We’re nearing the end of the year, and just as many others do, we are reflecting back of the year to see how far we have come, what we have learned and how we have grown. This year… well, this reflection feels a little bit different. 2020 was filled with so much fear, uncertainty, and isolation. But, a lot of good came out of the adversity. That is what we’re talking about today on the YW Blog.
Here are some of the things that we learned during the worst year ever:
Niagara is the best place to live
Okay, so, maybe this isn’t something we learned so much as it is something that was reaffirmed. But it is worth mentioning – Niagara is the best place to live. Our community surrounded us with hope during some of the darkest times we have seen in over a decade. Despite our uncertainty, we knew we would pull through because of all of our supporters letting us know they wouldn’t let us fall down.
Not only that, but each and every member of this community is doing their part to make Niagara safer and healthier during the pandemic. YOU are wearing a mask, washing your hands, keep a safe physical distance. YOU are supporting small businesses and non-profits during challenging times. YOU are making sure no one is truly alone. Niagara is the best place to live… because of YOU.
A sense of community is important (and CAN be achieved virtually)
This one is a specific nod to the first-ever virtual Niagara Leadership Summit for Women 2020 held in October. Months into the pandemic, we were all feeling the notorious “Zoom Fatigue” like never before, but we knew our community needed a (virtual) space to rally together. NLSW 2020 was another area where we were full of uncertainty. Would people show up? Would people be too burnt out? Could a virtual summit create the same sense of community as our in-person event?
Not only did you show up, not only did you engage, not only did you connect… but we had one of the best Leadership Summits yet! Our hearts were filled with gratitude as we watched attendees actively participate in over 15 workshops, seminars, and panel discussions hosted by 20+ speakers. Together, we became empowered in our leadership and our ability to lift others up into leadership roles. Together, we reignited the sense of community we had been missing for 6 longs months. Together, we pledge to be compassionate, dedicated, innovative leaders as we navigate through these unprecedented times.
Niagara is a community of allies – and they had our back
We weren’t sure what to expect when the COVID-19 pandemic reached Canada and Niagara, but we could tell we were in for some hard times. Through every curve ball thrown at us, we always had an ally who could support us and see us through the instability. When we needed fresh produce to provide healthy meals, community partners like The Soup Kitchen stepped in. When we needed PPE to keep shelter guests and staff safe, foundations and granters like United Way and the Niagara Community Foundation made their opportunities known. When we needed to shelter high-risk guests and individuals who may have been exposed to COVID, the Niagara Region created a safe space.
For these long ten months, it has been a team effort to navigate the strangest times. There are so many more people, community groups, and organizations – more than we can count – that have advocated and supported Niagara’s most vulnerable. And we are beyond grateful for you.
While 2020 was nothing like we imagined (or ever could have anticipated), getting this far is nothing short of a miracle. We’re grateful to take a moment during the blur of the holidays to reflect not on the challenges and trials of 2020, but of the good we have seen in the community in spite of it. While we miss our community like crazy during the lockdown, we know that we will come out of these times stronger and better than ever. We cannot wait to see you in 2021!
The discomfort hit almost as soon as I lay my head down on my fluffy pillow. In a tent, with a small yoga type mattress, I could still feel every single bump in the ground. The roots digging into my bones made me continually adjust myself into a position that seemed tolerable. Tossing and turning most of the night, hearing sounds in the distance, I couldn’t help but think about the homeless people sleeping on a park bench. How exposed they must feel. How uncomfortable, terrified, and lonely they must feel. Shuffling to try to avoid those thoughts, I fell into a rough sleep. Well into the night, the cold crept upon me. Wrapping myself deeper into my warm comforter, putting my hood up, I fell into a light sleep.
The sun came up quickly and early. Groggy, I woke up so sore. Almost every part of me was aching. I struggled to pull myself together and get out of the tent. My goodness, I was exhausted. It felt like I didn’t even sleep. And yet, there are so many people in our community that sleep on park benches, in cars, on floors night after night. They’re waking up feeling awful, going to work, and going back “home” to any of those positions and doing it all over again. Can you imagine?
