Archive for the ‘Be Inspired’ Category

A Warm Wordless Welcome

June 13th, 2016

Our thanks go out to local children’s author Anna Humphrey for sharing these thoughts on belonging:

Moving from Toronto to Kitchener was a leap of faith for our family. We’d heard great things about the arts scene and the tech sector, and the relatively affordable real estate was attractive. But while the move sounded like an exciting change for my husband and myself, our two children had only ever known Toronto as home. For them, all it meant was leaving everything familiar:  teachers, friends, neighbours who’d been like family. It meant heartbreak.

This was especially true for our (at the time) eight-year-old daughter Grace who struggles with a severe anxiety disorder called Selective Mutism. It’s a condition that makes it very hard for her to speak to new people and to function in unfamiliar situations. By moving, we were asking so much of her.

It didn’t help matters that, on moving day, we arrived in the pouring rain. We had a truck packed with all our worldly possessions, two tearful children, and two disgruntled cats… but the real estate lawyers were still doing their lawyer things, which meant we couldn’t get the keys to the house. We huddled in the open garage, telling jokes and playing endless games of I Spy. And although my husband and I did our best to keep an upbeat attitude for the kids, in truth, we were having our own anxieties. Things were off to a bit of a rough start. Had we made the right decision?

It was hours before the skies cleared and the keys arrived. The kids were just beginning to explore their new home when the first knock on the door came.

A little girl in a fancy party dress was standing on the front steps. Her mother was beside her holding out a plate of oatmeal cookies. “Welcome to the neighbourhood!” she said, with a big smile. My daughter hid behind me and peered at the little girl with wide eyes.

I couldn’t help staring myself. Except for her demeanor—which was bubbly and outgoing where my daughter was cautious and reserved—the two girls could easily have been mistaken for twins. “I made you a card!” the little girl said, stepping into the foyer. “My sister did, too.” My daughter took the folded pieces of paper without a word, but I could see her smiling shyly.

We’d just started unpacking the truck when the doorbell rang again. This time it was another little girl about my daughter’s age, along with a little boy about my son’s age. They were both holding home-made cards, too. Their mother stood beside them with a loaf of warm banana bread.

Another neighbour, out walking his dog, stopped by to say hello… and then—before we’d even made a dent in unloading the truck—the doorbell rang a third time. It was the little girl who looked so much like my daughter again. This time, she was inviting us to a game of pickup soccer at the school across the street. Grace—who doesn’t like competitive sports and fears social situations—was determined to go anyway… and that night marked the beginning of some very special friendships.

I’d been so worried about how new people (especially new kids) might relate to Grace, who averted her eyes when addressed directly and couldn’t answer when spoken to…  but the little girl from next door barely seemed to notice that she was non-verbal.

She took Grace by the hand and led her off to the monkey bars to play and, in the days and weeks that followed, the girls wrote notes, made faces at each other through the window, bounced on the trampoline, chatted online, tried to trick us about who was who by dressing up in the same outfits, and found a whole other host of other ways to communicate and have fun. Without hesitation, our young neighbour accepted Grace exactly as she was, and so did the other children on the street.

In fact, starting with those simple home-made cards and their pure desire to reach out and be friends, the families on our street started a conversation that didn’t even need words—one that communicated loud and clear to all of us: You are very welcome here. You already belong. And before we’d even unpacked the dishes, we knew we’d made the right choice in coming to Kitchener after all.

What do you think made the difference for Grace? What actions can we learn from these kids about building belonging? Leave your thoughts below!

Knowing Other People Care

June 3rd, 2016



This post was shared with us from the YWCA, and speaks to how important belonging is to all people, especially those who are most vulnerable in our society. Thanks to Elizabeth Clarke and the YWCA for sharing!



Knowing other people care:

The importance of community to women who have experienced homelessness

By Elizabeth Clarke, CEO, YWCA Kitchener-Waterloo

People who are homeless are far more likely to be victims of crime than are people who are housed.  One Toronto study determined that 46% of homeless women and 39% of homeless men surveyed had been physically assaulted within the previous year.  Homeless youth fared worst of all, with 69% reporting having been attacked.  Another study found that sexual assaults against women who are homeless are both more frequent and more violent than those against women who are housed<sup>1</sup>.   Preventing crimes against vulnerable people by supporting them as they move through homelessness to housing is one of the priorities of YWCA Kitchener-Waterloo.

