All posts by Franziska Emslie

Toby’s letter to you

                                                                                                                             December 2019   

Hey there…

Just so you know – I wasn’t scared when dad left. Because mom always takes care of us anyway. She’s the one who takes me to school every day, packs my lunches, and celebrates my birthdays. So it wasn’t a big deal… Okay, fine, maybe I was a little scared.

But that’s because a couple of months later, we lost our home and started sleeping in mom’s tiny car. Living out of the car wasn’t so bad. It was kind of like camping at first. But then the car stopped working, and I would get really cold.

The first time mom saw me shivering, she said we had to move to a shelter. I didn’t know what a shelter was but mom said it’s the best place for us. I know mom always knows best but I got really scared when she started talking about the shelter. Please don’t tell her. I want to be strong for my mom.

My name is Toby, I’m twelve years old and my baby sister Tamara is fourteen months. We just came to the YWCA with our mom, Joelle. The social worker told us we’re really lucky that they even have a room available for us! They got an opening JUST before we got here. Mom was happy about that, so I am too. But she also said they aren’t sure how long we will be here for. They are working with mom to find a home for us. I’m really trying to be brave for my mom, so I hope mom didn’t see the fear in my eyes when they said that.

I’m excited for a real home again, but I guess it’s kind of cool at the shelter. There are other kids, and some fun toys that we never had at home. We’ll even be here for Christmas! We get to set up the tree in the board room. And Sharon in the kitchen promised that we’ll get all of our favourite foods! Turkey, mashed potatoes… Ok, Tamara just likes the potatoes but I love turkey. And mom loves stuffing. It’s going to be a good Christmas they keep telling me.

Sometimes, I’m still scared. And I really wish I had my own room, Tamara wakes us up all the time at night. That didn’t happen in our old home. But anything is better than going back to sleeping in mom’s freezing cold car. I guess it’s people like you who make sure this shelter is here for us. At least that’s what my mom tells me. Thank you for helping us out. For the first time since dad left us, my mom is smiling again. Not always, not every day, but at least sometimes. Thanks for giving us a place to stay, and for giving me my mom back.

Dear Friend of the YW,

Every day, I see many children come through our doors, looking for shelter with their moms, and sometimes dads. It breaks my heart. We’ve had to house children like Toby in our reception area, on couches, in our boardrooms on cots. That’s been our reality because all of our rooms are full.  The need for shelter seems to be greater than ever before. This Holiday Season, please consider helping scared kids like Toby and his baby sister Tamara. Provide shelter to moms like Joelle, who are at their most vulnerable time.

Because of supporters like YOU, we sheltered over 300 children this past year. Because of YOU, we empowered more than a thousand kids in workshops at schools all across Niagara. And finally, it’s because of YOU, that families have shelter, food, and the resources they need to step out of the terrifying moment they are in, and into security.

I hope that you will continue to support the children and families we serve.

There are two different ways to give:


From the bottom of my heart, I thank you for your support of the YW and children like Toby and Tamara,

Elisabeth Zimmermann, Executive Director

Macie – Part II

At the beginning of 2019, we introduced you to our client Macie. We shared with you what brought her to our doors initially, and how much she had thrived in her first few months in our Off-Site Transitional Housing program. Today, she asked us to tell each of you, who support our work in so many wonderful ways, that she is continuing to reach her goals, and that she is incredibly grateful for you cheering her on.

Macie is now 21 years old and she has successfully completed the time in our Off-Site Transitional Housing program. Thanks to her strong will and determination, she was able to reach each and every short- and long-term goal she had set with her Support Worker along the way. Macie will be taking over a new lease with the landlord at her current home on September 1st and the YW will be stepping back. She will finally be truly independent.

Macie has also been accepted to the post-secondary school of her choice. She is extremely excited to be going back to school, and to pick up where she was forced to leave off. Along with all of this, Macie is working a full-time job that she enjoys, and she continues to volunteer with other refugee claimants coming into the country. She is incredibly resilient despite all of the barriers she faced this past year. We hope you will stay in touch, Macie, we cannot wait to see what the future holds for you!

