable, adaptable and accommodating people driving for change, for a just and equitable future.

I was recently offered a position that I leapt at again. This time, with excitement and certainty that this was my place. One that empowered me. This is what I want. This is what makes me happy. I am now in a position that I can own and evolve with—that I can offer the piece of myself that is truly passionate.

As the YW is entering into yet another new strategic plan, with a re-vamped Mission, Vision and Values that I am incredibly proud to have been a part of, I find myself incredibly invigorated and excited about the new breath that is about to be blown into our organization. As I look back over my journey, I am able to be proud of those “work-self“ words and take ownership of them as I have come to realize that I stand amenable because I am determined. I stand adaptable because I am strong. And I stand accommodating because I am passionate about what we do.

Surviving the Storm: Representing the Journey

An exciting new partnership initiative has taken place between Rodman Hall Art Centre and YWCA Niagara Region. Guests of the YWCA Niagara Region were invited to work with artist Leona Skye to create a piece of art that represents their individual journeys. A celebration of the final product took place July 25th, 2018, at the YWCA’s Culp St. Emergency Shelter.

“The painting  was created by an amazing group of women,” says YWCA Skills Development Worker Noella Iradukunda, “They worked together to create a beautiful art piece that promotes the journey that they have been through.”

The piece, titled Surviving the Storm, immediately captures the eye when viewed for the first time. A flurry of colour and shapes, it’s immediately clear to the viewer that a considerable amount of thought and emotion went into the painting. One of the artists describes how they were each given a piece of the canvas to represent the journey that has brought them to where they are today. Words like “Empower”,  “Heal”,  “Freedom” and “Justice” stretch across the canvas, capturing the essence of the women’s emotional journeys and their feelings now that they are at the YWCA.

The guests of the YWCA, along with Elizabeth Chitty, Program Officer of the Rodman Hall Art Centre, and artist Leona Skye, gathered around the painting to sign their names on their work. There was a noticeable sense of pride in the room as the women looked upon what they had created. The artwork can be seen in the front foyer of the Culp St. Shelter.

When Reality Hits – No Fixed Address

In 2016, YW Staff Franziska shared her experience at No Fixed Address with us. Our signature fundraiser is coming up again on June 8/9 at General Motors.

Please consider participating. Please consider donating.

More than 700 women stayed in our shelters last year, and almost 200 children.

Help today!

I can feel raindrops on my face. It could be 2am or 4am – I have no idea and, frankly, I don’t care. What I do know is that it is the middle of the night. The sky is dark and the parking lot is surrounded by an orange glow from the street lights all around. It looks dark and grey and orange all at once outside of my window. It’s raining again. Great. I scramble to find the car keys, turn the ignition and a high “ding ding” sound comes from the car – probably because it picks up on me not being buckled in. Thanks to the turned key, I can finally close the window. I can see my husband stirring in the backseat to do the same. We shoot each other a tired look and share a brief, slightly desperate smile that says “oh well, this night will have to be over eventually.” Mark is not an overly tall guy, but he looks so very uncomfortable rolled up on the backseat like that. I glance over to our other car and notice that the kids still have their windows open. My tired brain tries to decide what would be worse: for them to be woken up by me turning the key to close the windows, or for them to be rained on. With a deep sigh, I decide that it probably wouldn’t be healthy for them to lie in wet sleeping bags, so I grab the keys, get out into the rain and close their windows. As I get back into our car with the intention of going back to sleep, the humidity is already unbearable. But for now, it is raining too hard and the windows will need to stay closed.
It is only one night, morning will come soon enough, and I will just have to suck it up, deal with it.

One thing we all have in common is that we will be going home in the morning.

I wonder what the other 140 participants around me might be doing or thinking right now. There are always those who can’t catch a wink of sleep and those who sleep like a baby all night long. But most of us are somewhere in between. Regardless of which category you fall under, one thing we all have in common is that we will be going home in the morning.
Since 2012, No Fixed Address  has raised more than $300,000 for those women and families for whom not having a home is the harsh reality – every single day. It allows the YW to provide nutritious food, safe shelter and Skills Development programming to hundreds of women and families. Every dollar raised is part of the women’s, men’s and children’s path back to independence and self-sufficiency. We thank all of the participants, the donors who support them, the sponsors and the volunteers who help us to once again raise much needed funds and awareness for hidden homelessness in Niagara.

