Category Archives: Volunteering

Volunteer Spotlight: Katie

We met Katie Ritchie for the first time when we were planning our first Coldest Night of the Year fundraiser. That year, it was mostly speaking to her on the phone and having a chance to get to know her a bit when she and her children participated in the walk.

Katie and Laura at CNOY 2017

This year, when Phelps Homes made a three-year commitment to be our Presenting Sponsor (a first for Coldest Night of the Year community), Katie enthusiastically joined our Organizing Committee. With her help, we were able to arrange a couple more community launch events and garner more community support throughout West Niagara.

For the second year in a row, Katie also captained the Phelps Homes team, which raised nearly $5,000 toward our $60,000 goal.

Katie and the Phelps Team

 Volunteers like Katie make our work so much easier. Thank you, Katie, for all you’ve done to help grow Coldest Night of the Year – West Niagara toward continued success.

Spotlight: Teresa

This week for Volunteer Appreciation Month, the YWCA would like to spotlight Teresa Butson. Teresa has joined the YWCA in October of 2016 after have moving to St. Catharines following her retirement. While looking for more opportunities to help the community, Teresa explained that the YWCA seemed to jump up at her.  Why did she choose the YWCA you ask? 

“I wanted to find a place to volunteer somewhere that allowed me to help others but also helped me grow as a person and as part of the community. It is important to me that I feel like I am contributing every day, even just a little. Because I am able to accomplish all of these things at the YWCA, it is truly gratifying.”

When asked what her favourite volunteer experience has been with the YWCA, Teresa revealed that she could not pick just one experience. “The YWCA provides a very warm, welcoming, and family-like environment,” Teresa explains, “it’s nice to see the friendliness between staff, volunteers, you can tell everyone that is here, wants to be. For this reason I can’t pick just one experience to call my favourite, every day here is a good day.”

Volunteerism promotes lots of excellent values. The most valuable takeaway Teresa has learned through volunteering has been that; “You must be willing to give and take in order for your experience to be mutually rewarding.” Teresa wishes to continue to learn about the YWCA, how it supports the community and what more she can do in order to support them.

Although Teresa has said she does not feel as though she needs anything special or formal in regards to feeling appreciated, she delights in watching the process of women and families becoming independent and “learning to stand on their own two feet”. When speaking of new potential volunteers, Teresa believes it is important to have an open mind in terms of learning about others, how they live, and their stories. She also mentions that it is okay to ask questions as we should not assume that we will always have the answer. Lastly, we asked Teresa how she feels women should be empowering one another. With a warm smile, said

“I believe that it is all of our responsibility to share knowledge with each other.Even more so at my age, in having experience in different areas of my life, I believe I have a duty to share my stories and help support those who need it. By doing this, I, along with others can help to build a happy and healthy community.”

Thanks Teresa for all you do, every week! ~ YW Staff

IWD Reflection

I had the privilege and pleasure of attending multiple International Women’s Day Events throughout the region. I wish I could have attended them all. I can’t even describe the empowerment I felt while being surrounded by incredible, strong, brave, bold, and passionate women.

One of the events I was able to go to was the Greater Niagara Chamber of Commerce’s Women In Niagara Council’s International Women’s Day event on March 3rd. Club Roma was filled with brilliant minds. Everywhere I looked, there was an outstanding woman that I wanted to know.

The keynote speaker was Teresa Cascioli. I was thrilled to be able to hear her speak. I was torn between typing out all of the impactful things she was saying so I could tweet them, or just soaking up the moment and letting her words really resonate with me. I did a mixture and I’m still not sure which one would have been the best option.

Teresa said, “Prior to selling my business no one listened.” It was as though Teresa’s voice didn’t matter because she had yet to have a great accomplishment. She then asked the important questions and you could hear the room nod in agreement: “Why do women have to say it more often? Why do we have to say it louder? Why do we have to prove ourselves?”

One of the most important and reoccurring messages throughout the event was you have to be impatient for results.

The WIN council also presented Rosemary Hale with the International Women’s Day Award. I was so excited to hear her speech, I couldn’t even consider recording any notes. I watched as Rosemary accepted the award with grace and honour. She inspired us all with talk about her past being the first female dean at Brock University. She is now retired and loving it as she has time to be a strong advocate for arts, volunteer at Hospice Niagara, and continuing to write. When she brought into focus her mentor Nora who said, “Life is drama. Every minute of our lives is drama…a slice of drama.” The idea that drama can be a good thing and not just with an arts background. Taking to the Be Bold For Change theme, Rosemary emphasized just how important it is to start demanding results, and start demanding change. To really do something about what you are passionate about in order to make a difference. “It’s about loving your bold, showing your bold.”

