All posts by Grace Howes


Thriving Through COVID-19: Balancing COVID-19 and Working from Home

As more and more Canadians have been switching over to the WFH lifestyle, you might find it hard to switch from being in an office space to your own living space. You may experience a lot more distractions and things that prevent you from being productive in a work setting. Fortunately, there are some tips I have for keeping that WFH life balanced and effective to make sure you don’t lose focus.

Three Tips for WFH

Create a comfortable and professional workspace

I know from personal experience (such as online classes) that trying to work from your bed, or your sofa, may not be the best option for productivity levels. If you do not have a desk space, try setting one up using your dining room table or living room table. It will almost be like you’re working at the office while keeping your posture in check and avoiding any possible distractions.

Continue a healthy and efficient daily routine

Continue to wake up early and get ready like it’s a normal day of physically going into work. I think something that has helped me be productive at home is to not stay in my pajamas all day because then I just want to watch Netflix. Have a schedule, eat healthy and be as productive as possible using your normal routine for work.

Have a calendar… and use it!

Calendar control is so important and something that has increased my overall wellbeing in general. Having a personal planner (or even a wall calendar) can be so helpful in creating WFH goals for yourself.

The Future Impact of WFH Life on Women in our Communities

Since working from home life is becoming the new “norm” in our societies, I think we ought to pay attention to what the near future might look like for women specifically. Is working from home benefiting us, and if so, why?

In the workplace, women have a different voice sometimes than men do. Studies have shown that 62% of women have agreed that WFH life actually has created a more productive space for them. For moms, WFH can help build a better relationship with their kids because they are in constant care of them as opposed to being at daycare.

Another benefit that women have voiced during the pandemic is that the physical bias is removed while working remotely. For example, as mentioned on, meetings will cause conflict in the workplace if there is someone bigger and taller who made others, like women, feel less inclined to speak up.

During these unprecedented times, the YWCA understands how important it is to help women in the Niagara community with whatever they need. There are so many resources on our website, the YWCA, that will help women to keep on track during times of uncertainty.

Meet Sarah: A look into homelessness in a pandemic

Sarah’s story is full of challenges, twists and turns, but she has never let any of that stop her from striving to be a better person. She first reached out to the YWCA Niagara Region in 2015 when she was faced with homelessness after leaving an abusive partner.  She struggled with her mental and physical health after suffering long-time abuse and the homelessness in a pandemicpassing of her infant son. All hope felt lost as Sarah faced barrier after barrier to get her life back on track. But then she walked through the YW’s doors.

Sarah has received support through a variety of our programs including off-site transitional housing, On-site Transitional Housing and our skills development workshops. Sarah’s journey with the YW was also the start to her mental health journey – an important step for identifying and understanding the symptoms she was experiencing. Access to these services has been critical for Sarah’s recovery and her journey to self-sustainability. Now, with support from her women’s advocates (social workers), she is able to manage her mental health on an ongoing basis.

In On-site Transitional Housing, where she is currently working the program, Sarah has been working towards her goals of practicing mindfulness and stress management as well as acquiring new life skills like household budgeting. Sarah was starting to make plans for the future, big plans, and then COVID-19 hit Niagara….

“I wake up every day and for a moment I forget about COVID and the pandemic, but then I remember and I start to feel stressed out.”

COVID-19 hit a lot of YW guests hard and Sarah was no exception. Her autoimmune disorder makes her worry often about contracting the virus and what would happen if she got sick. But she is grateful for the support of her women’s advocates that “keep [her] on track” and calm because she knows she “has someone to talk to” about her fear around the pandemic

In her experience with the YW, Sarah is so grateful for the staff, who she says have always treated her with respect no matter the circumstances.

“The staff are on the top of their game,” said Sarah. “They go above and beyond and they stay on top of everything.”

As Sarah eagerly awaits the end of the pandemic, she looks forward to her plans for the future including going to college for community service development. With this education, Sarah can begin a rewarding career where she can use her lived experience to help others struggling to manage their mental health. She is also excited to rekindle her relationship with her son who she had to put up for adoption many years ago.

Despite the challenging times that a pandemic brings, Sarah’s exciting future gives her hope to push forward and remain on her path to self-sustainability.

“I am going to keep fighting,” she said. “If you don’t stand for something, you’ll fall for anything, right?”

kids and covid

Thriving Through COVID-19: Parenting during a pandemic

During a global pandemic, even the most basic of routines completely changes – including how we cook at home. Cooking, at least for me, is therapeutic in uncertain times like these. It is up to us to keep ourselves and our children nourished and healthy during these times of uncertainty.