Our support does not end here. Although aftercare is not covered by our funding, our team will continue to be in her corner. If she ever finds herself needing any kind of support again, we will be here. On days when our work feels like a drop in the bucket, with an ever-growing housing crisis and a shocking lack of affordable housing, it is clients like Macie who remind us why we do what we do. We could not do it without each and every one of you and your support. Thank you!

Children is where I draw the line

The noise hits me like a brick wall when I walk into the room. The after-school program is at full speed already. Children are running around and little voices are bouncing off the yellow walls.

“Am I doing it right?”

“I need help!”

And then a girl who might be ten years old looks straight at me, eyebrows raised: “And who are you?”

After School Matters

“After School Matters” is a United Way initiative that brings free programming to neighborhoods that don’t offer a lot of activities for kids to be engaged in. A number of local agencies are involved in facilitating these programs, including the YW. While our Skills Development Team brings workshops to schools all throughout the region all week, After School Matters is a great way for our social workers to support kids once they are back in their own environment, away from the school context.

A stream of water beads is rolling off the table at the end of the room like a colourful waterfall. Myles, who I learn is a regular at the program, sports a cheeky grin that spreads all over his face. He sits away from the other kids because Myles, I learn this too, has a mind of his own.

“Jenna is taking all the beads!!!” A small girl with beautiful big, brown eyes and an even bigger voice is outraged at her friend’s sins and is making sure everybody in the room knows about it. Noella, one of our Skills Development Workers, gives a faint smile and tries to mediate. Today, the kids are making stress balls. The boys are sitting at their own table because who wants to sit with the girls when you’re ten years old! They’re trying hard to look too cool for the arts and crafts but when they don’t feel watched, I see them gently funneling the beads into the plastic bottle and blowing up the balloon with great care to get it to just the right size before pouring the beads into it.

Myles has somehow gotten a hold of the scissors and is cutting his plastic bottle in half.

“Stressed Neighbourhoods”

These kids live in what we call a “stressed neighbourhood”. I’m not a fan of labels but what I think it is trying to describe is that this neighbourhood is not the kind that has basketball and hockey nets in every driveway, along with a truck and an SUV. The townhouses are small and I have no doubt that if one family decides to crank up the tunes while doing the dishes, their neighbours will know it. It’s a neighbourhood that might be “stressed” but also one where kids create a special bond, speak their own language and whether by choice or not, are independent in a way I barely see in other kids their age.

My thoughts get interrupted when Myles walks past me making a big point of a) not looking me in the eye and b) obnoxiously chewing on something. I watch him stride through the room to the garbage bin where he spits out the balloon he has been chewing on. He is trying to look indifferent, as if there was nothing out of the ordinary to see here, but he doesn’t quite manage to cover up the smirk when he sees the shock on my face.

Turns out, kids are just kids

When I decided to check out what this After School Matters program was all about, I was nervous. I don’t know what I was expecting when I heard “stressed neighbourhood” – an eight-year old boy pointing a gun at me? A little girl smoking a joint? Whatever it was, it dissipated the second I walked into that crazy loud and busy room and reality hit me as hard as the sound of their high-pitched voices: they’re just kids.

Maybe they’re a bit louder than the average kid their age because their families tend to be bigger. Maybe they have a bit more “sass” than other kids, maybe their eyes look like they’re carrying more than they should but then again, maybe that is just what I think I am supposed to see rather than what I do see.

Their problem is not that they are growing up in that particular neighbourhood.

What their problem is is that more than half of the kids in the room will be discriminated against all throughout their lives simply because of the colour of their skin. Their problem is that half of the kids in the room are going to have to work that much harder to get that promotion when they grow up, simply because they are girls. Myles is a black boy with a learning disability. Are we ready to give him equal opportunity? All of their barriers will double and triple if a single kid in that room decides to not identify with their gender or if they make choices around their sexuality that society doesn’t agree with. Their problem is that in only a few years, we will stop caring because they won’t be small and cute anymore.

When Noella asked Jenna what she wanted for Christmas at the end of last year, she answered: “That my daddy will stop drinking.”