The thing that kept me up in the morning was knowing that in a couple of hours, I’d take a long hot shower. Id’ be able to brush my teeth and clean my face in my sink without any inconveniences. That evening I’d be able to crawl into my comfortable queen-sized bed in nice sheets and a clean comforter. The night prior’s discomforts would be all but a distant memory unlike the reality it is for so many people. And let me tell you from my experience that a tent is much more spacious than a car and it allows you to be in a better position. So I really had no reason to even have a slight negative thought about it.
One night was uncomfortable. Being sore for the entire day was awful. Every single person that participated in this event was grateful to go back to the comfort of their home. But so many people in our community don’t have that luxury. They don’t have a home or any comfort.
That’s why we take a night out of our lives each year to help the YW help our homeless. Because what’s one night compared to all of the people who do it for days, weeks, months, and sometimes years.
I am very lucky to have so many strong, amazing and empowering female friends. We have had many discussions about how we don’t really feel affected by gender inequality because we grew up feeling equal to men and we have always been very independent. I have one amazing friend, Kelsey, who ended up becoming a tool and die maker, and is one of the only women not in an administrative role at the company she works for. She’s been featured in newspapers and magazines about her success in the field, and is a role model for other women to start a career in the trades. Our friend group always jokes about her success and badassness (that’s a word), and her ability to do, well, anything. She had graduated 2 different programs with honours and awards by the time most of us had graduated university. When we were talking about International Women’s Day/Month at the last Blogger’s Meeting, I immediately knew I wanted to interview her about her journey in the tool and dye field.
Amazingly, she had been asked to instantly fly down to South Carolina to do some work at another factory. She was working non-stop down there and still found the time to answer these questions for me, so thank you!
D: So what the heck do you do for a living?
K: I am a red seal certified tool and die maker, I work for a company that builds the dies for many different companies such as Ford, GM, BMW, Mercedes etc. I work as a lead hand delegating jobs, fixing issues with the dies, making sure we meet the customers’ timelines, and provide a die that will make a dimensionally and cosmetically correct car part. My company often builds dies that produce more complicated parts and the ones consumers actually see, such as the body side, tailgate, and doors. Tool and die is a hard trade to describe to people, but there’s my attempt explaining it in one sentence.
D: Well you did a pretty good job at explaining it, in my opinion. Did you always want to be a tool and die maker, or what did you want to be when you grew up, as a child?
K: I remember as a child saying I wanted to be a veterinarian, often a popular choice with kids who like cats and dogs but I never obsessed over a certain career.
D: So what did you do after high school?
K: In high school I used the co-op placement to work at a bakery, and that experience helped me decide to go to George Brown College for Baking and Pastries Arts. I remember in grade 11, really having no idea what I wanted to do but knowing university wasn’t right for me, so I picked baking as a career path.
D: [Sidenote: Kelsey then became the friend we would force to make cakes for us when we had a party or holiday coming up.] So what made you want to change careers?
K: I found the culinary trade relies heavily on your passion for the work, and often the desire to open your own business. I enjoyed baking but you work long days, often really early mornings, and you have to work holidays. I never really got a chance to enjoy my time off, or get time off to begin with. I knew I would never open my own bakery and I felt the job would never allow me to be financially independent. All the job postings I was seeing for bakers were often lower paying with no benefits. I knew that wasn’t what I wanted.
D: Okay, so you decided you wanted to do something different. What made you think of a tool and die worker?
K: I decided I didn’t want a career as a pastry chef, but I also didn’t know what I should do instead. My father works in the trades as an insulator and said he thought I would make a good millwright. That made me start looking into millwrights and possible schooling options. I discovered the Centre for Skilled Trades and Development in Burlington. They offered a Millwright/Tool and Die Pre-Apprenticeship Program affiliated with a company that would hire you depending on how the training goes. The program was also only 6 months, which was great because I wouldn’t have to take a long break from working full time. Based on the schooling, I decided I would become a tool and die maker (not a millwright) and was hired as an apprentice. I continued my training for 3 more years by going to Sheridan College one day a week while continuing to work. It was great because I wasn’t racking up any student debt (my tuition was only $400 a year) and received government grants from companies supporting the skilled trades.