It goes almost without saying that the overarching cause of homelessness is poverty, but not all people who are poor become homeless.   Not all people who become homeless stay that way for long.  Some of the factors that make it more likely that poor people will become and stay homeless include mental illness, addiction, cognitive or physical disability, family breakdown and social isolation.  And social isolation is a much bigger part of the destructive cycle of homelessness than most people realize.

People who are homeless can experience social isolation because they’re separated from their families and communities, because prejudice and fears about homelessness keep others at a distance, and sometimes because their own shame about their circumstances prevents them from reaching out to others.  As their social isolation increases, over time their social skills can diminish, and with the erosion of their social skills can come the loss of even more of their already depleted circle of support.  The absence of social support causes problems like higher rates of mental health issues and physical illnesses, increased use and abuse of drugs and alcohol, and engagement in risky sexual behaviours.  Thus, social isolation doesn’t just worsen the pain of homelessness, it perpetuates and strengths the cycle itself.

marysplace1_rs300x226Among our other programs, YWCA Kitchener-Waterloo offers emergency and transitional and permanent, affordable housing to women and families and trans individuals who are or have been persistently homeless.   We try to build housing and supports that make the people whom we serve know that they are welcome and valued members of our community, because we believe that this knowledge is critical to their mental and physical well-being and to their future housing stability.  So that we could better understand and enhance their experiences of social inclusion, over the winter and spring of 2013 we asked the tenants in one of our housing programs to join us over coffee and cookies in some conversations about community.

The women who came together had all been homeless prior to coming to our program.  Some had been housed with us for as few as four months, others as many as 24 years.   The women told us about the things we do well to foster their sense of belonging and about some things we should do better.  And they told us that it was their building’s community feeling – not its bricks and mortar – that made them feel supported and secure.  They said that it was having people to turn to in times of sickness or crisis, having people to encourage them to overcome their challenges and reach their goals, to share activities and interests, simply having people to talk to, that made them feel safe.  It was, in the words of one woman, ‘knowing other people care’ that made them feel that they finally had a home.

sjk_pic2YWCA Kitchener-Waterloo is privileged to have the resources to provide the buildings and the professional, formal supports that some people who are homeless require.  But for just about all homeless people, informal social supports can make the experience of
homelessness more bearable and much safer.  For some people, such supports can be all it takes to break the cycle of homelessness.  Share a meal with a diner at St. John’s Kitchen.   Play a card game with a guest at an Out of the Cold site.  Teach a new skill to a youth at ROOF.   Stop and listen to the story of somebody on the street.   Give of yourself, emotionally and practically, for just a few minutes or a few hours, to make a critical difference in the mental and physical health, happiness, confidence, stability and safety of a vulnerable person.

1. Centre for Urban and Community Studies, University of Toronto, Research Bulletin #37, September 2007

Greg’s Life after High School

June 2nd, 2016

This story posted by Bridges to Belonging:

This story came to us from Greg and his mother about building the life he wanted after graduating from high school. Thanks for sharing, Greg!

A year prior to graduation, we began discussing what would Greg like to do after high school. Greg was so excited to be finishing his last year of school and I began feeling every emotional; I was overwhelmed with joy, fear, excitement, and apprehension. I began embracing the idea that we were starting the next chapter of Greg’s life. 22E70B02-3593-4580-9CF2-24DF7174CDA585ED5B57-98F9-4664-AD58-2D34A2ACC4C1

Greg had expressed interest in being paid for a job. Not an easy task for our children to find. He also wanted to learn how to play the guitar and have a six-pack; Greg wanted a personal trainer.

During Greg’s high school years he had taken all the auto shop and hospitality courses and enjoyed them all but his passion was/is cars. We also had an updated resume and reference letters from his co-op employer.

Greg completed several years of co-op at St. Vincent de Paul prior to his last year of co-op in the school cafeteria. Greg became a cafeteria supervisor due to his attention to detail.

With the prep work done we approached St. Vincent de Paul and Greg handed in his resume. They remembered Greg was a great worker and of course they would love to have him volunteer.