Are we still going to be there for Jenna in five years? When perhaps daddy’s drinking becomes too much to bear and she decides to leave? Will we ask her then how she got here or will we just see another lazy, dirty homeless person playing the guitar outside the Farmer’s Market?

Let’s do better.

When I tell people where I work, I can physically feel some of my friends and family members suppressing the want and need to judge the women and families we serve.

That has to stop.

And I include myself in this because challenging our own bias is an on-going, never-ending journey, for you, and for myself.

When the program comes to an end, another unthinkable thing happens: the kids just pack up and go home! No parent is waiting in their car, or texting or calling, they just head out in little groups and go back to their lives. As for myself, I can’t help but think of my own kids on my drive home. They have not earned to be better off. I don’t work harder or try harder than Jenna’s dad. I just happen to not be struggling with addiction. At least not today.

Childrens’ homelessness does not happen in a vaccuum. Children are homeless because parents are homeless. As we are striving to become a compassionate city, a compassionate Niagara, we have to care about everyone, regardless of colour, age, appearances. I am not perfect and neither are you, so my request is simple. Let’s just try. One judgement at a time. Let’s try harder, care more, assume less. If we want kids to have a home, we need to start with their parents.

Franziska Emslie
Community and Public Relations at the YWCA Niagara Region

I participate in Coldest Night of the Year because we need the awareness.

When the volunteer opportunity to help out at West Niagara Affordable Housing was first presented at her parish around five years ago, Lee knew she had found the perfect fit. “I liked the concept and what the program was all about. West Niagara Affordable Housing (WNAH), or GAHP at the time, is more than a band-aid solution. It helps people to really get back to a place of independence. That idea appealed to me.” So Lee got in touch and has been helping our team out ever since. She helps the Transitional Housing Workers with their filing, answers phone calls and provides any other administrative support that might be needed.

“It could be anybody.”

When she heard that the YW was going to bring Coldest Night of the Year to Grimsby, back in 2016, to raise funds for the program she had been volunteering for, she was thrilled and knew she had to get involved. “I think it is so important to bring people the awareness. To let them know it is not just people you see in the streets but that it could be anybody. People sometimes think that there is no homelessness in West Niagara but there is! I see it first-hand through my volunteer work. I think Coldest Night of the Year is a great event to open people’s eyes to some of the issues, as volunteering has done for me.” Lee has volunteered at the registration desk at the event and her entire parish is involved as well. “You can help others and have fun at the same time, it’s perfect!” When asked why someone should get involved with Coldest Night of the Year, Lee’s answer is simple: “The more people walk and the more people donate, the more we will bring the awareness to the forefront, and that’s where real change can begin.”

To walk with us or to donate to the event, please visit www.cnoy.org/westniagara!

Thanks for all you do, Lee!

After the Dust Settles

We thank our newest blogger, who wants to remain anonymous at this time, for sharing this beautiful blog post with our readers! Your strength and courage is an inspiration to all of us.

It’s January 2019. Two years ago, January 2017, I was pregnant with my daughter, awaiting her arrival with my then partner. Within these 2 years I have gone through some very rapid transformations. From woman to mother to single mother. From postpartum depression to domestic violence to “just enjoying life” so to speak. My daughter has undergone many transformations too. From babyhood to toddlerhood. Every day I watch her and it gives me new joy and hope.


I feel strange that I now stand here with a new paint brush and a blank canvas.

It dawned on me the other day that now I am in my own territory. Completely on my own. Through the violence from her father, police interruptions and a family court case… my daughter and I made it out! And it made me a better person in the end. I write this now, as a reflection. Sitting with the unknown future. Sitting with past attitudes and outlooks. I feel strange that I now stand here with a new paint brush and a blank canvas. It’s foreign to not have specific stress which looms in the background. I am more than pleased to have this peaceful beginning.


There is light at the end of that dark and scary tunnel.

After much therapy and self love, I was able to heal. Connecting with my community, friends and family. It’s really important to reconnect with oneself after ending an abusive relationship. Making my art, having art shows, jogging, meditation and yoga helped me ground myself through all the stressy mess.

For anyone going through a tough time, I get it. There is light at the end of that dark and scary tunnel. Believe in your strength.