Three Simple Recipes to Make with Your Children

Deciding what to cook for your children can be difficult due to other active stresses in our lives. Although it’s fantastic to support our local restaurants, sometimes it’s not as affordable as we’d all hope. Cooking during COVID with the kids home from school may be a delicate balancing act, but there are simple and quick recipes your children can actually help you prepare! The more hands the better, right? Here are some yummy recipes that children can help you create in the kitchen.

Healthy Gnocchi Kids Can Help with!

Crispy sheet pan gnocchi and veggies is not only healthy, but extremely delicious! Gnocchi is fast-cooking and your kid(s) can help chop up the veggies (as long as you’re watching them!) and can also help to season them. You don’t need much for this recipe, and you can even sub out vegetables depending on what you have readily available in your fridge or freezer.

A Fancier Twist on Pizza

When I was a kid, I always thought the best times in the kitchen with my mom was when she would buy those Kraft pizza kits, and we would get to roll out the dough on the table and put as much sauce and cheese on as we wanted. If you want something healthy yet still affordable, check out this French bread pesto chicken recipe that includes all kinds of nutrients. It’s a somewhat healthier alternative to regular pizza, and it’s still an easy recipe that your mini chefs can help prepare with you. Your child will actually be able to create the French bread pizzas on their own; all you have to do is chop everything up and pop it in the oven. Easy!

Fast and Easy Peanut Butter Balls

I wanted to include an easy dessert recipe because we could all use a sweet treat right now. This homemade dessert actually has some healthy benefits to it. The recipe is for healthy peanut butter balls where kids can help measure the ingredients and roll the balls. I’ve made these a few times before and they are seriously delicious.

Fun Activities Kids Can Complete in Quarantine

With the pandemic going on, it’s so much harder to keep kids entertained as just about everything fun is closed right now. But there are actually many different activities children can get busy with in quarantine. I think it’s all about getting creative during times like these and helping your child to explore their imagination a little more.

Three Creative Activities Kids Will Love

For preschoolers, try to get them building a construction paper rainbow. This activity can help promote creativity and creates a learning opportunity to identify colours. There are  a couple online activities listed on the same website as above that include a Ladybug rock craft and a calm down sensory bottle (targeted towards toddlers). Again, these are two fantastic activities to get your child’s creative juices flowing. In my preschool years to elementary school, I can say my favourite activity ever was hide-and-seek. A classic and so fun! You can even play in the backyard too as we’re approaching nicer weather outside.

When kids can learn to get creative and think outside the box, it will help them to relieve boredom and maybe even pick up some new passions or hobbies. There are many mothers within the Niagara Region struggling to get by during these challenging times or to purchase things for their kids for them to stay active and healthy in quarantine. If you are looking to donate to those in our community that are struggling more than ever right now, please visit the YWCA Donate page.


Thriving Through COVID-19: Surviving COVID-19 with the YWCA Niagara Region

It can be challenging to our new daily routines during a pandemic whether that means working from home or not working at all. From budgeting to ensuring a successful good night’s sleep, there are lots of tricks on how to cope with these significant changes in our lives from a pandemic. Here are four helpful ways to survive the pandemic with our Skills Development Coordinator, Denise.

Managing Your Expenses

Basic budgeting is one of the topics talked about by Denise on helping to cope with the COVID-19 outbreak. Everyone has to be very cautious that even if you have no money, you must still create a budget for yourself. In uncertain times we can’t take chances – especially when we don’t know what the future holds.

Recognizing Your Mentality

Denise breaks down mindfulness associated with what is going on within the head and body – and how to not let it carry you away! Mindfulness is a way to ease into your stresses in a more peaceful way, rather than a stressful way. This technique will show improvements in your overall physical and psychological symptoms from day-to-day life.

Keeping Calm and Collected

Grounding exercises are useful for when you are in a state of anxiety, stress, or panic that will help bring you back down to earth. Something that actually has worked for me is splashing water on my face when I feel anxious about something that happened or will happen. This is Denise’s second trick in coping with your mentality. Watch Denise’s short Facebook video to find out the complete 5-step process for grounding yourself.

Breathe Deeper and Sleep Better

Last, and seemingly most important, is getting enough sleep. Denise talks about breathing techniques and sleeping tips to fight your way through COVID-19. In this follow-along video, Denise goes through practicing breathing techniques with you. The two techniques involved are belly breathing and breath-counting exercise. Click the link to check out all of her amazing sleeping tips to ensure you’re getting the best night’s sleep.

