#34 ACTT-ing for the Region

File 2016-04-21, 6 02 59 PMSince returning to school and focusing much of my M.Ed. studies on mental health education, I have had the goal of transitioning to a new career that includes working in the field of mental health.  Through my volunteer work with Canadian Mental Health Association – Niagara I have had the opportunity to meet many individuals who are living with mental illness.  While we each have our own unique experiences, there is often a connection on a visceral level as our struggles and successes resonate with someone else who has “been there.” I recognize that I am not a clinician with respect to mental illness, but I have felt that a peer-to-peer relationship can provide a special kind of support.

According to the Mental Health Commission of Canada, peer support is proven to be both an effective and cost efficient method of assisting individuals living with mental illness  (http://www.mentalhealthcommission.ca/English/issues/peer-support):  “Empowerment and the development of personal resourcefulness — the foundation of peer support — not only improves people’s lives but also saves money by reducing the use of more formal mental health, medical, and social services.”

So, when I saw that The Niagara Region’s Public Health department was advertising for a Recovery Support Worker in the Mental Health Unit, I was excited about the possibility.   The Assertive Community Treatment Team (ACTT) is designed to assist individuals with the most serious and persistent mental illness, including schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. Individuals supported by this service often have co-existing problems such as homelessness, substance abuse or involvement with the judicial system.

I excitedly applied for the role in November of last year, and was sure that the position had been filled when I received an email invitation to interview in mid-March. I felt very positive about the interview and the Managers who were on the hiring committee and was beyond thrilled to be offered the job a few weeks later. I accepted with great enthusiasm and more than a little nervousness;  I would be both new to this job and to the field of direct service in the mental health field.

My start date quickly arrived – it felt like the first day of school.  The night before I woke up every hour, checking the clock fearing I might oversleep.  I consciously completed my work attire with earrings and a necklace that had been given to me by people I love, thereby creating my own Linus blanket and providing me with a little comfort to assuage my nervousness.  My car seemed to know exactly which way to drive after spending so many years travelling to Brock University for work and, more recently, for school; I just had to remember to turn left just a bit sooner to make my way to the Region.

My anxiety was quickly lessened as I was greeted by welcoming colleagues.  My day began with the regular team meeting, followed by a whirlwind tour of the Welland and Niagara Falls sites, and the opportunity to accompany one member of my team on her client visits in the afternoon.  I was struck by how she connected with each of the individuals in a caring and respectful manner.  While I felt overwhelmed by my own inexperience working directly with clients in a mental health setting, I was confident I was in the right workplace.

The following two days I travelled to Welland to job shadow with the other Recovery Support Worker who was the original peer support person on the team and had chosen to work in Welland where she lived when the second ACT team was created there.  She had been in her role for the last 10 years, and had previously worked with CMHA.  I was awed by her calm, caring approach to everyone she met, and her connection with the clients she visited.  I was thankful to have the opportunity to observe her while she worked, and especially for the time she took to talk with me about the role, her approach and the importance of peer support.  I was grateful for her kind words of encouragement when I expressed my fears about being able to provide worthy support and connection to the people I would be serving and to adequately represent the perspective of individuals living with mental illness on the team.

As I write this blog, I have completed my first week at my new job.  My brain is full each evening, but so is my heart.  I know I have a lot of learning still to do, and that I am privileged to have been given an opportunity to work in this capacity; I will endeavor to earn the trust I have been given by fulfilling the role to the very best of my ability, providing support, empowerment, and hope to those who are in need.

Next up: 50 Fabulous Feats: The Workshop!

 

#33 Put Me In, Coach!

During my career in Human Resources, I have had the opportunity to try my hand at number of different functions.  Over the years I discovered areas that I loved and those that drained my energy.  Interestingly, Employee Relations fell into both those buckets.  While I found investigations, discipline, and dismissal incredibly difficult, the flip side was being able to work one-on-one with individuals where I could support them to become theirFile 2016-04-13, 10 14 11 AM best selves.  It is not surprising, therefore, that when I began my own consulting business, I was drawn to coaching and mentoring as a possible niche.  But, even though I  had lots of practical involvement from my previous work, I was concerned that I  didn’t have specific education in coaching; I didn’t want to give less than the best experience for people who might want to hire me as a coach.