To anyone who has been abused, in any way, always remember that it’s not you. It’s a reflection of how low this person feels to make sure they put you down. It’s a reflection of their own hurt. Hurt people, hurt people. Don’t let them dim your light🌟

Macie – Part I

When Macie refused to enter into an arranged marriage, her family cut her off.

Macie first came to Canada as an international student. She was fortunate to have a family back home in Africa that was able to provide her with the means needed to study towards her degree in Hospitality and Tourism at Niagara College. Macie enjoyed her course and getting to know Canadians and their culture. About six months into her studies, however, she got the call from her family that changed her life. They expected Macie to return home to enter a marriage that had been arranged for her. A marriage to a stranger who is in his 50s. Macie is 20 years old.

“I have never felt this scared in my life,” said Macie when she came to the YW on a cool morning in April. She had begged and pleaded with her family, trying to make them understand that she wanted more of life than to be a wife to a stranger and to bear his children. Her family was shocked and felt ashamed by their daughter’s refusal. They cut off all of Macie’s support, their way of trying to force her to come back to Africa. Over night, life became a battle of survival.


Macie felt alone and scared and lost. She began to slip into depression.

Macie applied for refugee status which, thankfully, she was granted. While that took one worry away, it still left her forced to drop out of school. Macie started to work a minimum wage job that turned into a part-time job in the colder winter months. It was not enough to make ends meet. She was no longer able to afford her accommodation. Forced to move, she rented a room she found online. Macie felt alone and scared and lost. She began to slip into depression.

Finally, thanks to a friend at work, Macie learned about the YW and the many programs we offer and she decided to apply. She entered the Off-Site Transitional Housing program in June of 2018. During her time in the program Macie has continued to work and support herself by taking as many hours as possible at work. Macie signed up as a volunteer for as many organizations as she was able to fit into her schedule. She has applied and been granted permanent residence in Canada. And her biggest joy of all, thanks to all of her hard work and drive, she will be starting back to her post-secondary education in September 2019. The strides she has made within only a few months of being in the program are nothing short of amazing. “I am so grateful for the support of the YW and my incredible worker. With the YW in my corner, I can overcome anything. I can’t wait to see what my next six months in the program will bring.”

Macie shared her journey with us earlier in 2019. Only a few months later, she had even more amazing accomplishments to share with us… read Part II of Macie’s story >>>

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.

Lessons I Learned From My Toddler

As I was sitting next to my toddler’s bed the other night, waiting for her to decide that she is done playing with my hair and ready to go to sleep, I realized that for someone who is not even two yet, there are a lot of things she has to teach. I am not talking about the obvious ones that children at any age will teach you:

It’s not diamonds, it’s coffee that is a girl’s best friend.

Sleep is overrated.

Your house will never be clean again. Deal with it.

The lessons I am talking about are the kinds of lessons you only start thinking about when you’re trapped in a dark room with nothing to do but wait for your child to go to sleep. I’m talking about the deep stuff.

1. Celebrate Your Successes

“I peed in the potty!!!” Both my husband and I rush up the stairs, opening the champagne bottle on our way, confetti in hand, and there she is, beaming as if the Wiggles had entered the building. “I peed in the potty,” she continues to yell and proudly points to the tiny puddle in her Froggy Potty. We are now jumping up and down in excitement, we yell down to our only semi-interested teenager to share the good news, we exchange high fives and praises. “SHE PEED IN THE POTTY!!!! Good job, sweetie, that’s amazing! Oh my gosh, you are going to help us empty the potty and flush, too? What a good helper!” My daughter will probably still need months until she’s actually housebroken. Until then, we will celebrate each and every day, about three times a day.

Because of this, on occasion, when I come out of the washroom, she waits outside the door for me (creepy, right!) and exclaims to everyone else in the house: “Mommy peed in the potty!!” “Yes I did, baby-girl! High five!”

So my question is: when and why do we stop doing that? What happens from here to there? Even with our teenagers the best I can manage most of the time is something along the lines of: “Oh, so you do know where the dishwasher is, good news!”

