Coldest Night of the Year in support of WNAH

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

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

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

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

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

– Jessica

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

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

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


Celebrate with me

I cannot believe I am finally here!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dear Feminist Me: Moving Through 2020 with a Feminist Lens


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

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

Be proud of who you are

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

Don’t quietly accept sexist treatment

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

Talk about the taboo because being “ladylike” is overrated

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

Don’t be embarrassed to exercise your basic human rights

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

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

Toby’s letter to you

                                                                                                                             December 2019   

Hey there…

Just so you know – I wasn’t scared when dad left. Because mom always takes care of us anyway. She’s the one who takes me to school every day, packs my lunches, and celebrates my birthdays. So it wasn’t a big deal… Okay, fine, maybe I was a little scared.

But that’s because a couple of months later, we lost our home and started sleeping in mom’s tiny car. Living out of the car wasn’t so bad. It was kind of like camping at first. But then the car stopped working, and I would get really cold.

The first time mom saw me shivering, she said we had to move to a shelter. I didn’t know what a shelter was but mom said it’s the best place for us. I know mom always knows best but I got really scared when she started talking about the shelter. Please don’t tell her. I want to be strong for my mom.

My name is Toby, I’m twelve years old and my baby sister Tamara is fourteen months. We just came to the YWCA with our mom, Joelle. The social worker told us we’re really lucky that they even have a room available for us! They got an opening JUST before we got here. Mom was happy about that, so I am too. But she also said they aren’t sure how long we will be here for. They are working with mom to find a home for us. I’m really trying to be brave for my mom, so I hope mom didn’t see the fear in my eyes when they said that.

I’m excited for a real home again, but I guess it’s kind of cool at the shelter. There are other kids, and some fun toys that we never had at home. We’ll even be here for Christmas! We get to set up the tree in the board room. And Sharon in the kitchen promised that we’ll get all of our favourite foods! Turkey, mashed potatoes… Ok, Tamara just likes the potatoes but I love turkey. And mom loves stuffing. It’s going to be a good Christmas they keep telling me.

Sometimes, I’m still scared. And I really wish I had my own room, Tamara wakes us up all the time at night. That didn’t happen in our old home. But anything is better than going back to sleeping in mom’s freezing cold car. I guess it’s people like you who make sure this shelter is here for us. At least that’s what my mom tells me. Thank you for helping us out. For the first time since dad left us, my mom is smiling again. Not always, not every day, but at least sometimes. Thanks for giving us a place to stay, and for giving me my mom back.

Dear Friend of the YW,

Every day, I see many children come through our doors, looking for shelter with their moms, and sometimes dads. It breaks my heart. We’ve had to house children like Toby in our reception area, on couches, in our boardrooms on cots. That’s been our reality because all of our rooms are full.  The need for shelter seems to be greater than ever before. This Holiday Season, please consider helping scared kids like Toby and his baby sister Tamara. Provide shelter to moms like Joelle, who are at their most vulnerable time.

Because of supporters like YOU, we sheltered over 300 children this past year. Because of YOU, we empowered more than a thousand kids in workshops at schools all across Niagara. And finally, it’s because of YOU, that families have shelter, food, and the resources they need to step out of the terrifying moment they are in, and into security.

I hope that you will continue to support the children and families we serve.

There are two different ways to give:

From the bottom of my heart, I thank you for your support of the YW and children like Toby and Tamara,

Elisabeth Zimmermann, Executive Director


Susan is part of our off-site transitional housing program. The way this program works is that the client pays the rent to the YW, and we pay the landlord. It’s a program that comes with the support of a worker, who is there to help the clients with setting and reaching their goals. Landlords on the other hand don’t have to worry about possibly not getting their rent payments etc., which is a win-win for everyone involved. Once clients complete the program, they have the option of taking over the lease.

Thank you for sharing your story with our donors and supporters, Susan!

