Category Archives: YW Updates

Christmas Spirit at the YWCA

As a new front-desk volunteer this year, I discovered quickly that it was very easy to discern which holidays were approaching simply based off the décor in the YWCA. I saw the YWCA change from cozy to spooky when Halloween approached and cobwebs hung from the ceiling. However, nothing could compare to the Christmas spirit that I felt this December.

I entered my first December volunteer shift feeling the stress from impending exams and last minute assignments to find the YWCA transformed overnight to something seemingly decorated by Cindy Lou Who herself. My senses were immediately bombarded with sparkle and the smell of peppermint making it impossible to feel anything but absolute joy. It was amazing to see how the presence of a Christmas tree and a few other decorations seemed to change the entire morale within the shelter. It seemed as if the happiness was contagious as many of the guests began discussing how grateful they were for being able to stay in the shelter over the holiday season, a time when so many struggle to find shelter and food.

The Christmas spirit seemed to continually infect everyone in the shelter as mid-December approached. The willingness of the guests to help one another within the shelter was very inspiring as they offered their time and advice to others. Most touching was watching one guest help another guest, an older woman who was unable to speak English, call landlords and visit prospective rental properties. This guest also took it upon herself to help this older woman learn the bus system in St. Catharines and showed her around the area. The older woman was so grateful that she began to cry (I might have been crying by this point too) and described how the YWCA was her Christmas miracle.

The Christmas spirit, however, did not end at the confines of the YWCA property. It rather seemed as if all of St. Catharines was in the giving mood, providing the YWCA with very generous donations. The previously barren Kate Leonard room became piled high with donations including personal care products and winter jackets. I was also finally forced able to learn how to fill out a donation receipt as generous people flooded the YWCA with monetary donations. I also saw numerous students finish off exams and immediately come in to inquire about volunteer opportunities within the shelter.

Perhaps it was a sugar high from helping myself to a bucket of candy canes at the front desk, but I really felt more in the Christmas spirit during these days volunteering than I could after any Christmas movie marathon. And while the importance of decorations can seem very miniscule in the grand scheme of things, their ability to awaken the holiday spirit cannot be taken lightly. Also, the importance of donating even something as simple as time (especially if you’re a broke student like me) is crucial to the running of community organizations who rely on volunteers to function. It also allows us to remember how lucky we are to have shelter, food, family and friends in the holiday season.

Lest we forget…Remembrance Day Ceremonies in Niagara

At our October Blogger’s Meeting, planning for the November posts was underway and I wholeheartedly volunteered to look up and prepare a post that would inform anyone reading our blog where this year’s Remembrance Day Ceremonies were taking place throughout Niagara.  Easy, peasy I thought, this should take all of two minutes as the information will be right at my finger tips !

poppy-353699_640What I thought would be a very easy search on the websites of the City of St. Catharines, City of Niagara Falls, City of Welland and Town of Fort Erie, unfortunately took a lot longer than expected – if I found it at all, and left me feeling a little saddened at the lack of history.

Top acknowledgement to the City of St. Catharines  – Had it in the running banner, and it was a quick search to find a nice introduction and the following information:

Every year on Nov. 11 Canadians come together for Remembrance Day to reflect and acknowledge the men and women who served or continue to serve their country during times of war, conflict and peace.

During a moment of silence at 11 a.m. Canadians remember and honour the courage and sacrifice of those who fought for our country. The City of St. Catharines observes Remembrance Day at City Hall Nov. 11 by laying wreaths at the Honour Rolls and the Watson Memorial before joining the Royal Canadian Legion Branch 24 at the Cenotaph at Memorial Park on St. Paul Street West.

Royal Canadian Legion Branch 24 Remembrance Day Ceremony

The Royal Canadian Legion Branch 24 will hold its annual Remembrance Day ceremony on Tuesday, Nov. 11.

Schedule of Events

Time Event
9:55 a.m. Parade will form along Church Street in front of Royal Canadian Legion Branch 24.
10:10 a.m. Procession will leave the Legion and travel west along Church Street to City Hall. Wreaths will be placed at the Honour Rolls and the Watson Memorial at City Hall and the Last Post will be sounded.
10:30 a.m. Procession continues west on Church Street to Ontario Street, south on Ontario Street and west onto St. Paul Street West, stopping at Cenotaph Memorial Park. There will be a police escort at the start and end of the procession, but there will be no road closures.
10:45 a.m. Commemorative Service held at Memorial Park Cenotaph.
11 a.m. Two minutes of silence will be observed.