Denise uploads to Facebook regularly during the pandemic so please make sure to follow our YWCA Facebook page and Skills Development page and keep yourself informed and safe. The YWCA is committed to helping out our communities around Niagara so be sure to also follow our Twitter and Instagram to keep up to date with what’s happening. These survival tips are great to keep in mind as we’re all living in this new normal. As long as everyone stays safe and healthy, we’ll make it through this together.


Women and COVID-19: Global Pandemics are Women’s Issues

When COVID-19 hit Canada like a hurricane, we all batten down the hatches and hoped for the best, unsure of how long the storm would last. Unfortunately, as a country, we didn’t originally consider how this unique experience would impact different groups of people – specifically, how it would impact women. Now we’re seeing COVID-19 have a disproportionate impact on women and not for the reasons you might expect. While more women aren’t necessarily getting sick, we are seeing women feel the weight of the pandemic in three main areas: the healthcare sector, their wallets and their families.

Women in Healthcare

How many times have I walked into a hospital or retirement home and been greeted by a female healthcare workers? I cannot think of an encounter when this was not the case, can you? This shouldn’t surprise me knowing that 75% of healthcare practitioners and 87% of healthcare support staff are women, according to the World Health Organization. But I never stopped to consider what this disproportionate gender representation in healthcare would mean for women when we found ourselves in a global pandemic.  Every day, women across Canada put themselves at risk to support the population affected by COVID-19 on top of the regular healthcare needs to the greater population. The frontline workers at the YW are a perfect example of this – making extraordinary sacrifices to help the underserved.

Women and Money

Women are getting disproportionately hit harder by the COVID-19 pandemic when it comes to financial stability. Many female-dominated industries such as hospitality, childcare and education are experiencing significant layoffs and, in some cases, permanent closure. Layering on top of this devastating reality is the facts that women historically have less saving to live on during these challenging times.

In 2018, women earned 13% less than their male counterpart in Canada. In the States, the figures are even worse. The gender wage gap widens even further for marginalized women, making it even harder for women in Canada’s diverse communities to survive during this season of layoffs.

Women and Childcare

When schools and daycare centers started to close early on into the pandemic, women immediately felt the impact of the world shutting down. Historically, women are more likely to take on the unpaid caregiving role of children and elderly family members than their male partner, especially in cases where a woman is the lower income earner. This means that even women who weren’t initially laid off from their work have had to step away from their careers (and stable incomes) to provide care for dependents. This struggle becomes even more devastating for single-parent households – 80% of which are led by women in Canada – when caregivers need to choose between working and taking care of their children who are home from school.

The impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic have touched the life of nearly every woman in Canada. And these burdens left behind by this pandemic will long outlive the virus itself as women in our communities struggle to recover economically, mentally and emotionally. Help women in your community rebuild after the storm with a donation to the YWCA Niagara Region.

mothers day

#thankyoumom – The Month of Motherhood Celebrations

Across the globe, May is a time to recognize and show appreciation for our mothers.  It doesn’t matter the circumstance; I believe that every mom deserve to be recognized on Mother’s Day.

I remember when my twin brother and I were young, and my dad would take us to the store and have us pick out something for my mom for Mother’s Day. We always picked out the goofiest gifts (and of course dad was paying!) which made my dad ultimately pick the right thing in the end. It’s a fun memory to look back on as I realize how special each Mother’s Day was for my mom and how much she adored our thoughtfulness! Unfortunately, for many families in Niagara, this is not their reality on Mother’s Day.

Moms in our community

Many moms are experiencing hardship and poverty this Mother’s Day as our community experiences these extraordinary circumstances around COVID-19 together. Over 80% of single-parent families are led by women and over 1/3 of those families live below the poverty line. The YWCA understands how mothers struggle to make ends meet, source affordable childcare, and find the means to pay for even the most basic necessities.

Women’s homelessness is not as easy to spot as you might expect. The traditional notion of people sleeping on the streets doesn’t always apply to women and mothers; although their homeless experience is still an overwhelming challenge. Many women in poverty experience hidden homelessness – sleeping on a friends couch or crashing with family temporarily – with no real place to call home. When these women need help from the Niagara community they go to the YW where they can find support for themselves and their families.

How to celebrate mom with the YWCA

To support the YW’s amazing mothers during this upcoming Mother’s Day, the YWCA has launched a campaign to spread thankfulness to our heroes. By purchasing a Mother’s Day e-card through the link listed below, you can show your mom how much you love her while supporting another in need. A donation in her honours says, “Together we have made a different. Because you’re an amazing mom, a family will find the support it needs.”