When I entered this program, I wasn’t entirely sure what I thought would come from it, nor did I think I would gain anything substantial from being part of it. It was a means to an end; get out of my situation at the shelter, to have a real home that I could call my own. What truly helped, was being honest upon intake, about what I needed from the program, if possible. For myself, the biggest thing was accountability. I have a chronic illness, called narcolepsy. Because of this, keeping my place clean, and even sticking to self-imposed goals, were difficult tasks. The hardest part was getting into the habit of it all – setting weekly cleaning chores, making a visual list on a white board of short and long term goals, and using another white board for daily tasks that needed to be done. It took a few months, of course, but I slowly picked up the habits, and they just became routine.

This time last year, I was in a women’s shelter because of unforeseen circumstances, completely lost and hopeless.

This time last year, I was in a women’s shelter because of unforeseen circumstances, completely lost and hopeless. But now, I’m in the process of signing over a new lease with the landlord, on my own. I have an incredible apartment, lovely neighbors, a great location, and habits this program helped me create. Habits that have formed a healthier state of mind. I can see myself living here for years to come, which isn’t a place I saw myself a year ago. Coming into the program, I was dismissive about the help it could offer, but even so, I was quick to realize how wrong I had been; grateful I was wrong.

This program has given me life forming habits and mind sets; and a home.

For the first time in my life, I have my own place, and feel more than capable of leaving the program with the knowledge and habits I’ve learned, from being fortunate enough to have been part of it. Perhaps it’s just me, but there’s nothing more satisfying as an adult, than having your own place – and finally being able to look at paint swatches and aesthetic ideas, to make a place truly your own. This program has given me life forming habits and mind sets; and a home.

Rotary Club of Grimsby

They welcome you as you enter the Coldest Night of the Year West Niagara walk-a-thon.

They are the friendly faces you walk by during your 5 km walk in support of the most vulnerable in West Niagara.

They fully embrace the event and the cause.

The Rotary Club of Grimsby comes out to support the walk-a-thon every year, bringing their cheer! As a long-time supporter of our West Niagara Affordable Housing program, the Rotary Club of Grimsby has gone above and beyond to help support our initiatives. Whether it involves braving the cold and being route marshals during the event, or recognizing our charity as a recipient of their Fantasy of Trees, this club truly supports the work we do in the community and we are eternally grateful. Thank you to the amazing volunteers involved with the Rotary Club of Grimsby!

My life in shelter

My name is Jody, I am 33 years old, and I am far from perfect. I hate to admit this to you, but I don’t have to look you in the eye, so it’s ok: I currently live in the YW’s emergency shelter, along with my four-year old son. His name is Leo, and he is my everything. I am here for him. For him, I am doing everything I can to get us out of this mess. I am an alcoholic. I don’t want to blame it all on grief, it’s my own weakness that got me here, but when I lost my husband three years ago, I stopped functioning. It was a car accident that took him away from me. A moment in time. I had no idea how much he had held me together, until he was gone. I wanted to be strong for Leo, I really did. But the drinking was the only thing that made the pain go away. And I so much just needed it to go away.

The drinking was the beginning of the end. It lost me my job, my home, and now I have officially lost the support from everyone I know and love. Turns out, even the people with the biggest hearts will let you surf their couch and interrupt their lives for only so long. So here we are, in a shelter.

“Why are we leaving Aunt Dana’s house?”

“Where are we, mommy? What is this place?”

“Will we stay here forever?”

I wish he stopped asking questions. I wish I had better answers. The truth is, coming here has actually been amazing for him. Thanks to the Women’s Advocates and the other guests, I feel more supported and heard than I have in a long time. The woman next door has a daughter his age, and they play together with the toys that they have here. Everybody loves new toys, right! I am not sure for how long his little friend will be here but for now, it’s good for him to have some company, someone his age. The woman who works in the kitchen gave him a brand-new lunch pale, and the Women’s Advocate gave him a new backpack. He couldn’t wait to show those off at Kindergarten. It’s these little things that have given me hope. They make me feel like I have made the right decision for him by coming here. For myself, it has meant access to counseling, and the first few nights in a long time when I didn’t have to worry about where to sleep and what to eat. I know this is only the beginning, my Support Worker keeps telling me so. I know that Leo and I still have a long road ahead. But today, he is happy, and we are safe, and I have people around me who get it. People, who don’t judge me.