Other Remembrance Day Ceremonies

Royal Canadian Legion Branch 350

57 Lakeport Rd. Sunday, Nov. 9 10:30 a.m. to noon – Service and parade

Royal Canadian Legion Polish Veterans Branch 418

294 Vine St. Sunday, Nov. 9 Noon – Service

In second place, comes the City of Welland, scrolling down on their Home page, I found the following link to an invitation to the Annual Remembrance Day Service – below:

 You are cordially invited to attend the



Sunday, November 2, 2014

Parade and Ceremony

When: November 2, 2014, 1:45 pm

Where: Chippawa Park Cenotaph, First Avenue, Welland



The service will begin at 10:45 am (approx.).

The Royal Canadian Legion Branch 4 invites everyone to attend this service. Due to the limited time available, only the service will be performed. All speeches and presentations will have already taken place at Chippawa Park on Sunday, November 2. Morningstar Avenue will be blocked to traffic by 10:30 am. It is advisable to arrive before then or use the back entrance off of Ontario Road.





In third comes the Town of Fort Erie – quick link on their home page brought me to the info below:

Rememberance Day Parade

Date: 11/09/2014
Sunday November 9, 2014. Parade from Legion to Cenotaph for Service then parade back to Legion Branch 71, corner of Garrison and Central Ave. Parade starts at 2 p.m.

Sadly, in last place I have to put the City of Niagara Falls – see below:

No results found for my search.

Surprisingly enough they had a feature on the home page about the 1812 Bicentennial Celebration taking place February 2015.  Did I miss something?  If there are ceremonies going on in Niagara Falls – please send us the information – we’d be happy to post it.

Tuesday, November 11th is Remembrance Day, if you are in St. Catharines, I may see you at the Commemorative Service held at the Cenotaph, as the YWCA lays a wreathe in memory and thanks to the many men and women that fought for, and continue to fight our freedom.

Update Before Post Deadline:  Just got an email, and checked it out – the Regional Municipality of Niagara’s website came through big time and provided the list of Remembrance Day Services – throughout the Region.  Sharing with everyone below:

On November 11, remember those men and women who served and sacrificed to protect the freedom that we graciously enjoy today.

All regional offices will be open on November 11 except for the Provincial Offences Court.

 Remembrance Day Services in Niagara Region

The following is a list of services in Niagara region. There may be other services in your community that are not listed here.

City / Town Address Date Start Time
Fort Erie Mather Arch 130 Garrison Rd. Nov. 9, 2014 1 p.m.
Ridgeway Cenotaph 228 South Mill St. Nov. 11, 2014 11 a.m.
Stevensville Hall 2508 Stevensville Rd. Nov. 9, 2014 2 p.m.
Grimbsy Grimsby Cenotaph 233 Elizabeth St. Nov. 11, 2014 11 a.m.
Niagara Falls Gale Centre 4171 Fourth Ave. Nov. 11, 2014 11 a.m.
Niagara-on-the-Lake St. Mark’s Church 41 Byron St. Nov. 11, 2014 Noon
Pelham Centennial Park 999 Church St. Nov. 9, 2014 8:30 a.m.
Old Pelham Town Hall 491 Canboro Rd. Nov. 11, 2014 11 a.m.
Port Colborne
  1. H. Knoll Path Cenotaph H. H. Knoll Lakeview Park
Nov. 11, 2014 10:45 a.m.
St. Catharines Royal Canadian Legion (Branch 24) Church St. Nov. 11, 2014 9:55 a.m.
Royal Canadian Legion (Branch 350) 57 Lakeport Rd. Nov. 9, 2014 10:30 a.m.
Royal Canadian Legion (Polish Veterans Branch 418) 294 Vine St. Nov. 9, 2014 Noon
Thorold Royal Canadian Legion 3 Ormond St. S. Nov. 9, 2014 1 p.m.
Royal Canadian Legion (Memorial Park) 20 Chapel St. S. Nov. 11, 2014 10:30 a.m.
Welland Royal Canadian Legion 363 Morningstar Ave. Nov. 11, 2014 10:45 a.m.
West Lincoln Royal Canadian Legion 172 St. Catharines St. Nov. 11, 2014 10:45 a.m.

If you know of additional public ceremonies you’d like see added to this page, send them to us now.