My go-to response to this dilemma was to do some research on coaching courses.  Since there is no regulatory body outside of athletics coaching, there are many courses and individuals who have hung up their shingles, calling themselves everything from Life Coaches to Personal Coaches to Solution-Focused Coaches.  After a little searching, I found a couple of organizations that provided coaching certification training.  The Certified Coaching Federation (CCF) appeared to be one that had been around for a while and respected. When I looked up the courses available, I was excited to find an intensive certification course was scheduled in Niagara Falls in April. I decided to make the investment and signed up.

A few days before the two day session, the instructor contacted me to let me know the location (which turned out to be just down the street from me) and what to expect. There were 8 people enrolled and we would be working from 9 to 6 on Saturday and Sunday, including working lunches.  As we chatted, I discovered that Sam, and her partner Chris, we’re opening a holistic wellness centre in Niagara Falls called Grounded Roots Wellness coaching certification(http://groundedrootswellness.ca/) which will include coaching, DDP yoga, float pod therapy, salt rooms, infared sauna, fitness and nutrition.  As well, Sam told me she was a psychic medium and spiritual advisor.  We had a great conversation and I was excited about the training.

On the first day of the course I was the first to arrive. The wellness centre was not yet open so we were set up in a large open space that also housed giant plastic-covered objects that I later found out we’re the float pods which were awaiting set-up. Sam greeted me and was as bubbly and welcoming as she had been on the phone. Shortly, others began to arrive and we settled in to begin the day.

We started by introducing ourselves and telling others something interesting about ourselves. I, of course, mentioned my blog site. It was a very diverse group with backgrounds that included financial, fitness, corporate sales, and human resources. We spent the morning learning a little about the coaching process, and soon were partnered up and role playing client and coach.  Using a framework of questions provided, we discussed our goals and gained more bang for our buck by not only practicing the coaching role, but actually receiving personal coaching ourselves in the process.  Our homework was to craft the information we gleaned into a script that we would share with our coaching partners the next day and thereby tap into their subconscious through painting a picture of their successful accomplishment of their goals.

coaching picDay 2 began with an individual review of our scripts by Sam which allowed me time to chat with the woman who was sitting beside me. The Universe does work in mysterious ways and it turned out that she and I had many things in common, including a passion for supporting mentally healthy individuals.  It was wonderful to talk to her about her experiences and the opportunities she was exploring and I have no doubt that she will bring magic and healing to the world.

It was then time to share our scripts with our coaching partners. I was very taken by how much I was motivated by the description of my goal success; my mind was able visualize all the steps as I listened to the description.  When I read the script I had developed for my partner, she was actually tearful and I realized how powerful this process could be.  By the end of the second day we had moved from complete strangers to colleagues and friends.  We had a small “graduation” ceremony and everyone  contributed heartfelt cheers in support of our success as newly certified coach practitioners.

As I reflected on the experience that evening, I felt energized and confident about my ability to support others in developing an understanding of and a path for accomplishing their goals.  Another exciting feat fulfilled!

Next up: ACTTing with the Region.

 

 

 

#32 Niagara Counts

As I have noted in past blogs, one of the most exciting things about my 50 Fabulous Feats is the number of interesting opportunities available to me in my own community.  Having a more open and curious approach to local events means that when I come across an activity that might be a possible feat, my first reaction is “I’m in.”  So, when I saw an notice from the Niagara Region asking for volunteers to participate in conducting a survey called “Niagara Counts,” I wanted to find out more.

Through clicking on the site link, I discovered that the survey would be a point-in-time count that would provide a snapshot of homelessness in Niagara. As part of a national strategy to help determine the extent of homelessness over 30 communities across Canada, Niagara Counts represented the first time this survey would be conducted in our community. By finding out more information about individuals who are living on the streets or in emergency shelters, it is hoped that we will learn more about people who are affected by homelessness and what their needs are in order to better serve them and, ultimately, eliminate homelessness.

Niagara’s first point-in-time count was scheduled for April 5, 2016 and the Niagara Region was recruiting volunteers to assist with the process.  As I read more, I learned that they were seeking volunteers to participate in the outside count; teams of 3 would be  dispatched at a particular location where, between the hours of 5 – 8 in the morning, they would walk their route and survey individuals who agreed to participate, and count those who refused, or were not able to do so (for example, asleep or otherwise unable). It was noted that each team would be assigned a team lead who had experience working with people who are homeless.

Although I did not have experience working with individuals who were homeless, I felt that this survey was important for our region and decided to participate.  I filled out the volunteer form and shortly received an email confirmation and notice of a training session and orientation. There were about 20 people at this session where members of the organizing group from the Niagara Region provided a very comprehensive walk through of the process and a brief safety training.  The final portion of the meeting had us connecting with our other team members and role playing the survey administration in order for us to become more comfortable with the questions before the day of the count.