For my family and I, the uncomfortable night came and went quickly and was soon forgotten after a swim in the pool and a good night’s sleep in our beds. The horror, however, that came over me at the mere thought of what it must be like to truly have to live like this, will stay with me forever. The thought of not having a home but only a car to go back to, or a friend’s couch, or a motel room, the thought of being constantly scared and worried and stressed while still doing the best you can to make your kids feel safe and happy in spite of it all… that thought will fuel me and ignite me because we cannot and must not stop until there is not a single woman, man or child left who has to go through this here in Niagara, in our own backyards.

Sponsor Franziska’s team Nevertheless, She Persisted or find a participant near you!

#VolunteerTalk – Slavica

1) What motivated you to become a volunteer or supporter of YWCA Niagara Region, and what does your involvement look like?

My motivation to become a volunteer at the YWCA came from Kaitlyn who had introduced me to the YW during my first year at Brock. The YW was promoting their annual Women’s Leadership Summit and being in the Women’s and Gender Studies department at Brock, I thought the event was interesting and related to my field of study. When I first started, I only contributed to the blog posts but because one of the credits I needed to graduate was a Practicum course that required me to have 100 hours of volunteering, I decided to become more involved with the YW than I had previously done.

As of right now I help out the ladies upstairs with any jobs they need me to do. Most of the time it tends to be research based, particularly, finding contact information on companies in the local community who might sponsor or participate in events the YW is hosting and any other odd jobs.  I also spend my Saturdays helping the kitchen staff make lunch, I’m usually on baking duty which I have discovered I have a great passion for and look forward to doing every week.

2) This year’s theme for National Volunteer Week is “Celebrate the Value of Volunteering – building confidence, competence, connections, and community”. What value has volunteering brought to your life? Have you experienced any of these “4 Cs”?

I definitely feel like I have developed connections within the organization with all the various people who work at the YW which has reached over into me helping my community, like working on the chili cook-off part of West Niagara’s Coldest Night of the Year Event. I feel like the work I do, however little, is really valuable to them and knowing that I am helping my community, makes me look forward to coming to work each day.

3) How do you make time for volunteering, and do you have any tips for those who are starting their own volunteer journey?

Since I’m a student, I choose the hours and the times I volunteer based on my school schedule and any other responsibilities I may have. I usually volunteer twice a week, a couple hours each day.

I suggest doing something you’re comfortable doing. I wasn’t comfortable working in the front desk because I felt like that was a lot of responsibility and answering phones causes me major anxiety so I decided to do everything except that instead. Helping out in the kitchen, working on the blog, volunteering at events, etc.

4) Are there any misconceptions about volunteering that you would like to debunk?

The biggest misconception I think people have is they don’t understand the long term value of volunteering for themselves and the community. Most people do it for the short term and that’s great but non-profits function largely because they have volunteers. I haven’t done really big jobs in my time here, but I know that the help I provide is valued and that the result is that my small actions have somehow contributed to making the lives of the people who use YWCA’s services better.

5) What experience, memory, or lesson from being part of YWCA Niagara Region has made the most impact on you?

I don’t have one particular lesson or memory that has been impactful to me because I feel like the whole experience in general has changed my life for the better. I feel like a happier person, knowing what I do here matters and is valued.

6) What would you like to see happen over the next 90 years of YWCA Niagara Region?

To represent change and growth for the next 90 years, I think the organization as a whole, not just specifically Niagara, should undergo a name change to represent the diversity of people that they help.

#VolunteerTalk – Catharine

1) What motivated you to become a volunteer or supporter of YWCA Niagara Region, and what does your involvement look like?

I wanted to be part of a team that is on the front lines of helping people here in St. Catharines. I’m a front desk volunteer with the YW and I also help out with an art group.

2) This year’s theme for National Volunteer Week is “Celebrate the Value of Volunteering – building confidence, competence, connections, and community”. What value has volunteering brought to your life? Have you experienced any of these “4 Cs”?