Thank you.

Images courtesy of Google

Dear Diary, I slept in my car


Pre-event Diary Entries:

Day: Can’t remember – but it was August 2013 – Weak moment during the Manager’s Planning Day crunching numbers for a balanced budget…agreed to actually participate in No Fixed Address in 2014, by sleeping in my car and raising pledges.

Day: June 16th – Bit the bullet and registered as a participant for NFA today.  It’s real, I am going to sleep in my car.  Posting my goal as $100.00.  I sent a plea out to my contacts looking for donations.  Emailed my daughter Arlee to register, we are in this together.

Day: July 9th – Reached my goal of $100.00 today – with one really generous donor.  Still feeling the high of reaching that goal, that I know will help the YW…..I raised it (internally in my own head) to $200.00 and am well on the way!

Day: July 20th – Got Arlee’s text – after registering she posted the event on her Facebook, and got two donations in the first 15 minutes.  She is super excited and confident she’ll reach her goal.  Can’t be that happy for her though, she is taking from our small family donor pool – I should have approached them first!

Day: August 8th – Attended the last official NFA Committee meeting before the event.  next week at this time.  I will be journaling my experience of spending 24-hours at No Fixed Address.

Day: August 11th – Volunteered to be at the Cardboard House, interactive display speaking to the myths and misconceptions around poverty and homelessness at the Pen Centre.  At our Emergency Shelters we have Women’s Advocates – staff that help the women and fMG_8165-1024x682amilies that come to our shelters for help.  I am Administration – to the core.  My mantra at the YW is…..and you can ask anyone…..”Let me get you an Advocate“!  These women are the professionals and I admire each and every one of them.  Today, I got a taste of what they must experience on a daily basis.  People going through the Cardboard House came through and shared some of the most intimate details of their lives, times when they too found themselves homeless and of how it took one special person to believe in them, or how they have come through it changed and grateful for the everyday things.  I was so touched I could only thank them for sharing their experiences with me.  It was affirming to hear that the work of the YW is important, and community support is critical in a person’s journey back from poverty and homelessness.  To the ladies and gentlemen that shared, thank you so much – you have given me yet another reason to participate in NFA.

Day: August 14 – Packing up for NFA tomorrow.  What does one pack to sleep in their car?  I keep telling myself, for me this is only for one night…..for others this is their reality.

Event Day Diary Entries

Day: August 15 – Up at 5:30 a.m. and sent a text to Arlee that I will see her after she is done work at NFA.  After strategically switching cars for the day (I now have our roomy Caliber – Steve has chitty-chitty bang-bang) I leave the house at 7:00 a.m. to help set-up the event area with the other committee volunteers (these people are energizer bunnies).  Packed the night before, as I head out the door, I feel I am as ready as I will ever be for the adventure ahead.

8:30 a.m. Registration open, participants begin to arrive.  I am helping with Volunteer Registration – we have so many giving their time today.  Shout out to our regular front desk volunteers helping with NFA, our faithful YWCA staffers, to the many Telus staffers, Target staffers, Sitel staffers and all the individuals that gave us their time.  Special mention to our regular IT guy, Greg from Powernet – every year he arrives early and gets us all set-up and connected for the computer work ahead.

10:00 a.m. Opening Ceremonies.  Participants setting up their car areas, registration is still underway and the “And Then Life Happens” game begins.  Choice or Chance…the participants get a taste of events that can happen …… that can change everything in an instant.

11:00 a.m. The Amazing Race gets underway for participants.  This fast-paced game puts participants through several challenges…..first to arrive at the finish line wins.  I participated in this event a few years back….we did not win…enough said, to elaborate more would only make me look bad.

Sweet note to add:  The winning family donated the gift certificate they won, back to the YWCA!

12:30 p.m. Lunch is served – big thank you to Rob Rolfe from Bistro on Church and his volunteer crew from Sitel for cooking.  Lunch was great – best hotdogs ever!

1:00 p.m. Guest Speaker – Very Powerful, first hand experience on living in poverty and the choices she had to make and continues to make.  Thank you for speaking out, you gave me goose-bumps.  Makes me grateful for everything I have – not material things, but for the support of family, friends and community.  I feel safe.

2:00 p.m. – Craft Stations and Bouncy Castle for kids.  I still have night terrors from last year when I helped supervise the bouncy castle.   Looks like everyone is having a good time – and are actively participating in the challenges posed to them in the And Then Life Happens game.