Broadband’s 25th Anniversary Performance of Women in Music Benefit Concert for the YWCA Niagara Region happened this past Sunday. The event is to celebrate International Women’s day focusing on Women in Music.
It was amazing! Listening to the inspirational songs including one about Nellie McClung. If you’re interested in catching a little taste of what the music was like, check it out 
here. The positive and empowering vibes from the band and the attendees was refreshing. Hearing reflections of the past made me want to do more research and spend time thinking about women in our history who really have made a difference for us.

Thursday was actually International Women’s Day. I attended the Be Bold For Change event which happened at Gwen’s Teas. Although I showed up late and missed networking with some other attendees, I really enjoyed the event. It was nice to see people have an outlet to write down how they would be bold for change and why they identify as feminists. Everyone brought their own thoughts, opinions, and reasons for being there. The discussion around politics was insightful. It just clarified all the more how important it is to involve women in politics. These discussions are exactly why we need more events, more meetings, more conversation around what women really can do.

All of these events opened my eyes to so many things. They made me really think. “It’s about showing your bold,” ran through my mind for days. That’s when I realize, being bold isn’t just about what is outlined on the International Women’s Day website (although those are great pledges), it’s about finding what works for you. I did make the pledge to celebrate women’s achievements because I think successes need to be acknowledged. I still stand by that pledge. Earlier this year, I also made a promise to have my voice heard in a blog post for the Practical Feminist after the Women’s March in January. But now, after all of these events, I pledge to find my bold and use it to help women.



Youth are Leading

I’ve struggled writing this piece. In fact, I started it about five times. Each time, my intro sounded lame. Then I would try a different approach. And then that would feel disingenuous or half-cocked, or again, lame. Realizing I wasn’t going to whip this off, I decided to examine why the subject of youth leadership was difficult for me to write about. The only thing I could come up with was that I wasn’t as in tune with youth as I thought I was. It’s like I suddenly realized I was kind of, well, old-er-ish. Or if not that, I realized that I’d turned the corner from “everyone is my contemporary or older”, to “my god, the young folk have taken over…and it is a good thing indeed.”

Following Breadcrumbs of the Young

I think I first realized this when I began following Instagram profiles of young people (I feel at times that I should be using the term “youngins” to point to my ignorance, and I also feel that I should put a disclaimer in here: I’m not quite sure if “profiles” is the right term…Instagram sites? Feeds? See how I am just reinforcing my old-er-ish status here?) What I mean to say is, I followed quite a few young people before realizing that they were young people. I followed because I was interested in what they had to say, the way I follow my contemporaries, or older writers, performers, and politicians because I was and am interested in what they have to say. I was following these feminist profiles/feeds, that had lovely, thoughtful, and brilliant posts. As is the way with social media, these profiles lead me to follow others. Before I knew it, I was reading, and feeling a wee bit like a creeper, the feed of a 15-year-old who is, quite frankly, my new role model. And the thing is, she is exceptional, but seemingly not so much beyond her contemporaries. Believe me, my natural suspicion made me try to find some fault (beyond her obvious class and race privilege, but crikey, she’s even aware and acknowledges those!) She’s part of a clever cohort of young leaders who are bringing their brands of feminist leadership to the fore. I feel this way about pretty much every young woman I know and meet nowadays.

A New, New Wave

By the way, the 15-year-old that I follow is actress Rowan Blanchard. But, I didn’t know she was an actress until I Googled her name for this piece (or 15 for that matter, although I knew she was young). I’d been reading her posts for a few years before learning she was a Disney star. Seriously. A Disney kid. A few weeks ago, she posted this on her definition of feminism (it isn’t her writing, but she borrowed it): “These days, I feel as though feminism must interrogate gender itself with an awareness of its myriad social intersections. What does it mean to be a woman, and why? Who gets to decide what a woman is? If one woman is different from another woman, then what unites them as women? White, cis gender women have an institutional history as so-called feminists—but their liberation has proven tenuous, irrelevant, or violent to millions of other women. When experience can vary so radically from woman to woman, is there any point in pursuing a single definition of feminism?”


Dullard History

When I was 15, I’m pretty sure I had what could be described as a somewhat protofeminist consciousness, to coin a term for my own semi-conscious mind and circumstances. I had an insular Catholic upbringing, in a parish community with the most infamous sexual predator priest in 20th Century southwestern Ontario. I think those circumstances and others helped me follow the breadcrumbs to full-on feminism. But it took me years of epiphanies and banging my head against the wall to learn what Rowan Blanchard knows already. Earlier this month, she posted a photo of her holding a #girlpossible campaign poster that said: “Equality is possible when…we recognize our privileges and use them to help other people.”

