Tag Archives: volunteering

I participate in Coldest Night of the Year because we need the awareness.

When the volunteer opportunity to help out at West Niagara Affordable Housing was first presented at her parish around five years ago, Lee knew she had found the perfect fit. “I liked the concept and what the program was all about. West Niagara Affordable Housing (WNAH), or GAHP at the time, is more than a band-aid solution. It helps people to really get back to a place of independence. That idea appealed to me.” So Lee got in touch and has been helping our team out ever since. She helps the Transitional Housing Workers with their filing, answers phone calls and provides any other administrative support that might be needed.

“It could be anybody.”

When she heard that the YW was going to bring Coldest Night of the Year to Grimsby, back in 2016, to raise funds for the program she had been volunteering for, she was thrilled and knew she had to get involved. “I think it is so important to bring people the awareness. To let them know it is not just people you see in the streets but that it could be anybody. People sometimes think that there is no homelessness in West Niagara but there is! I see it first-hand through my volunteer work. I think Coldest Night of the Year is a great event to open people’s eyes to some of the issues, as volunteering has done for me.” Lee has volunteered at the registration desk at the event and her entire parish is involved as well. “You can help others and have fun at the same time, it’s perfect!” When asked why someone should get involved with Coldest Night of the Year, Lee’s answer is simple: “The more people walk and the more people donate, the more we will bring the awareness to the forefront, and that’s where real change can begin.”

To walk with us or to donate to the event, please visit www.cnoy.org/westniagara!

Thanks for all you do, Lee!

Volunteer Spotlight: Katie

We met Katie Ritchie for the first time when we were planning our first Coldest Night of the Year fundraiser. That year, it was mostly speaking to her on the phone and having a chance to get to know her a bit when she and her children participated in the walk.

Katie and Laura at CNOY 2017

This year, when Phelps Homes made a three-year commitment to be our Presenting Sponsor (a first for Coldest Night of the Year community), Katie enthusiastically joined our Organizing Committee. With her help, we were able to arrange a couple more community launch events and garner more community support throughout West Niagara.

For the second year in a row, Katie also captained the Phelps Homes team, which raised nearly $5,000 toward our $60,000 goal.

Katie and the Phelps Team

 Volunteers like Katie make our work so much easier. Thank you, Katie, for all you’ve done to help grow Coldest Night of the Year – West Niagara toward continued success.

Spotlight: Teresa

This week for Volunteer Appreciation Month, the YWCA would like to spotlight Teresa Butson. Teresa has joined the YWCA in October of 2016 after have moving to St. Catharines following her retirement. While looking for more opportunities to help the community, Teresa explained that the YWCA seemed to jump up at her.  Why did she choose the YWCA you ask? 

“I wanted to find a place to volunteer somewhere that allowed me to help others but also helped me grow as a person and as part of the community. It is important to me that I feel like I am contributing every day, even just a little. Because I am able to accomplish all of these things at the YWCA, it is truly gratifying.”

When asked what her favourite volunteer experience has been with the YWCA, Teresa revealed that she could not pick just one experience. “The YWCA provides a very warm, welcoming, and family-like environment,” Teresa explains, “it’s nice to see the friendliness between staff, volunteers, you can tell everyone that is here, wants to be. For this reason I can’t pick just one experience to call my favourite, every day here is a good day.”

Volunteerism promotes lots of excellent values. The most valuable takeaway Teresa has learned through volunteering has been that; “You must be willing to give and take in order for your experience to be mutually rewarding.” Teresa wishes to continue to learn about the YWCA, how it supports the community and what more she can do in order to support them.

Although Teresa has said she does not feel as though she needs anything special or formal in regards to feeling appreciated, she delights in watching the process of women and families becoming independent and “learning to stand on their own two feet”. When speaking of new potential volunteers, Teresa believes it is important to have an open mind in terms of learning about others, how they live, and their stories. She also mentions that it is okay to ask questions as we should not assume that we will always have the answer. Lastly, we asked Teresa how she feels women should be empowering one another. With a warm smile, said

“I believe that it is all of our responsibility to share knowledge with each other.Even more so at my age, in having experience in different areas of my life, I believe I have a duty to share my stories and help support those who need it. By doing this, I, along with others can help to build a happy and healthy community.”

Thanks Teresa for all you do, every week! ~ YW Staff

Question of the Month: How has someone appreciated you that has made it memorable?

How has someone appreciated you that has made it memorable?