2:30 p.m. – I have begun to ration my water/liquid intake…..the port-a-potties are starting to scare me.  Trying to avoid an night time trip.

Friends drop by the event…I encourage them to come back later for the band…these are our rock’n roll friends, so they confirm they’ll be coming back later.

3:00 p.m. – Zumba by Shelley…..where does she get that energy?  I still can’t believe that the Welland Rose Court did Zumba……with their tiaras ……that is amazing!  Oh to be that young and graceful again.

5:00 p.m. Dinner is served – thanks again to Rob and his crew from Sitel.

Arlee messages me – she is on her way – did I save her a spot?  Oh YES I did pumpkin – strategically parked on the perimeter so she’d have easy access.  Feel better that she will arrive shortly.

5:30 p.m. (ish) Vinyl Flux begins rock’n the event – they draw a great crowd every year and we are busy at registration providing people with information and registering the later arrivals who just finished work.  I need to go see these guys next time they play in my neighbourhood.

Arlee arrives and helps us with registrations..I take her to see the cardboard house display – also looking for an opportunity to go into the mall….and the Target washrooms – very clean!  My rationing liquid is not working very well – I have the bladder of a squirrel.

7:00 p.m. Fire Trucks arrive – kids love it!

Arlee wants to get some mother/daughter pictures of us NFA 2014at the event…to post online.  Get Maria to snap several pics…several poses later, we agree on one we like for sharing. (this isn’t the one…but I liked it best)

7:30 p.m. Award for And Then Life Happens game presented.

8:30 p.m. Arlee and I head over to the car to set-up sleeping bags and change into what we think will be comfy sleeping in the car clothes (trust me, those clothes don’t exist).  As we lay out the sleeping bags and blankets, I notice that the Caliber isn’t really as big as I thought it was…. this is going to be…cozy.

9:00 p.m. Movie starts – the Terminal.  We are winding down, my registration duties done for the night…we take our camping chairs and sit by our car to watch the movie.  Someone pulls up, arriving late and completely blocks our view of the movie screen.  Slowly we turn, look at each other…and laugh hysterically.  I might be more tired than I thought.

We then spent the next 2 hours  talking about nothing and everything…, family, friends, upcoming events….future plans and dreams.  I really enjoyed this time just talking with Arlee – we need to do this more often (without the sleeping in my car part).

11:30 p.m. – Movie over, people are winding down.  We head over to the port-a-potties, for one last visit.  Yuk.  I remind myself, even port-a-potties aren’t an option for those living in their cars – I suck it up.  Learned I can hold my breath a lot longer than I thought I could!

12:00 midnight – all snuggled in – we have a brief conversation on safety – I win, we lock all the doors.  Did discover two things….the Caliber hatch-back doesn’t open from the inside and two sleeping bags does not a soft mattress make.

Arlee remembers a time when she was younger with her sister and their father, travelling to go camping they stopped roadside for him to sleep and were awaken by a police officer tapping on the window, shining a light into the car to see if everything was alright.  It was scary.  We agreed. even with our tinted windows, there is a vulnerability you feel when trying to sleep in the car.

Lost my socks under the blankets…start laughing hysterically….determine we are over tired and agree to sleep.

1:30 a.m. Starting to drift into a light sleep.  Last thought…..look over at Arlee sleeping – she looks the same way she looked sleeping at the age of five.  Comforted with the fact that I am not here alone.

1:30 a.m. – 5:50 a.m. – It was a fitful night spent trying to get comfortable, which was literally impossible.  Remember being thankful for two things – one – that Arlee doesn’t snore and two –  I am short and could stretch out from time to time.  Could hear the dull sound of the highway and remember thinking, this is only for one night.

August 16 – 5:51 a.m. Woke up, feeling a little stiff.  Arlee still sleeping.  It was still quiet, so I laid there watching the clouds, seeing the birds flying overhead experiencing the day begin.  Totally different feeling than when I experience the beginning of my day…in my own home, from my own bed.

I couldn’t imagine if this was my reality, how I would then begin my work day, go about my business, knowing that at the end of the day…I had to do it again, and again and again.

6:45 a.m. Arlee wakes up – finally.  I admit, I did poke her – I  was getting sore and just wanted to get out of the car.  Tall Arlee, finally got to stretch out – it may take a couple of hours, but she’ll walk upright soon.