Okay, minor aside here, the #girlpossible campaign is a Barneys NY, department store nod to the United Nations International Day of the Girl. And yes, Barneys is a place where those dripping with privilege do their conspicuous consumption (confession: I may have purchased a Le Labo body cream at Barneys at some point in my life) but hey, the campaign is a lot more of something than nothing. And Rowan’s post was a world more self-aware than some of the other posts ( the “Anything is possible when you…map a plan to achieve your goals” post, or billionaire daughter and entrepreneur Hannah Bronfman’s contribution: “Anything is possible when…you work hard enough.” Sigh, she means well.) I think awareness is one of the most impressive things about many young feminist leaders today. Most have a firm understanding of intersectionality and an equally firm commitment to using their positions and privilege to change the world and level the playing field.

Using Power to Change

I don’t remember this being a big thing when I was young. It’s likely that I was just oblivious and unaware. There were probably more of the smaller gestures of solidarity and leadership that made it possible to live life and not be suffocated. I thought about this recently while working on a children’s book on Jazz Jennings, the young transgender activist and reality television star. Holy crikey, here is a young person who has their head on straight (and loving, decent family supports). Her main focus for coming out in public was to help other trans kids who don’t have her supports and privilege. But she and Rowan are high profile examples. I’m also impressed by the young feminists who surround me who make the quieter gestures. They too are leaders, and they are in every community. They act as Big Sisters (or Little Sisters who teach far more than they learn), they join community groups with an intent to do something for someone else, they start school fundraisers, and they read books and spread ideas about feminist activism through small everyday gestures. They wow me, educate me, and make me proud.


Why I volunteer for the YW

It all started 5 years ago with a sequence of events that avalanched into a domino effect of darkness, depression, and anxiety.

I was still reeling from the aftermath of my daughter’s near-death experience after the birth of her second child; a beautiful baby boy with big blue eyes and a huge grin.  I was
still dealing with the sudden, tragic death of my father 8 years earlier. I had reconnected with my paternal uncle now that he was living in Ontario again. He has a lot of health problems so I cook meals  for him and check on him everyday. To top everything off, I was living with “empty nest syndrome” because my son (the baby) moved to Alberta 2 years ago.  For the first time ever my world came to a screeching halt. It felt like I’d just been unexpectedly spun off the  musical carousel that had been my life for so many years. I found myself unemployed, in a terrible economy with bleak prospects. I wasn’t getting any younger and I couldn’t ignore my health issues any longer. I had to admit that I wasn’t invincible. I had to learn new ways of doing things instead of the habitual method I had utilized all my life to reach my goals and be successful. I could no longer just plow ahead and push harder. I had to learn how to stop putting myself at the bottom of the list everyday. I had to learn how to stop beating myself up for not being perfect every minute, everyday.  I had to learn new habits and find new methods to achieve my goals. I had to stop comparing myself to the younger, healthier me. I had to learn who I was as a person now that my whole world was completely different. I had to figure out how to maneuver through this new landscape while I felt so raw and fragile. I had to deal with myself without all of the distractions that life as a working wife and mother brings. To say I was stressed out would be an understatement!

That’s where the YWCA Niagara Region comes in! After many sleepless nights flip-flopping in bed I went downstairs to use my laptop in the dining room. I didn’t even know what I was looking for. I just knew that something had to give and I refused to be a slave to my insomnia. I needed to invest time into myself to find out where this new chapter of my life was taking me. I needed to learn how to live my life now that I was starting to get some of my life back. I had to believe that things were only going to get better. I needed to believe that things were going to get better.  I needed to confront and destroy my anxiety demons. I was faced with a fresh clean slate and no idea what to do click on volunteeringwith it. I had been in crisis mode for so long that even my breathing had changed. I found myself paralyzed with fear of the next  disaster certain to be around every corner.  I was wound up tighter than the proverbial top. My shoulders were always tensed up around my ears.  I had to learn to accept that I had some chronic health problems and physical limitations that couldn’t be ignored. I had to learn how to pace myself  after many years of working and raising a family. I had to stop beating myself up and/or living in denial. I had to accept the fact that it had been a wild bumpy ride filled with incredible highs and devastating lows. It had felt like a magical dance party with many people dancing in a frenzied motion with the music getting faster and louder. Spinning faster and faster and faster until I was dizzy and couldn’t catch my breath. Without warning, my life as I’d known it came to a crashing halt and stopped abruptly. The ringing in my ears was deafening. The music stopped and I was out of breath and sweating profusely. I was dazed and confused. I’d spent the last few years assaulted by one tragedy after another; with no time to time to recover before the next  disaster hit.  I was trying to figure out what to with myself now that everything I had ever known was completely different. So, I sent a message to the YWCA via the link provided on the Information Niagara page.