I hired Lori Maloney-Young, a Bridges to Belonging Facilitator to help me find a job in the food industry for Greg and to help me with other transition needs. Lori took Greg to Queen’s Common Café in Kitchener and introduced him to the staff and tasks he would be doing and Greg said he wanted to work there. Together Lori and I worked on bus training for Greg. Since we live in Cambridge, this was a big deal to have Greg take a bus to the Cambridge Ainslie Terminal and then transfer to the iExpress to Kitchener.

Next, I visited Community Living in Cambridge and checked out what they had to offer. Courses, dances, groups etc. One program offered was a “fun and fitness” program at the YMCA with a personal trainer. Greg was signed up and spent Thursday mornings working out, playing basketball and working on his six-pack.5C59DF71-28EA-42CF-AA39-8AE2BB90826F56BE7C6B-F628-4588-90EB-D43F5CCD393C

Now, we had four week days busy plus working on busing. Greg still wanted to work more and questioned when was he starting guitar lessons? My next task began. I knew a few young men who were in Greg’s youth group who played guitar. One young man was very keen to teach Greg. Greg has been doing guitar lessons for 9 months and progressing well. Another tick on our list.

Lori called me in April and asked me if Greg still wanted to work with cars? My response was a definite YES. Lori told me she had met a man, Shane Leonard (car salesman) who has a son with Down Syndrome while she was test driving a car. Shane wanted to learn about becoming a facilitator. They met at the café on a day that Greg was working. Greg was friendly and Shane saw that Greg was a hard worker. Later, Shane spoke with his boss at the KIA dealership in Cambridge and suggested that they hire someone to do jobs the salesmen are too busy to do. The job would start off with a day per week and go from there. Shane called Lori and asked her if she could recommend anyone for a position that KIA would create. He also asked about the young man he had met?

Next Shane contacted Greg, he was interviewed and taken to the dealership to meet the boss. Greg was hired! Greg’s passion for cars shone. Greg needed training and Shane worked with Greg on his day off as his facilitator. After a few one per week training sessions, Greg started working two paid days per week. Dreams do come true! Greg has been working successfully for more than 6 months at KIA. Greg will continue to learn and as he is successful with new tasks he will be trained to do more. Greg hopes to help with oil changes and tire rotation one day, but for right now Greg is happy wearing his KIA shirt and working with the great KIA team.

D62B688C-3157-4F6F-BD1A-F3BCF6B0140EE20627DB-1037-44AC-B326-7CE617E97F5FWe hope that other businesses will create jobs for people with special needs to learn and become successful employees. It is about finding the right fit and looking for opportunities.

Transition can be stressful and will be ongoing, but with networking, contacts, friends, associations and some luck it can be very rewarding. With every transition come new dreams and possibilities. All we can do is try our best for our children.

Shane Leonard and Lori Maloney-Young have helped Greg with his future and we are very appreciative.

We would also like to thank the Down Syndrome Society for offering the Transition Bursary. The bursary makes it much easier to afford the extra services Greg needs.

Thank you for letting us share,

Greg and Cindy

Way to go, Greg!

A Day in the Life of Russell

June 2nd, 2016

A video created by The Working Centre:

A snapshot of a day in the life of Russell, a young man with Down syndrome who is in his first year after high school.

Thank you to Duncan Finnigan at the Multicultural Cinema Club, based at The Working Centre in Kitchener, Ontario, for this video.

It is meant to inspire others that with a little planning and support you don’t have to fear the larger world after school finishes. Russell uses the services of Facile Waterloo Region and his facilitator Lori Maloney-Young.




Anthony’s Job

May 30th, 2016

A story from Bridges to Belonging:

Anthony is a student at Conestoga College.  He loves film and media and wanted to do something productive over the summer.

Through the Volunteer Action Centre Website we found a great opportunity with the City of Kitchener working with Janice Lee, the Artist in Residence over the summer. The project is Folk Myths of Kitchener. It involves the creation of four video poems and poster editions that stem from a collaborative process with our local community. The poems featured the Kitchener Market, Kitchener Libraries, The Iron Horse Trail and Downtown Kitchener. Way to go, Anthony!