We head over to the port-a-potties….people are getting up, I am hoping I look no worse for wear – but the understanding smiles we greet each other with says it all.

Decide to brush our teeth with bottled water and my toothpaste….BIG sorry to the two people sitting opposite us outside their car…I spat before I realized you were going to get the visual.  Figured if you used the port-a-potties this was nothing.

7:45 a.m.  Had coffee (missing my favourite mug) and a muffin for breakfast – tasted so good.  Thank you Tim Hortons!

8:00 a.m. Yoga by Sarah – I gave Arlee my yoga mat to use (so technically I was doing yoga too), she went to do the morning yoga with a few other flexible souls.  I headed over to registration trailer to see how the number counting was going.  Most of us slept over, you could tell the ones that didn’t……they were fresh faced and 100% coherent.  The rest of us were functioning on …. the power that this will be over soon.

9:00 a.m. Closing Ceremonies – Awards were given out – Arlee received the Social Butterfly Award – for using social media to promote the event.  This year’s NFA total raised over $52,000.00.  Excellent – big thank you to all those that participated, those who donated and supported this event.  What a great community.

After Event Diary Entry:

August 16 and 17 – Took two full days to recover from the experience.  Emotionally and physically.

sample 14I survived NFA 2014 – and I have the certificate to prove it.

More importantly, I feel I am a different person because of it.  Once you’ve lived an experience like this, you can’t forget it.  This has now become a part of me – I move forward with more empathy, more gratitude for what I have and the people that support me and even more determination to help fight poverty and homelessness in my community.  A car is not a home and a back seat is not a bedroom – I need to actively do my part in taking care of the most vulnerable – only then should we all sleep soundly in our own beds.








The Facts of Poverty

Sometimes a picture is worth 1,000 words.

In this final post before No Fixed Address 2014, we let the statistics do the talking:

YW 1 YW 2YW 3YW 4





*Statistics courtesy of YWCA Niagara Region, Raising the Roof and The Niagara Region

Christmas Preparations at the YW

Happy #BlogThursday. We want to share just a few highlights from our Christmas preparations. Enjoy!

Our North Pole was filling up!


We had a total blast at our Staff Christmas party, held at the Works.

 Thank you to all those who brought in donations.
The presents got wrapped and were ready to go.
And then Santa arrived!

Thank you for helping bring joy and happiness into our shelter. Let this just be the beginning of the season of giving.

Introducing the Who Gives a Fork Artisans!

As you may have heard on our Facebook and Twitter pages, we are very excited for our fifth Who Gives a Fork event, in partnership with the St. Catharines Downtown Association coming up on December 13th. We have changed things up a bit and have moved the event to the evening over the dinner-hour, added some wine, Santa Claus, live music, a movie night AND brought on board a full Christmas craft sale! We are very excited for these new additions and thought it’s high time we introduce you to our fabulous artisans! Each one offers handmade goods that make perfect gifts just in time for the holiday season.

Jody Edwards Art

Jody Edwards Art is beautiful water colour originals and prints. From feathers and birds’ nests to foxes and more, her artwork is a unique study of the finer things in nature. Her pieces can be found in private collections around the globe, and have been featured on the set of CSI and many must have gift lists in magazines! She says on her Etsy site that the artist Sylvia Hahn once told her to “paint what you know, paint what you love.”
and now uses her advice as a mantra in her artistic life.



Harwin Pottery

Michael, the academic, has earned several university degrees preparing him for his first career as a teacher. Now retired, the artistic Michael has long been searching for creative self expression using media. Until recently his endeavours have been short lived. Papermaking, photography, painting, while satisfying a creative urge, have not been the perfect answer to this expressive need. Pottery has filled that place, deep within, allowing for creativity with purpose. Dubbing himself, “the accidental potter”, Michael strives to end each pottery session with a creative vessel or clay piece. The gratification of completing a project or creating a treasure keeps his spirits lifted and powers his enthusiasm for the craft. Michael, experiments with glazes, clay types, and textures. His unique pieces and brilliant glazes have pleased many a pottery


Suite 906

Suite 906 is vintage inspired accessories with a modern touch. Unique, often unexpected elements combine with classic elegance to create the perfect accent for everyday wear. Founded by two friends with a passion for jewellery, fashion and Saturday night crafting sessions, Rachael and Jacinta hope to create pieces that balance both natural elements and modern shapes. This YWCA event is their first show!