I met with Carli a few days later at the YWCA  location in Niagara Falls. I was extremely nervous and my self-confidence had long ago disappeared. I had lived with extreme anxiety the last few years and it had clouded my view of the future. I was no longer sure of myself. But, from the moment I sat down with Carli and she started to speak in a calm, encouraging manner I started to  feel that I had made the right choice.  We talked about the positive impact that the YWCA has on people from all walks of life and the community in general. I expressed my desire to help others because I know all too well how important it is to have a safety net when you fall.    Finally, after years of chaos and heartbreak I could see light at the end of the tunnel. I had found a place that would help me gain a sense of perspective while I gave back to the community at the same time. I would be able to slowly regain structure and motivation. In exchange for my time and skills I was given the chance to pick myself up again and find my way on the next part of my life journey.
I was surrounded by such supportive and encouraging woman. I felt like I was in a safe place where I could learn new things and acclimate myself to the work world again. I felt empowered by the encouragement of everyone I met at the YWCA and appreciated for my time.  Slowly I learned to trust my instincts again and allowed myself to get excited about this new journey I was on. I’ve learned so much more about myself and our community because of my involvement with the YWCA. I’m proud to help with such a worthy cause. I’m eternally grateful for the opportunities  and knowledge I’ve gained. I’m honoured to learn new things from such a diverse, open-minded group of intelligent human beings. I honestly feel like I’ve gotten so much more out of my involvement with the YWCA than I ever expected. By reaching out to help others; I inadvertently ended up helping myself as well. It’s a win-win situation! Oh, and I sleep much better at night.

Getting to know you questions – What does Volunteering mean to you?

In April, we are blogging about Volunteering. Get to know your bloggers better and read their thoughts on this topic. They were given these eight questions to choose from:
  1. What does the word ‘volunteer’ mean to you?
  2. Are you an active volunteer? Can you share your top three motivators that get you to volunteer your time?
  3. Do you think volunteers take away from paid work?
  4. Where do you volunteer?  Why?
  5. Can you share one moment or comment that, as a volunteer, touched your heart or lightened your mood, and made your day.
  6. Have you had a life changing experience while volunteering?  Please share.
  7. Do you think mandatory volunteer hours for high school students to graduate has an impact on the students?
  8. In a year, how many hours would you say are spent volunteering?  Would you like to see that increase or decrease?


CrystalCrystal Carswell

Where do you volunteer?  Why?

Yes, I volunteer with the YW in a several capacities. Why? That’s easy. Because I respect their mission, the women who work there tirelessly, and the people they try so hard to support. I’ve seen how respectfully they use their resources, and respect what they’ve accomplished with so little.

Have you had a life changing experience while volunteering?  Please share.

 What I didn’t expect from volunteering was how much it would affect the rest of my life. I’ve learned skills that I wouldn’t have had the opportunity to use, and made connections that are outside of circles I would otherwise travel in. Most importantly though, I didn’t realize how much passion I could put into something that didn’t come with a pay cheque.

Do you think mandatory volunteer hours for high school students to graduate has an impact on the students?

Unfortunately, having spoken to students on just this topic, I have to say no. All too many of them falsified their hours. The current system seems to set them up for failure unless they are naturally inclined to volunteering. Without any guidance or check-ins in place throughout their high school years, the students in need of the shift in perspective that volunteering offers are slipping through the cracks.


What does the word volunteer mean to you?

To me, volunteers mean people who take time out of their life and give– for no other reason than the satisfaction of helping those less fortunate.

Do you think volunteers take away from paid work?

I do not believe volunteering takes away from paid work, as these people do jobs that would be very difficult to pay someone for. For example– how do you pay someone who helps in a soup kitchen, to cook or serve food for those in need, as you would be taking away the very money needed to fund this? It just doesn’t make sense.

Do you think mandatory volunteer hours for high school students to graduate has an impact on the students?

I think mandatory volunteering for graduates is an amazing way for them to see the real world, whether it be a soup kitchen, a hostel, the Humane Society. All of these places could be totally out of the norm for students, and would give them a far better grasp of real life that many of us are ever exposed to.