Glue a Santa beard to their chins and over-sized elf ears to their heads in their sleep?
Today I drive a BMW.
Today I live in a 4 bedroom house of my own.
Today I wear diamonds and jewels and dine in 4 star restaurants.
But it wasn’t always this way.
When I was 14 my mother ran away with my father’s best friend. He wanted my mother, not us 3 kids. So, for the next 2 years he made my life unbearable. He constantly accused me of being up to no good and told me I was worthless. When I turned 15, I got a social worker through my guidance counselor at school and made plans to leave my dysfunctional family.
The week after I turned 16, I committed myself to the Niagara Youth Centre in Welland. Everyone there were runaways, abandoned, or there by court order. I had never see anything like that before. So many damaged children. Most of them through no fault of their own. Most of the girls had been molested as young children and wore their scars like a badge of honour. It was the first time I was ever asked to use Kwellada to delouse. It was a degrading, humiliating experience; one I will never forget. I can still feel the sting in my nostrils and the burn on my skin.
I lived there for 3 weeks before I ran away with a girl named Mary to Toronto. The first night in Toronto we slept in a cemetery. We had $11.00 between us. The next day we went to the Salvation Army who referred us to a Womans Shelter. Again, I had to do the delousing procedure. I slept in a room with 3 other beds. My room and board was $4.00/day and I had rotating chores to do. I got a temporary job at the Schneiders factory and was able to take care of my rent and my basic needs.
Life in a shelter is not guaranteed and every 30 days you had to look for new housing. There was one night I couldn’t find a shelter so I sat in the lobby of the police station all night. I was told I had to leave at 7 in the morning. I then found my way to the Native Womens Centre in Hamilton and was humbled by how kind these women were to me.
When my time was up I called my father, collect-call from a bus station in Hamilton and begged him to let me and my friend come stay with him in his 2 bedroom apartment. He said I would have to return to his church. I told him I didn’t believe in his religious ideas. He hung up on me. It was February and storming outside. We slept in the bus terminal that night. The next morning we hitchhiked to Toronto and found a new co-ed youth shelter to reside in. I was so grateful the workers in the shelter. They brought me in, washed my clothes and provided a hot shower, followed by a hot meal. They empowered me to believe in myself. They gave me the tools to become independent.
I went back to school and got a job. I eventually got my own apartment and continued to upgrade my education.
Today I am a Certified Personal Support Worker, Dietary Aide, and a Medical Office Assistant.
I believe in giving back and I have always given donations over the years to various shelters. I want people to know that there is hope for everyone. I want women to believe in themselves and know that no matter how desperate times can be, things can always improve. I had to learn to believe in myself and treat myself with respect and dignity in order for others to do the same. I have also learned that not all men are evil and to trust myself before anyone else.
I will never forget the compassion and empathy showed to me during my darkest hours. I will spend the rest of my life giving back to my community in any way I can.
Written by a YW volunteer.
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.
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.