Category Archives: Women’s Issues

Hidden homelessness: We need to think about women and their families

The stereotypical image of a bundled women asleep on a sidewalk is what comes to mind for most Canadians, when homelessness is mentioned. However, that is not always the case, the reality is more varied and complex. With no roof over their heads and no door to lock safely behind them, women are at a greater risk of physical, emotional and psychological harm. In Canada, women’s hidden homelessness is largely present. Women with precarious living situations are highly vulnerable. The number of young women that are homeless is alarming which is why a shelter is a safe space for them.

Women’s homelessness is often hidden and largely underestimated

Women’s homelessness is rarely visible. We often think that it looks like someone sleeping on the street, but homelessness can also be couch surfing with friends, trading sex for housing, or living in a tiny, overcrowded apartment. All these describe the hidden homelessness that makes it difficult to accurately estimate the number of women and families experiencing homelessness in Canada.

In 2019, the YWCA partnered with local image maker Michal Pasco. Together they embarked on a project to shine light on the faces of homelessness. The ‘YW Faces’ objective helped to bring awareness to hidden homelessness.

Women are constantly at risk when homeless, thus they tend to hide more. Their focus on safety first leads to the undercounting of women’s homelessness.

“This undercounting is not unique to the Canadian context: global trends demonstrate that women have been under-represented in research on homelessness, in part due to the hidden nature of their homelessness.” – The State of Women’s Housing Need & Homelessness in Canada

By using inefficient measurement strategies and largely undercounting women, we also fail to identify the level of need for infrastructure that support women and families in poverty. Effective research can better inform policies and interventions that give women access to the resources they need.

Intergenerational homelessness starts and stops with mothers

Canadian evidence shows that adult homelessness often has its roots in childhood experiences of housing instability and violence.

“I thought it was the way life was…there was no safe house, there was no shelter that a wife or women could run to and be protected. So, many women, including my mother — they stood there, and they took it…and I took on that generational trait. You were just supposed to take it.”

There is less attention on the childhood experiences that are intertwined with the experience of the child’s primary caregiver, which in many cases is a child’s mother.

We must take action to break the cycle and address the housing challenges faced by many Canadian women. Addressing the housing needs of women, particularly the families headed by single women, is a critical aspect to solving chronic and intergenerational homelessness.

When we fail to address the needs of single mothers and their children with a lack of resources, we create a condition for their children to continue the cycle of homelessness.

The reality is that you can’t truly help a family if you’re not helping the whole who leads it. We know that generational poverty starts and ends with mothers. This is why safe environments and critical services are needed to help entire families out of poverty.

Public systems disproportionately drive women to poverty and homelessness

Women’s homelessness can be seen as interpersonal violence but can also be rooted in structural violence. Structural violence stems from social structures and systems put in place which are driving women to poverty and homelessness.

An example of such public system failures includes contradictory polices across systems (between social assistance, child welfare, and social housing) that make it difficult for women to qualify for income or housing supports.

Most social assistance systems cut entitlements for a mother as soon as her child is apprehended by child welfare, putting her at risk of losing her housing. This dramatically affects her ability to have her children returned to her care. Similarly, housing providers often consider a woman over-housed if she loses custody of her children. Nor will they consider the mother’s family size for future housing entitlement if her children are not currently in her care. Recognizing the harmful cycle in this one area could have a dramatic impact on homelessness amongst women.

Last year, YWCA Niagara Region served more than 500 women and 230 children with emergency shelter or transitional housing programs. Consistently over-capacity and frequently spread thin, the YWCA Niagara Region advocates for policies that prioritize women’s well-being and stability. Help us advocate for a better life for women in Niagara.

 

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.

COVID-19

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.

WNAH

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.

Dear Feminist Me: Moving Through 2020 with a Feminist Lens

feminist

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.

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🌟

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.

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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.

 

 

Experiencing Discomfort: No Fixed Address 2018

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.