Volunteering has introduced me to the kindest, and also some of the strongest people in my community. The value of volunteering is immeasurable. I feel so blessed!

3) How do you make time for volunteering, and do you have any tips for those who are starting their own volunteer journey?

You can’t always find the time for volunteering, but find what time you can.

You might think that what little time you have isn’t enough, or wonder what you can accomplish in an hour. Every hour or two counts!

 

 

4) Are there any misconceptions about volunteering that you would like to debunk?

That it isn’t worthwhile because you aren’t being paid. As a volunteer, you are paid so thoroughly in gratitude and have the opportunity to meet people who can teach you a lot. When applying for a job, this experience can also help you to understand your strengths!

5) What experience, memory, or lesson from being part of YWCA Niagara Region has made the most impact on you?

There’s a lot of judgement out in the world for adults who need help, whether they are sick, in transitional housing, abused, or living hard on the streets. When you volunteer with an organization like this, what strikes you is how often people in the worst positions are the kindest you’ll ever meet. It’s a very humbling experience to understand that. It makes you want to help others to the extent of your abilities.

6) What would you like to see happen over the next 90 years of YWCA Niagara Region?

I’d love to see the YWCA’s funding increase to be able to house more families, hire more staff, and to possibly create a Niagara Region family shelter that allows single father and two-parent families with a male partner to stay together.

 

My Letter To YOU

This post was written by our client Linda. We changed her name to protect her privacy. Coming to the YW has changed Linda’s life, one step at a time. 

Hello, my name is Linda. I’m an 18 year-old female. I would like to begin my story by giving you a brief overview of the roller coaster that has been my life.

The Early Years. 

From the moment I was born, life was not so easy.

During pregnancy my mother was in active addiction and I was born withdrawing due to my mother’s drug use. My earliest memories as a young child are those of sexual abuse, physical abuse and neglect. As a result of this I developed anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

 

Somewhere In The Middle

I can remember being enrolled in school later than most of the other kids. I believe I only started in grade 1. Never having the chance to attend JK and SK, I was behind. I attended classes that had fewer kids. I began to catch on quickly, and did my best to fit into the box that society classifies as NORMAL. During my elementary school years not much had changed at home and I began to normalize the abuse and neglect. I began to excel in school and took an interest in as many extracurricular activities as I could. I struggled every day with what I am now able to identify as my mental health. As a young child I just wanted to be like the other kids, fit in and be accepted.

I did my best to fit into the box that society classifies as NORMAL

As Time Went On

I excelled in my extracurricular activities at school, gymnastics, wrestling, swimming and track and field. I was popular and well-liked by my peers. I started high school and even attended OFFSA representing my school in many different forms of sports. I received trophies and medals. On the outside looking in no-one would have known all of the daily struggles I was facing just to get up each morning, and show up. I intended on keeping it that way but I felt so alone.

The Overflow

The adolescent years are a strange time for us. All of the pressure to fit in, especially as a female. Always being told we need to look a certain way to maintain our popularity. Having all of the hormones of a typical teenager, all while trying to cope with my mental health, was not easy. I began to self-harm, and developed an eating disorder in order to deal with the constant overwhelming feeling of having no control over anything in my life.

When that didn’t work, I began to experiment with recreational drugs. It worked. I didn’t feel anything. I liked it. Before I knew it, I was relying on these substances just to make it through the day. Before I knew it, I was no longer excelling in sports and was hanging with a whole other group of people.

I began engaging in some very risky behaviors. Some of the things I experienced in the early years of my adolescence are situations that no one ever has to deal with in a lifetime. Overdoses, episodes of drug induced psychosis, physical and sexual assaults. All before the age of 18. I went from school to school, house to couch surfing, what feels like a million different programs, hospital stays. Bouts of sobriety and times of clarity to relapses and more active addiction. I felt that eventually if I pushed hard enough and broke enough rules, I would be evicted, discharged, and referred somewhere else. That was normal for me. So I pushed my supports away. As much as I knew I needed them.