This year’s Niagara Leadership Summit for Women was all about owning our strengths. My toddler reminds me every day that we probably started out that way; that most or at least some of us started out with someone cheering us on. We, too, used to stand tall, proud of every accomplishment, no matter how small. If we all stayed a little bit more in that mindset of both, owning our own strengths and celebrating those of the people around us, I am convinced this world would be a better place.

2. No Means No

“Do you want some milk, sweetie?” “No.” It’s 7:30pm, this is what is next in her night routine. At around this time, every day, she has her milk. She loves it. “Mom has some warm milk for you, would you like some?” “No, Mama.” She is just saying ‘no’ because that’s the first thing they learn when they move from the infant to the toddler room, the word NO becomes a tool, a weapon, the ultimate crisis communication plan. Surely, she’s just saying it to be funny. “Here is your milk, sweetheart,” I say, coming at her with her favourite evening beverage. Armageddon is what follows. And I don’t mean the Bruce Willis kind. She flings herself onto the ground, within seconds there is a screaming and kicking mess where there was a peaceful child only moments ago. “NOOOOOO! NO MILK!!!!!” It is dawning on me that she may not have been joking after all. That kid does not want milk.

When I go over those lovely moments in my head at the end of the day, I find myself asking again: When, and more importantly, WHY do we stop doing that? Why don’t I start kicking and screaming when the boss adds something to my already overflowing plate? When do we start making up excuses instead of yelling: “NO! I DON’T WANT TO GO OUT FOR DINNER TONIGHT, I WANT TO EAT ICE CREAM AND BINGE WATCH GREY’S ANATOMY.” What do we as parents, teachers, role models, faith communities, as society do to our children that might make this very same girl think one day that she can’t say no when her soccer coach corners her in the change room?

no means no

Take it from my toddler, no means no. It is not always easy, especially for us as women, but practice it. Get better at it, one NO at a time. No, I cannot attend this meeting today. No, I cannot contribute to the bake sale. No, I don’t want to watch Sharknado tonight. No, not tomorrow either. And please! Don’t make excuses, don’t feel like you have to offer an explanation. The story didn’t go: And then the toddler said “no, mommy, I am still very full from dinner, I would rather skip the milk tonight.” She said NO. Period.

3. Feel The Feels

When our toddler is angry, she gives it her all. When she did not want that milk, she did not try to be polite about it. She didn’t force it down to then complain to her older sister later about the time I forced her to drink the milk. She just unleashed the anger. In the same way, there is no holding her back in her excitement over jumping around in a puddle. When she is sad, she lets herself sob and cry until she can’t catch her breath anymore. When she is happy, she giggles and snorts and laughs without thinking twice about it. She doesn’t need mindfulness training, this is just how she came out. This is a human before a lifetime of being shushed and distracted and shaped into what we have decided is right and proper and appropriate. One of my favourite chapters of  the book Tuesdays With Morrie is the one where he speaks about emotions.

“Turn on the faucet. Wash yourself with the emotion. It won’t hurt you. It will only help. If you let the fear inside, if you pull it on like a familiar shirt, then you can say to yourself, “All right, it’s just fear, I don’t have to let it control me. I see it for what it is”.”

Be scared, be happy, be nervous, be sad… be what you please but be it all the way.

emotions

Franziska Emslie is our Community and Public Relations Coordinator

My Experience as a Woman

Today, we are sharing a post with you that was written by an incredible woman and YW supporter who would rather not share her name.
It’s a post about being a woman, it’s about growing, it’s about believing that you can.

Sometimes women’s greatest strengths are also their greatest weaknesses.

My story is personal; my experience is not universal. I acknowledge my privilege. White. Able-bodied. Cis-gendered. Well-spoken. But perhaps it will still resonate with others.

I was raised to do it all. Not intentionally – but as an oldest child, product of strong mother and abusive father. Divorced parents. Amazing support in childhood from mother, family, and especially female role models. There was no doubt in my mind that the future was female. That women could do anything. It seemed that the head of every household in my family was female. If it wasn’t – if there was a power imbalance not in our favour – it was righted and, once more, women came out on top.

It was never an externally applied expectation, but one ingrained on my heart from so early on.