Batavia by Sil

Vintage, left-over scraps of fabric find new homes in Batavia’s One-of-a-Kind totes, mittens, headbands and more! Owls, trees, octopus and all sorts of interesting motifs appear throughout her lines. Batavia bags are sold from BC to Ontario at Handmade shows across the country! In fact, in 2011 she was the 3rd place Winner of Tooled To Perfection Competition at the Spring One Of A Kind Show in Toronto!

Vixen & Reynard

Karrie Bannerman is the creator behind this line of holistic skin care from the lush greenbelt of the Niagara Region. Guided by intuition and nature,  Vixen & Reynard develops Earth loving, organic, bath, beauty, and home products. Backed by 20 years of knowledge and experience in the prestige beauty industry, these small hand crafted batches are produced while prioritizing health and happiness. Live Green. Look Foxy.

Karrie has worked as a make up artist for top cosmetic & skincare brands in The USA & Canada. She has even trained skin care consultants in the craft and been hired to speak to professional organizations on the topic of  cosmetics and personal appearance in the workplace.  She loves helping women feel confident and beautiful. 


Infusion Tea

Infusion Tea offers a wide variety of natural, organic loose leaf tea, hand blended by Courtney and Tim. Whether you’re in the mood for a cup of soothing green tea or Immui-tea tea to help you through cold season, Infusion Tea is sure to have a blend for you. 

Please join us at St. Catharines Market Square on Friday, December 13th, from 4:30-9 p.m. for a fabulous evening of food, carols, music, art and fun! Don’t miss out!

86th AGM

Wednesday night, marked our 86th Annual General Meeting and one of our staff/bloggers, Donna, wrote this wonderful recap to our staff. We thought we would share our celebrations.

“Last night the YWCA hosted the community at our 86th Annual General Meeting – we had great attendance and the evening went wonderfully as Carolyn Fish, President, and Elisabeth Zimmermann, our ED, passionately spoke of our strategic planning and upcoming future initiatives. 

We are seen as a valuable asset in the community for the women, children and families we serve and it showed by the attendance last night.  With her tireless efforts in promoting the issues, Elisabeth has not only helped to raise the credibility and importance of our organization – but educated the community on the impact of poverty and homelessness – thank you.
We welcomed a new Board of Directors – 13 of the most incredible, dynamic and caring women you would ever want to meet – and they are as passionate about the issues we address as the staff! Carolyn Fish; President, Cindi LoForti; Vice President, Anita Scholman; Treasurer, Jacqueline Strecansky; Secretary, Jessica Potts, Joanna Romano, Josefina Perez, Sabrina Fruci, Linda Haday, Lori Kleinsmith, Misette Critelli, Christie Cassidy and Liz Isaak.
A big thank you to those staff that made it all possible – Nicki and Suzanne our dynamic Fund Development/Community Relations department, have once again produced an Annual Report that not only speaks to our stats, but provides the reader with a client story that touches their heart, nicely done.  The Awards and Presentations honoured the support of Meridian Credit Union, as our Corporate Citizen;  Matt Harris received the much appreciated YW Champion Award; Pen Centre Administration and Mountainview Homes received the Community Partnership Awards; and we honoured Crystal D’Cunha of Mountainview Homes with our Community Supporter Special Recognition Awards for her outstanding contribution as the Chair of No Fixed Address this year.  We also learned of some very interesting events coming up in December and the new year – please, please help with these.
Meridian Credit Union- Corporate Citizenship Award
Matt Harris- YW Champion Award

Pen Centre & Mountainview Homes- Community Partnership Award
Crystal- Community Supporter Special Recognition

Closer to our hearts, Madelene, volunteering in the YW kitchen since the tender age of 7, received our Program Volunteer Award, along with Jane Coleman, who has volunteered on the front desk and assisted with registration during No Fixed Address – we value their contributions and are grateful for their ongoing support of the YW.