Children in shelter may have little or no means to get their mom a gift this Mother’s Day, but that shouldn’t mean that mothers and their children should have to go without. Click here to donate to the #thankyoumom campaign now to help mothers in our own community. Make sure to tag us after your #thankyoumom donations on our Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. We know your mom will love her special gift as much as the YWCA moms will!

Bri VanSickle
Guest Writer for the YWCA Niagara Region


Coldest Night of the Year in support of WNAH

Jessica never thought it could happen to her. She never imagined herself homeless… let alone homeless with two dependent children. But when Jessica fell on hard times, she found herself and her children, just 8 and 9 years old, in an emergency shelter. With only a year’s time to pick the pieces of her life back together in this living arrangement, she knew her family needed something more stable in order to set a plan for the future.

Looking for a fresh start and safe place to raise her children, Jessica packed up her car and headed to West Niagara. She researched about the support given to those in need through the YW’s West Niagara Affordable Housing program and was soon connected with her transitional housing worker, Keshia. Within a week of connecting with WNAH, Jessica and her two children were housed in Grimsby in May 2019. With a place to call home, Jessica worked with Keshia to set goals including establishing a budget, achieving her high school diploma and getting her children involved in the community. Not everyone gets a shot at a fresh start after they fall down, and Jessica didn’t want to waste it. She decided to take the opportunity to achieve her long-time dream of becoming a nurse.

After just one year in the program, Jessica has worked hard to achieve and surpass her goals. She returned to school and received her high school diploma – in fact, she just picked it up last week! She has already been accepted into multiple post-secondary programs and is hoping for an opportunity to begin her nursing studies in September 2021. She has already secured employment in the homecare field as a client companion – a job she enjoys.

WNAH has not only helped Jessica get back on her feet, but it has also given her children the chance to experience a fulfilling childhood. Both of her dependent children have become part of the Grimsby community. They’d discovered a love for their gymnastics lessons, swimming at the YMCA and have just started their mentorships with Big Brothers Big Sisters. Jessica is even looking ahead to the summer and enrolled her youngest in this upcoming baseball season!

“I feel more a part of Grimsby. This is our town,”

– Jessica

Jessica is also proud to now be leading by example for her two older children that live independently – showing them that anything is possible even after you fall down.

Today, we’re fortunate enough to share Jessica’s story and we thank her for her courage to tell it. When we asked her what inspired her to tell us her story, Jessica said she wanted to spread awareness about the resources that are available to those in need including the YW’s WNAH program. Without the support of YW and community services, she wouldn’t know where she would be today.  

Thank you to everyone who came out to support people like Jessica and her children in our West Niagara Affordable Housing program by participating and donating to the YW’s Coldest Night of the Year West Niagara walk.


Celebrate with me

I cannot believe I am finally here!

It’s taken me just over 3 years, but I am officially taking over my own lease in April.  I’d like to celebrate by telling you my story. Will you celebrate with me?

I don’t want you to pity me because of what I’ve gone through so, instead, let’s celebrate together like this. As I share my story with you, I want you to remember that I could be your neighbour; the one you wave at as you take out your garbage, or grab your flyers. I could be the person in front of you at the grocery store, or another mom you smile at when you pick up your kids from school. My life isn’t written on my face any more than yours.

I had a great life once. I grew up privileged, knowing I could be anything I wanted to be, the whole world seemingly at my fingertips. My parents loved me so much. I was their miracle child, born after they had given up hope of conceiving. They adored me, and I’m certain that if they were still around today, I’d be living a completely different story.

While I was in university at Brock, I met a man. He was finishing up his degree while I was beginning mine. He was my whole world. I became pregnant during my first year of school and he said he would make enough to support us.  He told me he wanted to take care of me and, if I’m honest, I had always dreamed of being an at-home-mom, so that became our plan. We got married. We were happy. Baby boy was thriving, and our lives were settled.

The first couple of years were fantastic; then came year three.  We found ourselves looking forward to the birth of our second child, not realizing everything was about to shift. After our daughter was born, I didn’t experience the joy I had with our son. I’m embarrassed to admit I wasn’t a great wife during that time. I wasn’t a great mom. I didn’t want to hold my daughter; cringing every time I had to pick her up. I didn’t want to be near her. I didn’t want to be near anyone.

I found myself not wanting to get out of bed.  I didn’t know what was happening to me, but I constantly felt guilty, trying to understand why I would hold my daughter, with tears running down my face, even after her cries had stopped. My husband stopped trying to understand, and instead chose to pack his bags and leave us with nothing-to start another family-with another woman.