“You can do anything you put your mind to.”

I have given it all in every arena of my life that has involved others. The term loyal to a fault fell on my shoulders, the phrase only discovered later. What fault is loving another? Providing? Offering friendship, advice, and all-consuming loyalty?

It is a tragic-flaw not to provide those things for yourself first.

“You can’t pour from an empty cup.”

One constant in my life has been the renewable resource of friendship and companionship of like-minded individuals. These have always been strong, brilliant women. Never ones to be intimidated by each other, but the ones that consistently strived to build that community. They built community that was intent on support, communion, love, building bridges, acknowledging strength and, of course, continual encouragement. There were shoulders to cry on, arms to be wrapped in, and the greatest of minds to mingle with.

“Surround yourself with the people that make you want to be the best version of yourself.”

The world is not always like that. Women are not always like that. The greatest lessons I’ve ever learned were from people who taught me what not to do, who not to be. Older women. Misogynistic women. Threatened and tired women. But while those trials felt soul-sucking and brutally difficult, the sharing, communion and strength of my community would always build me up again.

Sometimes it can feel like your only purpose in this world is to serve others. Especially as a woman. Even when you are taught strength, you are taught to give of yourself. And continue to give of yourself. Even when you refill your cup, is it just so you can continue to pour it into another’s?

“Find yourself before you find another.”

I have found life extremely difficult to navigate. Maybe I’m overthinking. I think we do a lot of that now that we don’t grow our own food, nor milk our own cows (mind the dairy allergies), nor build our own homes nor hunt nor gather.

I have felt a failure in my relationships. I swing between complete and utter independence and being utterly needy and withdrawn. I have pushed away when I meant to pull. I have so much anger that is hard not to turn inward. I have moved from providing for my family as a child, to providing in my relationships like my partner was a child. A result of my personal history and experience as a woman.

“Learn from your mistakes.”

I wanted to write a blog post. I wanted to heal myself. I love reading, writing, words. I love meaning. I love this moment in time when I am alive and focused and purposeful.

The great thing about purpose – that most people don’t tell you – is that you get to choose your own. There may be a divine spirit, a plan, mysterious forces at work. But you get to answer that question yourself. You choose your purpose; your purpose doesn’t choose you. You can look for signs. But in the end, it is one thing you decide for yourself and whether or not you will live it.

For the longest time, and still sometimes, it felt like my purpose was to help others. I’ll be in the driver’s seat until they’re ready to take over. Then I’ll move to the passenger seat. Pretty soon, I’m kicked out of the car. Hope you enjoyed the ride! You’re welcome! No thank yous in return. I felt empty. Hollow. Lack of personal purpose of my own.

It’s not the reality. We, as women, must ensure we name our purpose and put ourselves first.  I have so much brilliance and talent, and I love sharing it with others. I used to love the spotlight. Now I love being on a team with a shared cause even more. Women are amazing. Learning is exhilarating. I want to continue to learn and grow and love. Maybe that is my purpose? I still have not named it.

“You have to travel outside of this moment to find a problem.”

People always have a choice. We can be lousy. We can harm the environment. We can get caught up with selfies and self-absorption and the kind of shallow self-love that still seeks external validation. Or we can be purposeful. We can see that all our actions have a reaction that impacts our mental, physical, creative and spiritual health, and the ripple effect of those actions touches living things across the globe.

Don’t bear the weight of the world on your shoulders. You’re not responsible for anyone but yourself. Treating  yourself right, breaking old patterns – or just recognizing them – will bring you a new perspective, and perhaps purpose, that isn’t going to seek you out without your hard work. Be brave. Be bold. Be proud to be a woman. Find a community that helps you navigate the difficulties of this life, for there are so many.

Each year, I met so many amazing women at the Niagara Leadership Summit. I have also met so many amazing women walking the halls of the YWCA shelters. Women with varied stories, challenges, backgrounds. We were all different. And we were all the same.

“Claim. Illustrate. Analyze.”