I was helping a wonderful group of people organize a third-party event to raise money for a cause that was very special to them. I worked at the organization, so of course helping them was part of my job. They were extremely proactive, organized, and optimistic about the event, they basically had everything planned and ready to go. I was just needed for a few small things, and to help promote the event.

The event came and went, and it was a great success. I was so happy to have had the chance to meet the organizers and help them achieve their goal. About a week after the event, I got a card in the mail from the organizers. It was just a sweet and simple thank you card with some sweet messages. It made me so happy; I think I usually expect an informal thank you e-mail or nothing at all (and there’s definitely nothing wrong with that!), but to get an actual card with some heartfelt messages was very special. It was extremely special because I didn’t do a whole lot, but I was there for them if they needed anything. It was nice to know they were thinking about me and wanted to appreciate me.

I could tell how proud they were of themselves for successfully organizing such an amazing fundraiser. I was happy to be included in their success and I still have the thank you card a year later. It makes me smile every time I look at it on my bulletin board. It’s funny actually, because I have never been a big fan of cards (holiday, greeting, thank you, etc.) for some reason. I usually make my own cards and write my own special message to my friend or family member. But, I actually have a box of cards that other people have given or sent me over the years, and I keep them because of the special message that is in them. I also have kept some love notes that my boyfriend gave me when we were first dating. They are on scrap pieces of paper, only a few words or sentences, but I keep them in my wallet and always look at them for a cheer me up.

That actually made me think about the way I show appreciation to others (maybe I shouldn’t be so against greeting cards!). Maybe I should take some time to make my “thank yous” to others a little more memorable. I had a friend help me with my taxes; I felt like I was messaging her non-stop with questions and help. She never once acted annoyed and always stopped what she was doing to help me. I knew she was a Starbucks lover, so I sent her an e-gift card early in the morning so she could use it on her way to work. She was so very happy that I sent her a little gift with a nice message in it. I felt good about making her feel good!

Why I volunteer for the YW

It all started 5 years ago with a sequence of events that avalanched into a domino effect of darkness, depression, and anxiety.

I was still reeling from the aftermath of my daughter’s near-death experience after the birth of her second child; a beautiful baby boy with big blue eyes and a huge grin.  I was
still dealing with the sudden, tragic death of my father 8 years earlier. I had reconnected with my paternal uncle now that he was living in Ontario again. He has a lot of health problems so I cook meals  for him and check on him everyday. To top everything off, I was living with “empty nest syndrome” because my son (the baby) moved to Alberta 2 years ago.  For the first time ever my world came to a screeching halt. It felt like I’d just been unexpectedly spun off the  musical carousel that had been my life for so many years. I found myself unemployed, in a terrible economy with bleak prospects. I wasn’t getting any younger and I couldn’t ignore my health issues any longer. I had to admit that I wasn’t invincible. I had to learn new ways of doing things instead of the habitual method I had utilized all my life to reach my goals and be successful. I could no longer just plow ahead and push harder. I had to learn how to stop putting myself at the bottom of the list everyday. I had to learn how to stop beating myself up for not being perfect every minute, everyday.  I had to learn new habits and find new methods to achieve my goals. I had to stop comparing myself to the younger, healthier me. I had to learn who I was as a person now that my whole world was completely different. I had to figure out how to maneuver through this new landscape while I felt so raw and fragile. I had to deal with myself without all of the distractions that life as a working wife and mother brings. To say I was stressed out would be an understatement!

That’s where the YWCA Niagara Region comes in! After many sleepless nights flip-flopping in bed I went downstairs to use my laptop in the dining room. I didn’t even know what I was looking for. I just knew that something had to give and I refused to be a slave to my insomnia. I needed to invest time into myself to find out where this new chapter of my life was taking me. I needed to learn how to live my life now that I was starting to get some of my life back. I had to believe that things were only going to get better. I needed to believe that things were going to get better.  I needed to confront and destroy my anxiety demons. I was faced with a fresh clean slate and no idea what to do click on volunteeringwith it. I had been in crisis mode for so long that even my breathing had changed. I found myself paralyzed with fear of the next  disaster certain to be around every corner.  I was wound up tighter than the proverbial top. My shoulders were always tensed up around my ears.  I had to learn to accept that I had some chronic health problems and physical limitations that couldn’t be ignored. I had to learn how to pace myself  after many years of working and raising a family. I had to stop beating myself up and/or living in denial. I had to accept the fact that it had been a wild bumpy ride filled with incredible highs and devastating lows. It had felt like a magical dance party with many people dancing in a frenzied motion with the music getting faster and louder. Spinning faster and faster and faster until I was dizzy and couldn’t catch my breath. Without warning, my life as I’d known it came to a crashing halt and stopped abruptly. The ringing in my ears was deafening. The music stopped and I was out of breath and sweating profusely. I was dazed and confused. I’d spent the last few years assaulted by one tragedy after another; with no time to time to recover before the next  disaster hit.  I was trying to figure out what to with myself now that everything I had ever known was completely different. So, I sent a message to the YWCA via the link provided on the Information Niagara page.