YWCA

Finally, I was referred to a program through the YWCA, called the Off Site Transitional Housing Program. I was accepted and placed on a wait list. I was shown an upcoming available unit within the first few months of being on the wait list. It just wasn’t for me. The Transitional Housing Worker was willing to keep me on the list and offer me the next available unit. I was shocked. No one had ever really cared what I wanted or thought. I had a choice, I was in control of what I wanted for my life, and where I saw myself living.

I began to reconnect with all of my support systems again.

I was then offered another unit two months later. I instantly fell in love with it. It was the cutest little pad. A place to call my own. I began working with my Transitional Support Worker on a monthly basis, I was enrolled back into school. I began to reconnect with all of my support systems again. I have a fixed address. I have been able to have a safe place to call home. I began to work on budgeting skills and rejoined the wrestling team. As amazing as things were for me, I relapsed and began to engage in drug use. I had been down this path before with a similar program.  I was self-sabotaging. I knew I would be discharged from the program, I had broken the rules. This was my way out. As much as I loved the program, this much stability all at once was a bit scary for me. I was in for a surprise though, I was not discharged from the program.

The crazy thing is that my worker never left.

My Transitional Support Worker set firm boundaries and rather than making the choice for me, she continued to let me make my own choices. For the first time in my life, no one was going to force me into sobriety, I would have to make this choice for myself. I rebelled against this for about a week. The crazy thing is my worker; she never left. She was there every time I called, she helped me to access detox, and advocated for me with school. I felt so ashamed that I had relapsed. I was assured that relapse is a part of recovery, and that my worker was here to support me through the process. I set new goals for myself, entered into a contract, which helped to hold me accountable for my choices. I started back at school and was able to pick right back up where I left off.

Ongoing Journey

I am still a participant of the Off Site Transitional Housing Program, I am in grade 12, I will be graduating in June, I have been accepted into College and will start in September. I attended OFFSA this Fall representing my school for wrestling and placed silver overall. I have enrolled to attend a treatment program for the summer. I believe that I am alive today and succeeding due to the ongoing supports that I am receiving through the YWCA. The amount of supports and programs that are offered to the women that this agency serves is phenomenal. This is an organization that truly stands behind their mission statement. They offer 24/7 supports to anyone in need.

I believe that I am alive today and succeeding due to the ongoing supports that I am receiving
through the YWCA.

I have the ability to access the agency anytime, as they are always there to support. I know that I have a really long journey ahead of me and a lot of hard work. The most assuring feeling I have is knowing that as a client of the YWCA I will never have to face this journey alone.

Until Next Time 

I’m very eager and excited to see all that I will have accomplished by this time next year. I know that I have an amazing support system in my corner through the YWCA and I look forward to continuing to share my ongoing successes with you.

Sincerely,

Linda

 

To The Women Of Tomorrow

Dear Women of Tomorrow,

As I write this to you on International Women’s Day, two words keep running through my head, “don’t settle.” Don’t settle for inequality, racism, sexism, bigotry or intolerance. Don’t settle for less than equality. Your opinion and experiences are valid and valued. You are a change-maker. You are our future and I believe in you.
You are strong, brave and capable of anything. You can be the change you want to see in the world. It’s going to be hard but you are resilient. With every one of life’s challenges that has (or has yet to) come your way you grow. You will learn your strengths, to embrace your weaknesses and beauty of seeing new perspectives. You are unique, with each fresh perspective that is seen and voice that is heard society will continue to evolve. Discomfort inspires change. Be intersectional, be inclusive.
You are our future leaders, entrepreneurs, creators, artists, activists and more. You can can create societal and political change for the women who come after you. Know and understand what has happened in humanity’s past and strive to be better. Be better than us and those that came before us. I support you, I believe in you.

“I stand on the sacrifices of a million women before me thinking: what can I do to make this mountain taller so the women after me can see farther?”
Rupi Kaur

Written by Valerie Chalmers

www.ValerieChalmers.com

Activist, Creator & Influencer

Co-Chair of Promotions & Marketing Committee, Niagara Leadership Summit for Women

Podcast Host, Guest & Recording Engineer

Member of Promotions & Marketing Committee, NoFixed Address

Member of St.Catharines Culture Plan Subcommittee