Thank you to all the staff that attended, and volunteered their time last night – Adrianna C., Jackie, and a new volunteer Robin, who we will be seeing more of on front desk.  It is wonderful how everyone comes together when you need them – thank you!
A huge THANK YOU, to our Maria, for not only arranging the fabulous food from St. Catharine’s Collegiate Culinary Program, those cream puffs reminded me of my Mom’s …. absolutely fabulous! (can we get some for Christmas??)  But for also, securing the coffee donation by Coffee Culture – they are such a great supporter of the YW.  A big, big, big THANKS to Carli, not only did she coordinate the event with me – she celebrated 5 years of service, and I couldn’t have said it better than Elisabeth did last evening…Carli it seems longer

, you have become a part of the YW family so seamlessly, your willingness to take on any new challenge or initiative (that I say we can do), Well, I can only say what an honour it is to work with you each day – and look forward to many, many (I said many) more years to come. THANK YOU.

So, if you haven’t seen the annual report – please take a read, and join me in celebrating this past year’s accomplishments – EACH and every staff person contributes to the success of the YWCA Niagara Region on a daily basis, every day you touch the lives of so many women, children and families in a positive, healing way, and at a most vulnerable time in their lives. 
For all you do – THANK YOU, this past year’s accomplishments are your success.It was a great AGM.  Thank You.”

The Connections We Make

Shifts pass when your feet hardly touch the ground, you’re busy prioritizing 10 plates of needs and wants, in a Cirque Du Soleil worthy juggle above your head and you’re craving the moment your office chair creaks beneath the weight of your exhausted bones.

Among the program posters, inspirational quotes, fact sheets, filing cabinets and client files, you can find tokens of appreciation left behind in the Advocate’s office as reminders of the reason why we return for the next shift to resume the juggling act.
A new intake comes in with set expectations that are – in a perfect workday – met and exceeded. The impact of their stay can be a drop in a pool or a cannonball in a puddle but when a woman moves on from the YW’s services, sometimes she leaves behind more than a success story and an earned pat on the back.

As proverbial House Mom’s we get all kinds of crafty goodies and sentimental cards in lieu of thanks. Whether they are personal gifts, as in a Pug-nosed card for a certain Pug-nose lover (Adore their squishy faces!) or something for everyone to utilize, like the nifty hand-painted rock that will not only prop open our office door but aid in ushering in the next wave of women in need with motivational script and crafty colours, we keep them around for years and reflect.

These tokens stick around on billboards, hang from tacks in the wall and prop our door open as reminders of the connections we have made to the women and families we serve. Housing may be their primary reason for being beneath our roof, but once they come under the umbrella of the YW’s services they find that much more happens beyond the doors then housing searches.
Since frontline staff don’t always get the pleasure of following-up with our ladies and their families once they have procured housing and moved on from the cameo spent with us in their lives, every so often, it’s nice to remember that the door-stopper rock, hand-written cards and beaded dream catchers were crafted with intentions that convey much more than “I was here”. 

An Advocate Drowning in a Sea of Hotshot Executives and Board Members

We would like to introduce you to our newest blogger, Sami-Jo. Sami-Jo has been a women’s advocate at the YW for 5 years, starting as a student and working her way to becoming one of our permanent, full time staff. Sami-Jo along with Suzanne Veenstra, YW’s Community & Public Relations Coordinator, were selected to attend the YWCA Canada‘s 2013 Annual Members Meeting through the Young Women’s Leadership Miles Fund, empowering women under 30 to attend national and international events. Sami-Jo has put together her reflections of her time at the AMM.

Having never participated in the YW’s events or blogs and staying mostly silent in staff meetings, not to mention having never traveled alone or looked 5 years in the future when considering my career, I found myself shocked when I handed over an application for the YWCA’s Young Women’s Leadership Miles Fund. Expecting anyone to fund a perpetual non-joiner was laughable, especially considering I was asking them to send me to Winnipeg for the YWCA’s 2013 Annual Membership Meeting. Unless a colleague briskly encouraged me to do it (*cough cough* Outreach Worker/Family Shelter Advocate Lori Papetti), I never would have thought twice. Nonetheless, I’m glad I stopped being so stubborn and gave in. Many times frontline staff have a sense their superiors think of them as transitory employees who are intelligent and useful but will ultimately spend a cameo of their lives in the company before moving on to other endeavours. Confession? I definitely thought so.