Without a job, an education, or any financial assistance, it wasn’t long before my children and I were facing eviction. There’s no real shelter for people like me in West Niagara. I think most people assume if you live this area, that you must have money. Instead, what you have are fewer options. I was lost until the day someone suggested that I connect with the West Niagara Affordable Housing (GAHP at the time).

Once we met, GAHP immediately put a roof over our heads at the YWCA’s shelter in St. Catharines. I finally had a diagnosis for post-partum depression, and all of the supports I needed to overcome it, and other mental health issues I faced. They provided me and my family with what they call ‘wrap around supports,’ and that’s exactly what it felt like.  Like we were finally safe and cared for.

Those supports were all I needed to get us back on our feet, and it didn’t take long before I was ready to enter into the West Niagara Affordable Housing program. Here, I’ve been able to get a new lease on life. I’ve been working really hard through some of the YW’s skills development programs to learn the things I need to keep my family on track, and the future is so bright. I finished my schooling this last June, and I have a job, and now, my own lease!

So with this, I wanted you to celebrate with me because you made this happen. You gave me a chance to have the supports to get back on my feet, to love my children, and support them, as a mom should. To have a home in my community. To feel like myself again. To thrive. You did that. I want you to celebrate that I am able to feel strong enough to tell you my story. I really would not be where I am today, taking control of my life, without your help.

Thank you for supporting the YW’s West Niagara programming. My children and I are grateful, and celebrating you. Celebrate with us.

Dear Feminist Me: Moving Through 2020 with a Feminist Lens


We’re already one month into 2020 and a lot of people have been working hard on their New Year’s resolutions. Some people are looking for eat healthier this year, or hit the gym at least three times a week. Here at the YW, New Year’s resolutions look a little different as our clients work to make 2020 a year of stability and growth. This may be the year they find affordable housing for themselves and their families, or it could be a year of empowerment as they build the courage to leave difficult environment and come to the YW for help. Everyone’s resolutions look different and this year, so do mine.

This year, I am dedicating to my feminist self in hopes that creating these healthy, self-positive habits now will continue on for me for years to come and maybe even help some people along the way too.

Be proud of who you are

Every person is a unique complex being with an identity comprised so many different layers. This year, I want to be proud of every one of those layers that makes me unique – that makes me, well, me. An important layer of my identity is being a woman and being a feminist woman. I no longer want to be shy about talking about the female experience. This year, I will be loudly proud of my identity, speak openly to my male peers about my unique experiences and refuse to let my female identity to be quieted.

Don’t quietly accept sexist treatment

I can’t think of a situation that makes me more uncomfortable than unprompted street harassment. It happened to me recently and I am sure it will happen again. Except next time, I won’t let a stranger makes me feel uncomfortable or ashamed for walking down the sidewalk alone. I recently learned that if someone makes you uncomfortable in public, you can tell them. You can make a scene and draw attention to the situation. You can yell, “Don’t you see you’re making me feel uncomfortable?!” and “I don’t like the way you’re talking to me?!” If you’re tired of keeping your gaze low, staring at the sidewalk and praying a catcallers doesn’t decide to follow you down the street, you have options.

Talk about the taboo because being “ladylike” is overrated

It’s 2020 and, while it is hard to believe, there are still women’s issues that are taboo to talk about. Important, meaningful topics that are “unladylike” to talk about. Birth control, sexual health, mensuration, post-partum depression, sex work, the list goes on… when we never talk about these topics, they become a seed for shame in our lives. If we don’t talk about these things, there will be no one to advocate for the person too embarrassed to go to the doctor with women’s health concerns, or the struggling new mom who doesn’t understand why she is so sad during what she expected to be the happiest days of her life. Whether I am telling a personal story or supporting a friend or family member talking about her female experience, this year will be a year of making the taboo not taboo anymore.

Don’t be embarrassed to exercise your basic human rights

It is my basic human right to walk down a public sidewalk at any time of the day. It is my basic human right to go to express my opinion on topics that are important to me. It my basic human right to skip my makeup routine if I want to. Yet, when I do these things, I feel embarrassed and judged and sometimes even unsafe. Entering this new age of Feminist Me, I am going to work harder to understand why I feel this way when I go against the grain and take steps to empower myself when I exercise my basic human right. I know I am in a fortunate position to be able to be in public alone, speak up when I want and express myself however I feel – it is time to be proud about it.

My resolutions for the start of a new decade look different than they ever have before.  And I know this is the first step of many to seeing and moving through the world with a feminist lens. I am excited to take charge of empowering me this year and I hope I am able to empower other women who feel embarrassed, isolated, judged and afraid to talk about their unique female experience. So cheers to a new year and a new decade of female-forward action.