D: What was your very first day on the job like?
K: The first day was extremely over whelming! No amount of classroom training can prepare you for, what looks like, such a chaotic environment. A production plant is fast paced with many moving elements. I could feel that eyes were on me. To make things worse, I didn’t have a proper work uniform yet so I felt really self-conscious walking around in my jeans since they are more form fitting than regular uniform pants.
D: Were you scared at all to work in a mostly male-dominated industry?
K: I feel like scared is the wrong term. I think I was just as nervous as anyone would be starting a new job, regardless of gender. I had no idea if and how I would be accepted. I honestly believe the men I worked with were just as nervous and worried that they might say something wrong or inappropriate to me. For the first couple months, I don’t think I had a genuine conversation or joked around with any of my coworkers. The conversation was often super formal or just filler talk about the job. It definitely became easier to bond with my coworkers when I got a new job at a different company that had more employees closer to my age.
It sometimes feels like high school, except I somehow ended up in the boys’ locker room.
D: What are you most proud of during your time in the tool and die industry?
K: My current role as a lead hand has come with a lot of responsibility, stress, and a strong feeling of pride. I am one of very few female tool and die makers and it’s even rarer for one to take on a supervisor type position. It is the most stressful and challenging job I have ever had, and that just proves to me what a smart decision I made with this career path.
D: What are some funny or crazy stories that you can share with us?
K: I have been in a fair share of strange, awkward, and funny situations at work; most times it becomes a good story to tell my friends and sometimes it’s something that really pisses me off. I can share that the men’s washroom is covered with graffiti and inappropriate writing on the walls. When a co-worker told me about that I was so confused because they were all working adults, I just didn’t get it. There was also a time when a mystery person was drawing penises all over the factory, and it got so bad that management had to get involved and start checking security cameras. It was so embarrassingly unprofessional and they never figured out who it was.
I remember at the first place I worked, there was this one line worker that wouldn’t stop asking me out. The first time he asked me, I politely said “no sorry, I have a boyfriend.” But he would still always ask to take me out to dinner! I would walk a different way around the shop to avoid him because it was always such an uncomfortable conversation. Eventually he quit or was fired, so I didn’t have to worry about that anymore. Now, if anyone asks me out I just immediately shut it down. I have worked at my current company for so long everyone knows me and that I’m married and it’s not a situation I face anymore.
Other than that type of thing, every now and then at the lunch table someone will be looking at their phone and they start laughing and pass the phone around to the other guys at the table. Then they stop and realize I am also at the table and they don’t know if they should pass the phone to me or not. I guess they don’t want to take the chance of potentially offending me. It sometimes feels like high school, except I somehow ended up in the boys’ locker room.
More recently, I found myself working down in the States fixing issues an assembly plant had with the dies we built them. The plant manager would go and talk to one of the guys who was down there working with me and asked him for timelines and the progress of the job. My co-worker paused and proceeded to point at me and say “I don’t know, go ask my boss.” Honestly, I find nothing really phases me any more. I really enjoy my job and the work environment. The job is awesome; not just the work and the financial benefits, but all the entertaining stories I get to tell my friends.
D: Tell me about one of your biggest accomplishments, or something you are most proud of.
K: I have had a lot of success in my career, (considering I have only been working in this industry for 6 years) and I am already a lead hand at my company. But, I am the proudest of the fact that I am able to inspire other woman to work in the trades, and breakdown the preconceived beliefs about women working in this industry. Volunteering with Skills Ontario and talking to high school girls about the many career options out there brings me great pride. I have had a couple different women tell me that my career story gave them motivation to pursue a future in the trades.
D: What does your husband think about your profession?