I made sure to reread the survey and the volunteer guide again the night before the count to make sure I was as prepared as possible.  I then set my alarm for 3:30 a.m. and tried to go to sleep early.  It took me some time to get to sleep, and I awoke several times during the night, each time checking the clock to make sure I hadn’t slept through the alarm.  I got up just ahead of the actual 3:30 alarm, and was struck by how very dark it was outside. It had turned cold over the last week, so I bundled up in extra layers knowing that we would be spending the majority of the shift outside and headed out to the check-in point for Niagara Falls.  I met one of my team members in the parking lot and we entered together, signed in, picked up our survey materials, connected with our team lead, and soon we all made our way out to our various survey locations.

We were assigned to Lundy’s Lane between Dorchester and Drummond. Clipboards in hand and bright orange Niagara Counts backpacks in place, we began to walk our route. In the time leading up to the count day, there had been hints of spring, but on this morning, snow covered the ground and it was cold.  As a result, there were few people on the street, especially at 5 a.m.  We walked the route several times, noting a few people whom we saw from a distance on our tally sheet.  About half way through our shift, we entered the McDonalds to warm up with a coffee.  Inside we noticed a number of people who may have been homeless.    On the one hand, I was glad to know that people were not outside on such a cold morning, but, because we could not conduct the survey inside establishments, their possible information was not available to us.  I was glad to know that in addition to the outside count, there was another group of individuals who were also conducting the survey in shelters.

Our time went by relatively quickly as the three of us chatted during the trek up and down the street. Our team lead told us that she and her daughter had experienced homelessness after arriving in Niagara Falls.  While she was thankful for the services that found them a place to live relatively quickly, she lamented that others she had met were not as fortunate.

Around 7:30 we decided we had collected all that we could on our route and returned to the checkpoint to return our survey materials and sign out.  While we had not had the opportunity to interview anyone, we had contributed to the information that would be used to better understand homelessness and, hopefully, be used to develop appropriate programming to support these individuals.

At home just after 8 a.m. I had a hot bath and thawed out my frozen body.  I reflected on the fact that I had been outside only a short period of time, and that individuals without secure housing might spend not just hours, but days, weeks, months sleeping “rough”. After a hot tea and toast, I climbed back into my warm bed where my dogs still lay sleeping soundly. I realized how privileged I was to have all of these luxuries, and the tenuous nature of basic human safety and security. A follow up email received the next day thanks us for our assistance and assured us that once results were summarized, we would be invited to a debriefing on the findings.  While my feat may be completed, the real work is yet to be done.

Next up:  Life coaching certification

 

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#31 Writers’ Circle

writers%20circle%20for%20new%20website%20old%20logo%20removedWriting, by its nature, can be a pretty insular experience. While the final product is shared with others, the process of creation is an individual labour (of love, but hard work nonetheless).  For me, the challenge is further heightened by a somewhat (who am I kidding, a fully developed) perfectionist approach to the task.  One of the reasons I chose to write via a weekly blog format was because of my tendency to ruminate over my writing, resulting in lots of revisions, but very limited actual output.  Being committed to writing and sending out a weekly blog means letting go of my obsessive editing in favour of regularly pressing the publish button.  Now more than half way through my 50 Feats, I am much less critical of my work. Where I would have obsessed about typos and other missteps in the past, I can now gratefully accept the occasional email from a friendly reader pointing out a small “oops,” edit and update, and…let it go.

My feelings of creative isolation are somewhat mitigated by reader feedback, but I was excited to come across a notice on the Niagara Falls library website advertising a Writers’ Circle. My next fabulous feat was immediately confirmed.

Even though I have lived in Niagara Falls for over 25 years, I can count on my one hand the number of times I have visited the Victoria Avenue library site.  I think my older son had a piano recital in one of the community rooms when he was in grade school. I may have accompanied my younger son to a March Break program when he was small.    I have a long expired library card from those days.  So, when I walked into the library on the night of the meeting I was impressed by the warm and comfortable atmosphere.

I walked through the various sections looking for the Rosberg Gallery.  In my brief travels I saw a familiar face, someone I knew who also struggled with mental health challenges.  It had been over a year since we had last crossed paths, and I was so happy to see a big smile spread across his face as he recognized me.  He told me he was doing well, involved with a few different projects and loving the experiences.  Although our conversation was brief (we both were attending meetings) I was buoyed by another example of a kind and generous soul who had found his way through dark times and learned to live well with mental illness.

I found the little gallery room and joined two other women already seated in chairs that formed part of a circle. I was confident that I was in the right place but confirmed by asking them. After we introduced ourselves, I settled in and glanced around the room at the sketches and paintings on the wall; there were barns and train stations illustrated in charcoal and watercolour displaying varying degrees of experience.  Each, however, was displayed without differentiation, respecting talent and the courage to try in equal measures. I really liked this place.

In the next few minutes, several more participants arrived, along with the library group leader.  I discovered that the participants had been meeting together on a monthly basis since the previous Fall when the circle began. A more diverse group I could not have imagined: one woman told me she was 89 years old; a man introduced himself as a retired engineer; another woman tentatively told me she was still new to writing, displaying her handwritten pages; a 30-something man greeted the others and settled his iPad  on his lap in anticipation; a mother and daughter team rounded out the circle.

Our library leader explained the meeting process for me: each person who wished to receive feedback would read something she or he had written for the group.  Some people were writing novels, others poetry, still others wrote passages based upon a topic provided each month as inspiration.

The readings were as varied as the group itself.  Participants shared philosophical dialogues, poetry about Zambonis and cats, a children’s adventure story, and the beginnings of a historical novel.  Just like the artwork on the walls, some of the writing was stronger than others; again, I respected their courage in opening up such personal creations to the world.

When my turn came up, I was nervous.  I had the option of listening without sharing, but I felt the need to reciprocate the trust in the room.  I explained my premise for 50 Fabulous Feats, and read the first blog feat for the group.  When I looked up at the end of my reading, I was greeted with a circle of smiles and encouraging nods.  It felt good to have the affirmation of fellow writers.

The hour and a half passed by incredibly quickly.  On our way out, I walked with the mother and daughter duo who both said that they hoped to see me again next month.  I look forward to it.

Next up: Niagara Counts!

#30 The Coldest Night of the Year

One of the joys of engaging in my Fabulous Feats is the ability to meet wonderful people whose paths I might not have otherwise crossed.  This was the case when I signed up to volunteer for The Coldest Night of the Year walk in St. Catharines.

The walk began in 2011 as a way of raising money for the hungry, homeless, and hurting across Canada.  By signing up to walk 2, 5, or 10 kms, participants experience just a lColdest night of the yearittle of what being outside on a cold winter night is like.  With an estimated 150,000 Canadians experiencing homelessness outside, and countless more facing the uncertainly of living right on the edge, the walk  raises both awareness and much-needed funds in over 100 communities for people struggling with poverty, mental health and addiction issues, discrimination, homelessness, and unemployment.

In Niagara, there are a number of walks including Niagara Falls (Project Share), Welland (The Open Arms Mission of Welland), Lincoln (Community Care of West Niagara) and St. Catharines (Start Me Up Niagara).  Although I live in Niagara Falls, I chose to volunteer with Start Me Up Niagara (SMUN) because I am familiar with the great work they do to support individuals living with mental illness and addictions. I went on the national website and signed up as a volunteer.

I received an email inviting me to a volunteer get together for training at SMUN.  When I arrived, I met a number of individuals including staff members, Board Directors, and community members who were all there to help make St. Catharines’ event successful.  I had met Susan Venditti before, but that night I also met her partner, Tony “the Tiger” Venditti, who, in addition to being the Centre Coordinator, headed a team that had raised the 3rd largest amount compared to walkers from across Canada. I received my instructions for my role as Greeter and had a chance to get to know a few of the other volunteers over pizza.

The night of the event I arrived at the appointed time and met a lovely volunteer named Bonita whom I would be working along side. Our job was to make sure volunteers and walkers filled out the waiver form as the first step in the process.  We both donned our blue event toques and began. In between giving instructions and checking paperwork, Bonita and I were able to chat.  She said she was volunteering because SMUN had been so supportive for her, even helping her set up her own business.  She proudly gave me a card that advertised her handmade jewelry.

It was wonderful to see the teams assemble and the little families gathered together to participate and model the importance of being a caring community member.  With a few speeches, and lots of cheering, the walk began.  Mother Nature was on our side, as the sun streamed into Market Square with the temperature topping out at 8 degrees.  Bonita and I moved from Greeters to Welcome Back-ers.  As people arrived in from their various walks, we clapped, yelled, and generally made noise that recognized the returnees.

There was food, and entertainment for everyone – general merriment and celebration ensued.  I made my way home after the last few folks returned, a little hoarse from yelling, but with the happy glow of having been part of something lovely.    SMUN coldest

Almost $3.8 million dollars for 92 charities across the country was raised this year.  Since 2011, the Coldest Night of the Year has raised $7.9 million dollars.  The team led by Tony “the Tiger” brought in more than $19,000 for SMUN, whose overall total was just under their goal at $79,000.  For those who might wish to push them over the top, donations can still be made till March 15th at startmeupniagara.ca/

Next up:  Joining kindred spirits at a Writers’ Space

 

 

#29 Just a Pause; Not the End

For or those who have read my previous posts, you will be aware of the fact that, in addition to my own challenges, my older son lives with mental illness.  While we have both been stretched at different times in our ability to cope with these circumstances, I truly believe that we are also more closely connected because of our shared struggles.

I recognize that Christian’s illness likely results, in part, because of a genetic predisposition, and have experienced my fair share of “Mom guilt” because of this fact.  Yet, I know that our closeness has also been cemented by the various mental health trials and tribulations that we have journeyed through together.  And, while CJ has accompanied me on a few of my fabulous feats so far, this week’s adventure holds a special significance for me because it is something that acknowledges and celebrates our connection through mental illness.

imageThis feat is inspired by The Semicolon Project.  In 2013, Amy Bleuel wanted to pay tribute to her father, whom she had lost to suicide. Amy adopted the semicolon as a symbol to promote discussion around mental illness. The tattoo of a semicolon represents a sentence the author could have ended, but chose not to. Amy’s message is that that we are all authors, and the sentence we choose to continue, after taking a pause, is our lives. Since its beginnings, the Semicolon Project has become a global movement (www.projectsemicolon.org) that represents hope and love for those who struggle with mental illness, suicide, addiction, and self-injury.

When I first heard about the semicolon symbol, I loved the idea.  For both Christian and me, there have been pauses in life, times when the sentence might well have ended, but, thankfully, did not.  Appreciating and celebrating this victory, especially together, seemed to me like a feat well worth pursuing.  So, when I had my nose pierced, we decided to inquire about the semicolon tattoo and within a few weeks had booked our appointments at Artistic Impressions.

I already had a tattoo, having fortold my 50 fabulous feats a few years earlier with the occasional mid-life adventure.  On my 46th birthday, I got a frog tattoo on my ankle.  As my spirit animal, the frog represented transition and it is very special to me.  It also allowed me to dictate to my boys that I supported their own decisions around getting tattoos, and they could do so, like me, as soon as they turned 46.

However, I broke my own rule by taking my 23 year old son to get his first tattoo.  We both filled out our paperwork and then CJ sat down to begin the process for getting a one inch semicolon on his inner right wrist.  The tattoo looked great on his wrist, but when it came to be my turn, I wondered if it was too big for my arm, which is much smaller than his.  When I asked our tattooist if I could get mine a size smaller, he smiled and said “you can, but if you’re getting a tattoo, get a tattoo.”   I realized it was time to put my money where my mouth was, as my Mom would have said.  If stigma and discrimination elimination was important to me, than I had to be willing to step up and play my part.  And so, the choice was “go big or go home.”  I sat in the chair and received my own semicolon, bold, black, and beautiful, on my forearm.

Christian and I topped off off he afternoon with lunch and occasional comparisons of our matching tattoos: a concrete illustration of the connections in our chemical brains as well as our emotional hearts. While CJ is talking about what his next “tat” will be, I think I’m done for now.  But, I’m happy to have a feat that will be with me for a lifetime, that visibly celebrates my ability to live well with mental illness, and connects me to my beautiful boy in a way that is so much more than skin -deep.

 

Next up: Walking For A Cause: The Coldest Night Of The Year.

 

 

 

 

 

#28 Women & Wellness Niagara

The original Women & Wellness event began in Moncton, New Brunswick in 2oo4 when Helen MacDonnell hosted a “kitchen party with a purpose” in order to raise awareness and decrease the stigma associated with mental illness after the death of her brother by suicide.  She inviFile 2016-02-21, 6 53 35 PMted 54 friends and family to her home and raised $1,200 for the Moncton branch of the Canadian Mental Health Association.

Since that time, W & W has raised over $500,000 in donations for CMHAs from events across Canada.  I have been privileged to be involved with the Women & Wellness Niagara organizing committee since its inception in 2011. At that time, I was one of 7 volunteers, inspired by our fearless and dynamic leader, Elaine Edmiston.  That year, weW&W 2016 invited 3 local speakers from the CMHA Speakers’ Bureau to share their stories and welcomed just over 100 guest who enjoyed a glass of wine, some appetizers and the companionship of like-minded, caring women.

Each year we learned a little more, and grew accordingly.  We welcomed other amazing keynote and wellness speakers who presented their own stories and challenges – Karen Liberman, Jan Wong, Rona Maynard, Alicia Raimundo. We expanded our committee members and increased sponsorships.  We added a raffle and door prizes into the mix, migrated registration to Eventbrite.  And every event attracted more women than the year before; by our 5th year we had more than 500 women attending.

This year, Women and Wellness morphed again.  We changed our venue to Club Roma in St. Catharines in order to accommodate more than 650 women.  We selected Valerie Pringle as our keynote speaker.  In addition to the raffle, we put together a silent auction and penny sale for the night of the event.  Most exciting for me, we commissioned a performance from a local theatre group, Something Something Productions, which they wrote especially for us.

After months of planning, the day of the event was upon us. Thanks to our Chairperson, Karla Gilmore, all the details were covered. The penny sale and silent auction items were set up in the foyer, and more than 50 volunteers assumed their roles as ushers, ticket sellers, guides, greeters,Karla and Valerie and counters. If you build it, they do come, beginning with a trickle of early birds at 5:45 and rising to a tsunami just after 6:00.  The buzz in the lobby foretold the success of the evening.  When doors to the main room opened, the women (and a few brave men) were escorted to their seats. Each table was decorated with green napkins representing mental health and a beautiful flower arrangement from Vermeers. In addition to wine available at the bar, cider, hot appetisers, and an assortment of desserts were set out on the tables.

Our speaker, Valerie Pringle, arrived with a smile and lovely down-to-earth manner, telling us that she knew how complicated these kinds of events were and that she was fine to look after herself while we managed the crowds and last minute details. Fortunately, other than a little glitch with the video and audio equipment, the evening progressed smoothly.

At 6:30, our wonderful MC for the evening, Ruth Unrau, began to call everyone to their seats, no small task with more than 650 attendees.  As we began the program, the energy in the room was electric.  Sponsors brought their greetings and our CMHA – Niagara Preident, Stuart Dorricott, one of a handful of men there, talked about his experiences trying to find assistance for a loved one dealing with a mental health crisis and the great importance of the event’s fundraising recipient, CMHA’s walk-in counselling service.

Next up, the local theatre group, Something Something Productions, performed their 3 women show.  This production was the brainchild of Dina Mavridis, co-founder of the group with her partner Rob Burke.  Best known for their amazing productions of The  Rocky Horrors Show LIVE upstairs at Corks in Niagara-On-The-Lake, the company is also devoted to supporting the Niagara community by raising over $6,000 for local charities. When approached about performing at our W & W event, Dina went above and beyond expectations by reaching out to the women in Niagara, asking them to share their personal stories of mental illness from which she created the monologues that came to our stage. Dina, along with 2 other exceptional Something somethingfemale performers brought this collaborative piece to life: stories of bi-polar disorder, post-partum depression, abuse and post-traumatic stress disorder; the shame resulting from the stigma of mental illness, the pain that makes living feel intolerable; and, most important, the hope of support, help, and recovery. There were few dry eyes at the end of their delivery as we all connected at the heart, thinking about our own struggles and those of our friends and family members.

The break that followed allowed individuals time to chat, donate, bid on the silent auction, and buy tickets for our penny sale and raffle. I was able to catch up with my friends in the audience before returning to my seat for the main attraction: Valerie Pringle.  True to her broadcaster roots, Valerie’s delivery was flawless – easy and conversational.  She spoke of her involvement with CAMH after her husband’s former law partner, Michael Wilson, lost his son to suicide. She recounted her own daughter, Catherine’s struggle with panic and anxiety disorder. She described her own growth and education as a caregiver for a family member living with mental illness.  She stressed hope and recovery and the importance of treatment like the walk-in counselling service.   It was an honour and a pleasure to listen to her speak.

The night drew to a close with the announcement of raffle winners and the final tally of funds raised from the evening.  As our Chair, Karla, approached the podium, Valerie leaned over to me with a pledge form and said she had forgotten to hand hers in to the donation desk.  As we were very close to our goal for that evening of $15,000, I ran up the stairs to the stage waiving Valerie’s donation.  Karla casually asked if there were any more donations not yet received and to our astonishment, members of the audience began to rise and approach the stage with bundles of pledge envelopes. We had so many that we couldn’t count them all before concluding the night.  Suffice it to say that we exceeded our target !

In what seemed like no time at all, it was over.  Our months of planning had resulted in a night we were all proud of and, though exhausted, the clean up crew beamed with satisfaction as we packed up for another year.  I am privileged to work with such exceptional women on the W & W committee. Together, we make a positive difference in our community.  Even before we closed our eyes for a well earned night’s sleep, the emails were already circulating about next years’ event: who we would consider for the keynote; could we increase our numbers to 1000 participants; and how else might we make next year’s evening even better. Look out Niagara, W & W 2017 will knock your socks off!

[Our final tally for the evening was $18,000 in addition to pre-event sales and sponsors for an overall total of $48,000 before expenses.  For our 6 years of Women and Wellness: more than 2,300 women in  attendance and over  $170,000 gross revenues.]

Next up: Coldest Night of the Year walk for Start Me Up Niagara

 

 

 

 

#27 100 Women Who Care – Niagara

One of the main goals for my 50 Feats was to find ways of giving back to my community.  A little searching took me to the website for 100 Women Who Care – Niagara.  The organization is worldwide with 350 chapters in the U.S., Canada, Mexico, Singapore, the Carribean, and British Isles. Niagara’s group is organized by Sylvia 100 womenBerezowski and has a membership of over 170 women.  The idea behind 100 Women is to provide funds to local community causes by coming together for an hour at 4 times during the year and donating $100 per person on these occasions to a selected Niagara charity.  In a single hour, 3 charities that have been nominated by members are randomly selected and their representatives provide a brief explanation of the cause and how monies will be used if chosen.  Members then vote and one of the charities wins the donations for that meeting.

This wonderful group is completely volunteer-run, resulting in all of the money collected going directly to the organizations selected.  An amazing $17,000 -$19,000 has been donated to each of the chosen organizations in the last 2 years.  I am especially appreciative of also having the opportunity not only to support my community, but also learn about a number of not-for-profits and charities that I didn’t even know existed in Niagara including support for children’s breakfast programs, mentorships, hospice, native women, and supportive cancer care.

The meeting I attended saw a room full of dedicated women in attendance, despite the having to brave a particularly cold evening.  The evening began with a presentation from the last meeting’s recipient: Big Brothers and Big Sisters of Niagara Falls.  The Executive Director spoke eloquently about their individual and group mentoring programs for children  and the positive impact that the $17,100 donated by 100 Women will provide.

Next, the evening’s 3 charities were randomly selected from the 25 that had been nominated by members.  Representatives for The Learning Disabilities Association of Niagara, TASC Niagara (supporting children and adults living with disabilities), and The David Gregory Mckinnon Memorial Foundation (education and advocacy for families affected by kidney disease) each gave heartfelt presentations about their charities.

I found it difficult to choose from these wonderful organizations, but am comforted by the fact that those who are not selected are eligible to be considered again.  As well, knowing that the funds donated will go to a great cause no matter who wins makes it very easy to give.

As my sister is a kidney donation recipient (her husband gave her one of his kidneys – talk about true love!), I have a special place in my heart for lifesaving organ transplant programs.  In addition, the presentation by David’s mother about the loss of her beautiful son, and her mission to raise funds to support others living with kidney disease in his name, was powerful, especially to a room full of Moms like me. David’s charity was selected.

We wrote our cheques out to the Foundation, and the whole event was wrapped up in one hour.  I feel privileged to participate in this group with an incredible group of caring women, giving back, pooling our resources to support our local community.  For only 4 hours and $400 over the course of a year, 100 Women Who Care Niagara is proof positive that one person can make a difference, and when they come together, 100+ women can change our world.

More information about joining 100 Women Who Care in your area can be found at http://www.100womenwhocare.org/ .

Next up: More female fundraising fun: the 6th Annual Women and Wellness Niagara

#26 To Pierce, Or Not To Pierce

I am a 50 year old woman.  In my younger years, I was very shy and reserved, but as I grew older, I slowly gained my own voice, my own style.  I enjoy dressing with colour and flare, appreciate the ability to express my individuality.  On my 46th birthday, I got a tattoo to celebrate my life: a small rainforest frog, my spirit animal, representing transition and transformation, now graces my left ankle.  Nose pierce 5

Given my comfort being somewhat of a free spirit, why, then, was I so hesitant about getting my nose pierced? I have considered it for several years. Every time I would see a cute little sparkling stud on a woman standing in line at the grocery store or sitting at the table across from me at my local coffee shop, I would think about getting one myself.  But, I was always taken down by the voice in my head that suggested middle-aged Moms, especially those who worked in (or wished to gain emNose pierce 1ployment in) professional positions, did not indulge in nose bling.

After a recent encounter with a woman close to my own age who seemed unfazed by any potential judgments about her nose piercing, I reflected again about my own discomfort.  While my tattoo is easily covered, this change would be “out there” for all to see. What was my concern?  That my age deemed me ineligible for facial piercing? That people might make negative assumptions about me based upon a tiny nose stud? I realized that I was making my choice because of how it might look to others rather than how it would feel for me.  If the only consideration was my own desire, the answer would be a decisive yes.

Nonetheless, I sought input from a few of my friends and other acquaintances, all women of a certain age.  When I expressed my interest in getting my nose pierced, there were no upraised eyebrows or cautionary directives. When I asked about my age, one woman shrugged her shoulders and told me she didn’t see that as an issue.  When I questioned the reaction of potential employers or consulting clients with another woman who runs her own business, she noted that they were all strangers to me, and they wouldn’t know me any differently than the way I presented myself.  Besides, she said, if you’re talent is being assessed based on a little nose stud, that might give you some idea about whether you want to work with them anyway.  Good observation.  Something I would likely say to someone who asked me a similar question, actually.

So, armed with this new perspective, I picked up my older son, who generously serves as my companion for many of my Fabulous Feats, and drove to Artistic Impressions in St. Catharines. There I met a lovely man named Jeremy who said he could take me in right away.  After filling out a couple of forms, I followed him into the back room where he explained the process: a swipe of sterile gauze, location selected, marked, and approved by me, a quick pinch from the needle, and, voila, done.  And that is exactly how it went.  He gave me instructions for aftercare which included sea salt water soaks to aid in healing. He also cautioned me to be watchful for such things as hugging a friend wearing an infinity scarf, as the stud can catch Nose pierce 4on the fabric.  It seemed like an oddly specific warning.

I returned to the front and brought out my credit card to pay.  Jeremy pointed to the framed poster above the register: cash only.  I was clearly not the first person caught out by this requirement; he told me there was an ATM at the convenience store down the street.  I left my purse and my son as collateral and ran down to get the cash.  Upon my return, I joked that if it hadn’t been for leaving my purse, I could have abandoned my son in a “pierce and run.” Apparently, he had said I would make this comment upon my return.  I’m nothing if not predictable.

Day 2 and I am already used to the feeling.  The stud is so small that it is actually hardly noticeable.  But, to me, it represents a little sparkle and shine – my inside spirit represented by my outside appearance. My only concern, keeping a keen eye out for those now dangerous infinity scarves.

Next up:  100 Women Who Care – Niagara

 

 

 

#25 Meet the New Boss

As this is the mid-point of my 50 Fabulous Feats, I thought a long time about what this week’s activity would be.  I have been interviewed for a couple of positions recently, and wondered if this blog might announce the beginning of my next career direction. It turns out that, while I wasn’t the successful candidate for any of the positions for which I was being considered, this posting is still all about revealing my new path.

Over the last year and a half, I have been able to be self-directed through the course of completing my Master’s studies.  Throughout my graduate work, I completed course papers, internships, and directed studies.  I organized my priorities, managed my time, and created materials based upon research and my own creativity.  I rekindled my passion for learning and loved the ability to consider the bigger picture, then break down the project to its component parts. I felt privileged to be able to focus on mental health and addiction education and advocacy for many of my assignments. I loved the fact that my workplace alternated between the library and my very own dining room table.

Looking back over this time, I realized that at least one answer to my job search was to continue in this same direction. Instead of looking outwards, I can spend some time working on my own business, setting up my own consulting business, with particular focus on Human Resources solutions and mental health education, thereby merging the skills from my “old life” with the capacitiesconsulting picture I have developed in my “new life.”

I know that I am in the very early stages of fulfilling this dream.  I will need to learn the ropes including everything from developing my business plan, to understanding the legal requirements, to determining marketing strategies. Every consultant I have talked to so far has been quick to tell me two things: they love being their own boss and it is incredibly hard work to be self-employed.  I know that it will be a challenge, but when I think back over the last few years, I realize that I have a pretty good track record with overcoming obstacles and turning trials into triumphs.

I welcome all insights, suggestions, words of wisdom, and cautionary tales from those who have already walked this career pathway.  In February of last year, I began SilverLiningFrog.com; I can’t wait to see what it will look like a year from now: the sky is the limit!