I want to thank you for caring about women like myself, for caring about my son. I hope that one day, when I am out of here and when I am well, I can give back to the YW in the way you do. It was such a hard decision for me to come here, but I am so glad I did. I don’t know where I would be today without the YW and without your help. Thank you.  – Jody, current guest at our Shelter

Macie – Part II

At the beginning of 2019, we introduced you to our client Macie. We shared with you what brought her to our doors initially, and how much she had thrived in her first few months in our Off-Site Transitional Housing program. Today, she asked us to tell each of you, who support our work in so many wonderful ways, that she is continuing to reach her goals, and that she is incredibly grateful for you cheering her on.

Macie is now 21 years old and she has successfully completed the time in our Off-Site Transitional Housing program. Thanks to her strong will and determination, she was able to reach each and every short- and long-term goal she had set with her Support Worker along the way. Macie will be taking over a new lease with the landlord at her current home on September 1st and the YW will be stepping back. She will finally be truly independent.

Macie has also been accepted to the post-secondary school of her choice. She is extremely excited to be going back to school, and to pick up where she was forced to leave off. Along with all of this, Macie is working a full-time job that she enjoys, and she continues to volunteer with other refugee claimants coming into the country. She is incredibly resilient despite all of the barriers she faced this past year. We hope you will stay in touch, Macie, we cannot wait to see what the future holds for you!

Our support does not end here. Although aftercare is not covered by our funding, our team will continue to be in her corner. If she ever finds herself needing any kind of support again, we will be here. On days when our work feels like a drop in the bucket, with an ever-growing housing crisis and a shocking lack of affordable housing, it is clients like Macie who remind us why we do what we do. We could not do it without each and every one of you and your support. Thank you!

Volunteer Spotlight: Alexis

Alexis was first introduced to the YW’s work when her sister completed a practicum placement with us, which better introduced her to the YW’s work and mission. At around the same time, she attended her first Niagara Leadership Summit for Women.

The Leadership Summit was a great experience, and she “was hooked.” After putting out a call to action to donate to the YW at Christmas time, she then became determined to become more involved in the YW’s work. She joined the Niagara Leadership Summit for Women planning committee the following Fall.

“I love the sense of community and support that the YW offers,” says Alexis. “The staff and volunteers are committed to creating a thriving community and it radiates throughout their work, making for an empowering and fulfilling volunteer experience. Volunteering with the YWCA has been an eye-opening experience, the organization is truly a pillar for women and families in the Niagara community!”

Truly Local, Truly Committed

PenFinancial Credit Union chooses to support the community & YWCA Niagara Region

At a recent celebration, PenFi made it official! They launched their “truly local commitment,” a commitment to a values-based banking model. “We believe that people who want to do business with a financial co-operative that reinvests 10% of their pre-tax profits back into their community, will be interested to learn more about PenFinancial Credit Union,” says Ken Janzen, CEO of PenFi. “We are a Living Wage champion, we commit to procuring 100% locally and inject socially responsible ideas into our products and services.”

What does that have to do with the YW?

We wanted to tell you a little bit more about PenFi and their truly local commitment because they have supported the women and families we serve in a number of different ways over the past few months. In October, we were not only the recipients of the proceeds of their Community ATM, but they also came on board as the Lead Sponsor for our Niagara Leadership Summit for Women. It’s an empowering day all about celebrating women and feminism. It was another wonderful event, thanks to PenFi’s support.

The YW was also one of the recipients of PenFi’s “Compassion Wheel.” New members who opened accounts at their new Fourth Avenue branch, were invited to spin the wheel, and the credit union donated $100 on their behalf, to one of 12 partner organizations.

Most recently, PenFi has joined our YW FACES campaign as the Presenting Sponsor. We don’t want to give away too much about this unique project just yet, but we can tell you that it will be launched at In The Soil, on June 7th. We have been working on this awareness campaign with local image maker Michal Pasco for the past year. PenFi’s sponsorship allows us to grow it into something amazing.

Corporate Citizenship comes in many shapes and forms. PenFi is proof that there is room for creativity and fun when supporting local charities. Thank you for your truly local commitment, and thank you for supporting homeless women and families here in Niagara.

Check out their website here: https://www.penfinancial.com/Personal/