I always struggled with the “so what” in my essays. This post is no different. I wanted to share a little of my story. I wanted to encourage others to name their purpose. Most of all, I want you to see the strength it takes to be a person in today’s world and encourage you to celebrate that with those women you love. Maybe you know them. Maybe you haven’t met them yet. There is a community waiting for you with open arms.

 

 

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

 

Pathetic Love Songs

Full disclosure, I love a good love song. But every now and then, singers or their writers just get it all wrong. Love is a two-way-street, so please – do not be the first in line, in hopes that when he changes his mind, he can take a chance on you. You’re better than that.

One of my favourites though, when it comes to songs with a protagonist who is utterly lacking self-worth, is hands down “Jolene” by Dolly Parton. Why, you ask? I’ll show you…

JOLENE

Jolene, Jolene, Jolene, Jolene
I’m begging of you please don’t take my man

DOLLY! I am begging of YOU! If he makes you feel like you need to beg Jolene not to take him, you are with the wrong man!! It’s not about Jolene, this is about you and your man.

Jolene, Jolene, Jolene, Jolene
Please don’t take him just because you can

Again, Dolly, why can she? Why do you think she can just walk up to your man and take him? Something is not right here.

Your beauty is beyond compare
With flaming locks of auburn hair
With ivory skin and eyes of emerald green
Your smile is like a breath of spring
Your voice is soft like summer rain

OK, fine, that part is poetic and Jolene does sound like she’s quite pretty.

And I cannot compete with you, Jolene

No, Dolly, just NO! Never mind that I am sure you could compete with her, but why do you feel like you have to in the first place? Does your man love you – yes or no? Can a few auburn locks be so impressive that he would just walk away from his amazing better half? If he makes you feel like you’re in competition with every pretty woman around you, he is a bad choice.

He talks about you in his sleep
There’s nothing I can do to keep
From crying when he calls your name, Jolene

AHA! Now, we’re getting closer. Just when she has the listener wonder how paranoid and insecure one can be, she’s finally telling us that she is not pulling these suspicions out of thin air. He talks about Jolene is his sleep, Dolly? Darn right, you can’t keep from crying. That is messed up. Have you ever asked him about that? Not something that would go unaddressed where I come from…

And I can easily understand
How you could easily take my man
But you don’t know what he means to me, Jolene

Dear Dolly, you are way too understanding. How can you say that? Let me handle this one for you: Jolene, you don’t take a man that is already taken. It’s as simple as that. So take that smile that is like a breath of spring and smile it at someone else. I should not have to point this out to you, Jolene. When they teach you to share in Kindergarten, that does not apply to significant others. Got it? 

Jolene, Jolene, Jolene, Jolene (…)

You could have your choice of men
But I could never love again
He’s the only one for me, Jolene

There she loses me. I get it, this whole thing sucks. Here you are, all in love and here goes your man, talking about Jolene in his sleep but come on, Dolly? He’s the ONLY one? You could NEVER love again? There are plenty of fish in the sea, and there are seven seas, my friend.

I had to have this talk with you
My happiness depends on you
And whatever you decide to do, Jolene

Wrong again. Your happiness depends on YOU and what YOU decide to do, Dolly. This one’s not on Jolene.

Jolene, Jolene, Jolene (…)

On this note, I hope that you felt loved this Valentine’s Day, this February and that you do every day – whether it’s by a partner, a child, a parent, a friend, or your pet rabbit. You’re worth it. You’re not in competition with Jolene or anyone and if he doesn’t make you happy, please, please walk away. Life is short.

 

Monthly Donors

“Imagine if one of your loved ones or family members was homeless. Would you help that individual?”

These were among the thoughts that ran through Jeff Smith’s mind as he experienced the Cardboard House while it was on display at the Pen Centre. Rather than
ignore this problem, he chose to take it personally and imagine that the homeless person was his brother or sister.

Monthly Donor Jeff Smith

Immediately, Jeff decided to become a monthly donor and to make the impact of his gift even greater. Monthly gifts provide a consistent and reliable source of funding that allow us to plan ahead, and allows the YW to strengthen the programs and services offered to homeless women and their families across Niagara.

At the beginning of this new year, please consider joining Jeff and becoming a monthly donor. Every little bit helps.

Thank you!