She keeps busy, doesn’t look up much. Her hands are cleaning up the dishes, her feet carry her back and forth between the big kitchen counter and the sink. I can only see it when she pauses to look at me – a sparkle in her eye. It is barely noticable, but it is there. Her eyes have seen a lot, but somehow Dede managed to protect her deepest core through it all.

“We used to rent out a loft up in Quebec. My husband, my two daughters and I lived up there, and I prepared meals for the guests; that was all of my cooking experience until I came here,” explains Dede, smiling more for my sake, to make it better, to prepare me for the second part of her story. Dawn, or Dede as most people call her,  is a relief cook at the YWCA Niagara Region, but she started her journey with us as a guest in our Emergency Shelter. “It all happened within one month,” she related as her face darkened suddenly. “My husband left me, my father died, my step-father died… I lost everyting.” The loss became too much to bear, and Dede struggled with depression. Still, she fought through it and moved back to Ontario. She found employment, even became a store manager before life, once again, wasn’t on her side. A victim of the oh-so-familiar “restructuring”, Dede lost her job and it only took a few missed pay cheques before she was unable to cover her bills. It was then that Dede came to the doors of the YW Emergency Shelter, not knowing where else to turn.

“It was scary for me when I first came here”

Five year later, Dede will never forget that day. Since then, Dede’s life has taken a turn for the better. After a short stay in the Emergency Shelter, Dede moved to an On Site Transitional Housing unit and started volunteering in the shelter kitchen: “I wanted to give back and make the women feel welcome.” With the support of our Women’s Advocates, Dede managed to find an affordable apartment that she shares with a friend who she met at the YW. Even after their time at the YW, both of them chose to continue volunteering. “It was scary for me when I first came here,” she admits. “I was worried that someone might steal from me or harm me. I didn’t know what to expect. But then I felt so welcomed. I felt loved. And I want to help the women who come here have the same positive experience.” The Niagara Falls Kitchen Manager Cheryl could not be more grateful for her support: “Dede is a go-getter. She got her food handling certificate to be able to help out; I can rely on her – it’s great!” When the YW was looking for a new relief cook, Cheryl encouraged Dede to apply. The rest is history.

Dede (left) and Cheryl preparing lunch for the guests at our Niagara Falls Shelter
Dede (left) and Cheryl preparing lunch for the guests at our Niagara Falls Shelter

Today, Dede has become an integral part of the YW kitchen staff – whenever someone is sick or on vacation, Dede can always be counted on. Whenever Cheryl is able, she picks Dede up on her way to work. On the other days, Dede gets up early to catch the bus.

Dede’s story could be mine, and it could be yours. It is a story of life taking an unexpected turn or two – events happened that she could not possibly have been prepared for. Thanks to her courage and the support and friendship she encountered at the YW, she stands on her own two feet today.