When we were first dating and I told him I was quitting the bakery to go back to school for a tool and die maker, he was confused. Mostly because he had no idea what a tool and die maker was, and secondly because he didn’t want me to stop making delicious cookies. Now that he gets what I do every day, he is really impressed and proud of what I have been able to accomplish. However, sometimes he can get frustrated with the amount of hours I work. There are times when I will work 10-12 hour days, 7 days a week and get home and immediately pass out on the couch. We have talked about balancing work and life, and how there will be times when I have to work those long days, or randomly go to the States for three weeks for a job. He knows how important my job is to me, and he’s the person I confide in when I had a bad day, when nothing goes right, and when I’m questioning my abilities. My career has also been beneficial to him: he doesn’t have to be the sole breadwinner in our household, and was able to take a lower paying position with better options for advancement because I could support us.
D: Thank you, Kelsey! You can add this blog post to your wall of newspaper and magazine articles about how amazing you are!
This year’s International Women’s Day is Wednesday, March 8th, 2017. This day started in 1908 when 15, 000 women gathered to march in New York City with demands to have shorter working hours, increased wages, and the right to vote. It has since been “a global day celebrating the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women” (International Women’s Day website). The history around this day is incredible. You can find out more here.
But what is it all about this year? The theme for 2017 is #BeBoldForChange. What does that mean? You get to decided that for yourself. We may each have a different view of what needs to be changed and how to go about it. Even the website has a variety of ways we can create change for women. Through the website you can pledge how you will strive to be bold for change this year. The main points are:
I’ll change bias and inequality
I’ll campaign against violence
I’ll forge women’s advancement
I’ll celebrate women’s achievement
I’ll champion women’s education
Luckily, there are a few events that are happening in the Niagara region to celebrate women on this amazing day.
Broadband’s 25th Anniversary Performance of Women in Music Benefit Concert for the YWCA Niagara Region is happening on Sunday, March 5th from 4-7 pm at St. John’s Activity Centre. This event is to celebrate International Women’s day focusing on Women in Music. Tickets are $20 dollars with proceeds going toward the YWCA Niagara Region.
On the actual day, March 8th, Be Bold For Change event is happening at Gwen’s Teas. This will be a more affordable event happening in the evening to ensure that it is accessible to a variety of people. A $5 donation to the YWCA Niagara Region is encouraged. The focus will be on how attendees will #BeBoldForChange to close the gender gap.
If there are any events you are aware of that are not posted, please tell us! You can also let us know how you feel they went if you were able to attend one.
Tell us how you will #BeBoldForChange by tagging us on Twitter @YWCA_Niagara
YWCA Niagara is hosting it’s 11th Annual Power of Being a Girl conference within the region.
Many events lose interest of the community and participants after that many years, but this conference remains popular. Why? Maybe it has to do with the powerful impact it has on the grade 10 girls from all over the region who participate.
Throughout the years, the event has touched many lives. One of the speakers in previous years explained that at one of the conferences, some of the girls came up to her individually to self-disclose issues they have felt including thoughts of suicide and the difference the day had made to them. 12 girls that day felt empowered enough to find positives in their lives, things to look forward to as well as to speak about it. That’s some of the differences these events can make.
As huge a success as that story is, Power of Being a Girl has also inspired girls to discuss body image issues, negative feelings of loneliness. The discomfort most girls face during the ups and downs of teenage years. Some students have said:
“I felt alone and isolated. I was living in everyone’s shadow,” she said of the difficulties she once had but has since overcome. “Now I want to help others get out of the shadow and let their light shine.” – St. Catharines Standard
More participants said:
“Your skin is the costume. Your personality is the beauty,” she says.
“If you keep trying to be what society thinks is perfect, you’ll never experience peace.
The conference gives girls a safe place where they can check in with themselves and realize they are not alone in their feelings. They have the chance to ban together and encourage confidence in each other.
“At first, I was really nervous. And then I realized, we’re all girls here,”
“Everyone has flaws. They have to learn to love those flaws. They have to learn to love themselves.”
“Really, really good. Made me proud to be a woman.”
“My favourite part was knowing that I’m worth something and finding strengths I never thought I had.”
This year’s conference speaks to healthy relationships. We have no idea what’s truly in store for these participants in terms of revelations but we sure look forward to exploring them. If it’s anything like the last ten years, it will be a huge success, change the lives of so many.