While in Winnipeg at the YWCA’s 2013 AMM’s I learned that it’s not easy for others who spend days sifting through policies, procedures, motions, allocations, membership fees, travel pools, committee reports, governance, succession planning, risk management plus the national strategic plan as well as Form 4301 threatening to change not-for-profit organizations forever AND a whole whack of issues my brain couldn’t process … (phew! That was a lot)
My rambling point again? Right! Management and Board Members have their plates, side dishes and serving bowls overflowing with issues I can’t even begin to tackle in my day to day life and we can’t expect them to understand what it means to be face-on in the trenches getting our hands dirty when they have bigger fish to fry. Fish that effect change to hundred’s or thousand’s of woman and families, instead of the ones directly in front of them, reaching more than I do in a year.
And…it all comes from funnelling ideas and needs from frontline staff; from the employees who speak to the woman and families we service, who see the changing atmosphere in our communities and who exhaust themselves trying to make people’s lives a little brighter, with the idea’s trickling down from the top. If we don’t let these “toppers” know what’s happening below we can’t expect greatness.
Left: Sami-Jo, Suzanne, Elisabeth (E.D.), Carolyn (Board Pres.)

In large meetings and ballrooms it didn’t make a difference to the others, that I was the “only frontline staff.” They were happy to hear stories and answer my questions about the world I had let my colleague talk me into delving deep into and I found myself absorbing all the positive vibes and spirit the YW seeks to spread not only in my community in the Niagara Region but around the world.

In those few days I felt a sense of belonging to this organization, in a way I had never felt before; a deeper understanding for what my role “should” entail. I felt a comradely with another colleague who I never knew what she did all day (though she was only a flight of stairs away) and a realization that “toppers” really aren’t all that scary and neither are the issues they face, they are just different than my own and reflect everything I try to accomplish everyday in a ‘wow-that’s-a-lot -of-responsibility’ kind of way.
Moving forward I will hold what the YWCA’S 2013 AMM and their keynote speakers imbedded within me and seek to tap into that reserve the next time I feel my confidence in my role wavering. Above all, I whole-heartedly recommend anyone not in upper management or board member level attend a future AMM and soak in the spirit of an organization who does everything they can to address issues concerning woman, girls and families struggling through every day life no matter what their budget, exhaustion or role entails.

– Sami-Jo
Women’s Advocate

The YWCA Niagara Region is one of 32 YW member associations across Canada. For more information about the YWCA Canada and the women’s movement we are a part of, click here.

Families the YW Has Served

Part of my job is to listen. I listen to people who tell me their stories. I think it is important to occasionally share these stories so that we don’t see families who live in our shelter as statistics but instead as humans.

One family we helped consisted of a woman that had one young daughter still at home and was also raising two of her grandchildren. This woman had been in Ontario about 20 years and had only lived at two different residences. Her family lived in their last home for seven years. Her home had gone through a few different owners but the last owner wanted to live in the house so the woman was evicted. She had nowhere to go. She came to the YW Family shelter and actively searched for permanent housing on a daily basis. All she wanted was a home for her children, grandchildren, and herself. She does not enjoy moving and wanted something permanent. Her income is minimal but she was good with her money and had good credit. The applications she filled out where complicated for her and a little intimidating. With the help of the YW Family Shelter she had a temporary place to live with her grandchildren and children, and many supports were available to her and her family. Support was needed in filling out different applications for housing including NRH. After almost three months of searching and applying to different places, this family was accepted into the NRH program. This family now has permanent affordable housing. This family also knows they can utilize the YW outreach program when needed. When I last checked, this woman was attending school.

On another occasion, we had a single father raising his two children. They moved to St Catharines from out of province hoping to find his employment search would be more successful. This family had planned on staying with family and had been encourage too come to St Catharines, but after living with family things did not work out as planned and work was harder to find than expected.  This single father raising two children found himself and family exhausted and homeless. The YW Family Shelter took this family in, gave them their own space were they could again engage as a single family unit, as well as food and outside support.  The children re-entered school and the father searched for permanent housing, but had the comfort of knowing he had support and that he and his children were safe. This family also would require furniture as they left most belonging in their home province. After a short time this family did find permanent housing. They were referred to a furniture bank, and the father re-entered school to broaden his area in his search for employment. This family has made a positive adjustment to our city and is doing well.

A young man recently received custody of his very young son but had to relocate to make things easier for his son. This young man had to give up his job because of daycare situations and the new addition of caring for his son. He had nowhere to live while he got back on his feet. The YW Family shelter took this family in, providing a home, food and support; this gave them the time they needed to catch their breath. This young man was a great father and was so proud of his son. It didn’t take long for this father to find a job that suited his new family life and accommodated his daycare situation. This father found permanent housing for himself and his son and is enjoying his role as a single working father.