I met with Carli a few days later at the YWCA  location in Niagara Falls. I was extremely nervous and my self-confidence had long ago disappeared. I had lived with extreme anxiety the last few years and it had clouded my view of the future. I was no longer sure of myself. But, from the moment I sat down with Carli and she started to speak in a calm, encouraging manner I started to  feel that I had made the right choice.  We talked about the positive impact that the YWCA has on people from all walks of life and the community in general. I expressed my desire to help others because I know all too well how important it is to have a safety net when you fall.    Finally, after years of chaos and heartbreak I could see light at the end of the tunnel. I had found a place that would help me gain a sense of perspective while I gave back to the community at the same time. I would be able to slowly regain structure and motivation. In exchange for my time and skills I was given the chance to pick myself up again and find my way on the next part of my life journey.
I was surrounded by such supportive and encouraging woman. I felt like I was in a safe place where I could learn new things and acclimate myself to the work world again. I felt empowered by the encouragement of everyone I met at the YWCA and appreciated for my time.  Slowly I learned to trust my instincts again and allowed myself to get excited about this new journey I was on. I’ve learned so much more about myself and our community because of my involvement with the YWCA. I’m proud to help with such a worthy cause. I’m eternally grateful for the opportunities  and knowledge I’ve gained. I’m honoured to learn new things from such a diverse, open-minded group of intelligent human beings. I honestly feel like I’ve gotten so much more out of my involvement with the YWCA than I ever expected. By reaching out to help others; I inadvertently ended up helping myself as well. It’s a win-win situation! Oh, and I sleep much better at night.

Starting a New Holiday Tradition

There is just something magical about this time of year. For most people, holidays are
wonderful! Whether you’re a teenager still benefiting from the joys of opening presents, a young adult just starting out on your own, a young family creating new memories, or a group that has been celebrating your same favourite traditions year after year. One thing that stands important for folks around the holidays is that very thing: tradition.

When I did a bit of research on holiday
traditions, one event was missing from many lists: volunteering. And I don’t call it “helping the needy” or use that language for a reason. Not only does using phrasing like “the poor” or “the unfortunate” lump a whole population of people together – who are each unique individuals with hopes and dreams and stories – it also creates the illusion that “these people” are somehow essentially different from “us.” They’re not. Continue reading

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.

Slowly, Slowly You’ll Go Far

My boyfriend’s Nana used to tell him in Italian “Piano, piano csi va lontino.” Which means little by little you’ll go far.” When looking to make a change in the world, I look to her words for inspiration.
As a young woman hoping to make a change in today’s society, I often find it difficult to make a meaningful impact. Ideally, I someday see myself working for a women’s rights non-profit organization, battling stereotypes, supporting others in their causes, and inspiring the next generation of females to do the same. However, I’m finding the journey to get there harder than anticipated; sometimes I feel as though there are just too few avenues for young women to get involved!
When I get discouraged though, I think “little by little…” and remind myself that even small acts help to make a difference.

My hope and intention in writing this post is to help encourage young people who also get discouraged to find a cause worth fighting for — and despite the many obstacles we will have to face — stand up for what we believe in. I am incredibly inspired by these young girls who started off small but have succeeded in making powerful changes in their respective fields:

Malala Yousafzi of Pakistan fights for girls’ rights to an education though her BBC blog and public appearances. This past October she was shot on her way home from school simply for arguing that girls have a right to be educated. 
Fourteen-year-old Julia Bluhm of the United States famously started a petition on Change.org to combat the photoshopping of models in magazines. Just four days later, with an incredible 84,000 signatures, her petition inspired Seventeen magazine to promise not to change girls’ bodies or faces when retouching images.
I know it won’t be easy, but I am determined to keep looking for a way to continue advocating for women’s rights (my chosen brigade). Whether your passion is the environment, animal rights, the fight against racism, or teen bullying, don’t give up! We must constantly look for a way to further our own causes. Try joining the student council at school, start a blog, fund raise, write to your local MP/MPP, or start volunteering!
If you, your sister, daughter, or friend is looking to get involved check out these interesting sites: