Impact Stories

Haydee’s Story

“I had two choices: Leave or become a statistic.”

When Haydee Windey saw the broken Christmas tree on her lawn, she knew she had two choices: leave or become a statistic. As told to Diane Hill in the Fall 2013 issue of SHE magazine.

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Haydee’s Story

When I first met my ex-husband, he was very charming but after we moved in together he became more and more controlling—it was like living in a boot camp. We were living in Argentina, where I was born, but he was from Canada.

We moved here because my country fell into terrible financial crisis, the whole society was crumbling. I hoped things would be better in Canada, but of course they got worse. Every day, coming home from work was like returning to prison. He broke dishes, threw things, screamed, threatened. He had no “off” button. I was losing my spirit, my passion for life, to the point where I didn’t even recognize myself. one morning—the day before Christmas—my daughter and I ran to the window to witness the magic of the first snowfall in our garden.

Our Christmas tree had been flung out onto the front lawn, the branches scattered like lost children. The wings of the crystal angel were broken. Santa’s elves had lost their heads. Everything was either under the snow or smashed to pieces. I knew then I had two choices: leave or become a statistic. I could see the headline: “Burnaby mother and daughter found dead.” I realize now he could have killed us at any moment. my daughter and I left, taking only a small suitcase and some family photos.

We slept on the floor of an unfurnished basement apartment, side by side. my daughter would whisper in my ear: “You are my hero. I know we will make it!” Her words and trust kept me going. But I blamed myself and was ashamed beyond words. I felt alone on a life raft, in the middle of a dark ocean. But my counselor at Dixon Transition House would tell me success stories about other women, and it was like seeing the light from a lighthouse.

Slowly but steadily, the winds of freedom created new hope in our hearts. The RCMP kept us safe. We furnished our apartment and bought our own Christmas tree. I started to find my voice and shape my own destiny, breaking the cycle of violence for myself and future generations of women in my family—today, my daughter has a husband who treats her with respect.

Now my mission is to be an advocate for women and children trapped by the tentacles of domestic violence. When I speak to women at the shelter, I find it very moving—I used to have that same look on my face. For my daughter and me, our own determination and strength were crucial. But without help from the community, we could not have transformed from victims to victors.

Dixon Transition House is located in Burnaby BC and has received support from the Canadian Women’s Foundation Annual Campaign to End Violence Against Women.

Ben’s Story

“These programs need to be available to everyone”

In high school Ben Lord attended “Making Waves,” a violence prevention program that continues to reverberate through his life. As told to Diane Hill in the Spring 2015 issue of SHE magazine.

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Ben’s Story

In my high school, students who attended the Making Waves violence prevention program put on a play called The Many Faces of Abuse.* I saw it when I was in Grade 9 and got chills. The next year, I attended the program. When I graduated, I came back as a Making Waves facilitator.

The program opened my eyes to a lot of things I hadn’t thought about before, like how a lot of relationship problems are about gender. Men are taught to be aggressive—well, how does that relate to relationships? Not well. Most women are taught to be passive and not to speak out. These things lay the foundation for relationship violence. In educating both men and women, we demolish that foundation.

I still think about the teachings all the time. I have red flags for myself, like if I’m not being true to myself in a relationship or if I think something is toxic to me. Sometimes I look at other people’s relationships and can’t help but wonder: “Wow, is that good for you?” It breaks my heart.

In the Making Waves program, we talked about media stereotypes of women, too. Before, I just didn’t see it so it was like a light bulb flicking on. Now I can’t open up a magazine without noticing all the sexism. It makes me speechless. It’s baffling that it’s so normalized. We just mindlessly consume all of this patriarchal imagery and it’s very detrimental to everyone. These aren’t just women’s issues.

As a male, I’m so grateful to be a member of the Canadian Women’s Foundation Teen Healthy Relationship Advisory Committee. Some people say, “Oh Ben, we’re so fortunate to have you.” Well, I don’t know who’s fortunate because I get to work with so many amazing men and women, with my eyes wide open to all of these issues. I’m very proud to be part of an organization that’s working to get this information out there.

All this has influenced my career ambitions. I was recently accepted to University of New Brunswick Law and want be a labour lawyer. I think it’s ridiculous that we live in a world where women make 70 cents of a man’s dollar—I think that’s absolutely atrocious. I believe in pay equity. I want to make a difference.

It was just the luck of the draw that I got to attend Making Waves, but these programs need to be available to everyone. I want future generations to grow up in a different world. I want equality. We need to join together in solidarity and fight for a better tomorrow.

The Making Waves program, which is delivered by Partners for Youth in New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island, has received funding from the Canadian Women’s Foundation.

*The Many Faces of Abuse play shows different types of dating abuse (verbal, emotional, physical, sexual). It also demonstrates how violence in relationships escalates over time and how people who experience abuse often blame themselves.

Christopher’s Story

“My mom is the reason I speak out against domestic abuse.”

In honour of his mother, Christopher Rout speaks out to help stop the violence. As told to Diane Hill in the Spring 2014 issue of SHE magazine. WARNING: This story contains details that may be upsetting to some readers.

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Christopher’s Story

My brother and I were raised by our mother, who was a single mom. We struggled financially, lived in one bedroom apartments, and relied on donations for food, Christmas gift clothes, etc. For a while we even lived in one room in a rooming house! But we always had an abundance of love. My mom always went out of her way to make sure my brother and I were happy and knew how much she loved us.

When we got older, she went back to school to fulfil her dream of becoming a nurse. Then she met a man. He seemed nice, had a job, and didn’t mind my brother and me. She was happy and we were happy for her. But shortly after they got married he started to display signs of jealousy, which soon turned into anger.

One night I came downstairs to find my mom huddled in a corner with her face bloody and beaten. Nobody should ever see their mom like that. He had beaten her for saying ‘Hi’ to another man.

Abusive men always try to manipulate women into coming back with promises of ‘change and improvement,’ which my mom believed for a while. But she finally built up the courage to leave him. One day when my brother and I were out of the house, she told him she wanted a divorce and there was nothing he could do to change her mind.

He started punching her. She ran upstairs and he chased her, grabbed her, threw her down to the floor, and strangled her until she died. Then he went back downstairs and drank a beer before calling the police. He actually sat there and had a beer while my mom lay dead in the bedroom! He never tried to revive her, never called for an ambulance, nothing.

During his trial, we learned my mom had frequently visited Denise House, a women’s shelter. Some of the staff came to court to show support for my mom and my brother and me. I later served on their Board of Directors as a way to give back for everything they’d done for us.

He was found guilty of second-degree murder and sentenced to life in prison, with no parole for fifteen years. He served those years and was recently released.

My brother and I were forced to grow up at a young age but thanks to the great lessons we’d learned from my mom, we survived. I was diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and depression, and I received treatment for over five years.

Not a day goes by that I/we don’t think of her, cry, and still suffer. My mom missed out on so much life and the life she did experience was one no woman should have to live.

My mom is the reason I speak out against domestic abuse. She is still my mom.

Denise House is located in Oshawa, ON and has received support from the Canadian Women’s Foundation Annual Campaign to End Violence Against Women

Shaneen’s Story

“I learned a lot about standing up for myself.”

In high school, Shaneen Cotterell signed up for ReAct: Respect in Action, a violence prevention program that stoked her interest in social justice. As told to Jessica Howard in the Spring 2016 issue of SHE magazine.

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Shaneen’s Story

IN GRADE 11, my social science teacher suggested I try the ReAct after-school program, because she knew I was interested in the issues it covered. When I saw that the program talked about things like oppression, gender stereotypes, abuse, and healthy relationships, I signed up and stayed involved through Grades 11 and 12.

I always remember one session where I began to understand how various systems uphold oppression, whether it’s based on race or gender. It was a wake-up call, and I was feeling a bit hopeless. I was thinking, “How do we change that? How do we challenge an entire system?” Our facilitator talked about how we can start by dismantling stereotypes and trying to raise awareness. I learned a lot about standing up for myself and not following stereotypes.
Just be who you are: you can love makeup, but you can also love dirt-bike riding. It doesn’t really matter.

We didn’t only talk about gender stereotypes for women; we also talked about hyper-masculinity and how it’s traditionally not OK for boys to show emotion, love, or affection. There were boys in the program who would say, “Yeah, it’s true, I have friends who feel they need to react in an aggressive way in certain situations,” or that they were afraid of being called certain names. They agreed that stereotypes exist for men as well, and that was kind of amazing to hear.

I think one of the reasons the ReAct program is effective is because it’s interactive. Every week, we would do something different: write poems, or maybe watch a video, or have a debate. When we discussed healthy relationships, we watched two music videos that depicted what an abusive relationship looks like, and that really helped us get into the conversation.

After two years in the program, my interest in social justice issues grew even stronger. I ended up getting a summer job with ReAct, doing research for workshops and other tasks. The experience helped me come out of my shell, learn more about how to facilitate, and how to be a leader.

I got to see how the program works from behind the scenes, observe how youth can interact positively, and how the program opens their eyes to things—the same way my eyes were opened when I was in ReAct. It’s one thing to experience it for yourself, but then to watch it happening with others is really cool.

While I was working there, I also got to talk to many different people who are making the world a better place. It made me think more about choosing a career path down this line—maybe social work or sociology. It’s been a huge learning experience for me.

ReAct: Respect in Action is delivered by METRAC (Metropolitan Action Committee on Violence Against Women and Children) and has received funding from the Canadian Women’s Foundation.

Elizabeth’s Story

“I graduated feeling like I could fly.”

Starting in her teens, Elizabeth Correia experienced severe abuse. Now she’s helping to empower other women and girls. As told to Anqi Shen in the Spring 2015 issue of SHE magazine.

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Elizabeth’s Story

From the first day in the Business Support Program, I knew it was a blessing in my life. It was no coincidence that I heard a couple of girls talking about it at church. It was a very emotional time for me and I was open to a fresh start. I’d had an idea for a business to empower women and girls, but it had been on the backburner for so long.

I was born and raised in downtown Toronto in a very abusive household. My father was an alcoholic and he was sexually, physically, and mentally abusive. I was taken out of the home when I was 14 with my sister, and placed into foster care. When I was 15, I got involved with a guy who was extremely physically abusive.

I got the courage to leave after five years, but it wasn’t until I was in my thirties that I felt like, “Okay, this is it. My life is stable, I’m married, I’ve got a new baby.” Everything seemed so perfect, but that bubble burst when I found out he had committed adultery. That betrayal brought me back to the pain I was so familiar with when it came to men. I had to leave but I didn’t have anywhere to go, so I went to a shelter with my 17-year-old son and my one-year-old little boy. Being at the shelter was so eye opening. Some of the other women had no money, no job, and no family members. Most of them were in abusive relationships. I forgot about my own problems. My purpose was bigger: I wanted to be a voice for the voiceless. I wanted to inspire women who were abused and abandoned. But I didn’t know how to get started.

In the Business Support Program, they taught me about registering a business and figuring out cash flow and projections. I left with a critiqued, professional business plan, and so much more. The emotional, mental, and spiritual support was extremely empowering. I graduated feeling like I could fly.

I launched my business, the D.e.v.a. In You Group, where I facilitate personal development workshops for youth. Many of them are at risk of dropping out of school, or are caught up in the juvenile and criminal systems. A lot of them are teen moms.

From time to time, I go back to Microskills and talk to the new students. I also go to high schools and share my story. My story touches young people because so many of them are living it too, or they have lived it.

I tell them: ‘Being a leader is not how many people serve you. It’s about how many people you serve.’ When I say that, it’s like a bell goes off in their heads.

The Business Support Program for Women Entrepreneurs, which is delivered by Community MicroSkills Development Centre, has received funding from Canadian Women’s Foundation.

Darlene’s Story

Darlene experienced a number of setbacks that made it difficult for her to earn a living. But a skilled trades program helped her get back on track and work toward her vision.

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Darlene’s Story

“I think about what happened to me and how that could happen to anybody,” says Darlene. She was diagnosed with ulcerative colitis, which made her too sick to hold down a job, and in the years following her diagnosis, she also lost four family members to cancer.

“A lot of times, I felt like giving up, but I knew I couldn’t give up,” she says.

Despite her hardships, Darlene wanted to find a way to move forward and help others. Now she is doing just that. Thanks to an economic development program funded by the Canadian Women’s Foundation, Darlene has been able to carve out a new career in the skilled trades that enables her to pay her bills, buy food, and take care of herself. She has transformed her life and advanced toward her vision of one day building homes for people who live in poverty.

“I decided to share my story because I think maybe I can help someone else who might be in the same situation as me,” she says.

Did you know that about 1.5 million women in Canada live on a low income? The path out of poverty isn’t linear, nor easy as many barriers can hinder women’s journeys. But when you hear Darlene’s story, it’s clear that with the right supports along the way, women can overcome those challenges and transform their lives.

Watch Darlene tell her story:

Elizabeth’s Story

After finishing a skilled trades program in carpentry, Elizabeth Small is building a new future as the owner of a renovation company and paving the way for other women in skilled trades. As told to Jessica Howard in the fall 2015 issue of SHE magazine.

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Elizabeth’s Story

I came out of school not really knowing what I wanted to do with my life. Skilled trades came way, way after. After I went through a series of jobs that I wasn’t really interested in, a family friend invited me to get involved in buying an investment property that we would renovate and rent. I started to learn renovation skills, and that led to working for a construction company. During my last job with the company, I realized everything I was learning was wrong. They asked me to work on a shower and it was so wrong they had to rip it all out. I definitely didn’t have enough formal training. I applied to the Enhanced General Carpentry for Women program because I wanted to learn the right way and go further with my career. Everybody works in the trades on seniority, and I wasn’t going to spend five years at the very bottom. Once I got the call to say I was accepted in the program, I was over the moon.

My instructor always used to joke that my favourite phrase was “Really?!” I was often in disbelief in class, because it was so different from the way I had been taught. I was excited, though, because I finally understood what I was doing wrong and why. When I graduated, I saw myself working as an employee to learn the next level of carpentry. But one of my former co-workers asked if I could build her garage. So I looked over the plans and said, ‘We can do this,’ and I got two other women from the program to work with me. If I hadn’t done the garage, I never would have gotten incorporated or started my own company, Arriba Contracting. Ever since, I’ve gotten work by word of mouth. I’ve never advertised.

What I’ve noticed is that the home is typically the woman’s place; she decorates it, she furnishes it. If she’s hiring a contractor, there’s a connection to see a female in that role. I think I’ve gotten a lot of jobs because I’m a woman. I’m not going to kibosh that—I’m going to go with it!

I hire people who’ve graduated from the program because it makes my job 10 times easier when I don’t have to break bad habits. I also want women and men on my crew because it shows that they can work together. For women, it can be hard to get a job in this industry. It’s tough convincing guys to give us a chance. Every year, I go back and talk to new students in the program. My advice for women going into the trades is to pursue it as if it was any other occupation. If you wanted to be a rock star, you wouldn’t say, ‘Well, it’s a male-dominated field.’ You’d be strummin’ away on your guitar, or belting out a song to show them what you’ve got. Same thing here.

The Enhanced General Carpentry Program, which is delivered by the Centre for Skills Development and Training, has received funding from the Canadian Women’s Foundation.

Elizabeth’s Story

“To raise awareness, I decided to be open about mental illness.”

After taking a self-employment program, Elizabeth Anderson is turning her passion for public speaking and writing into a business that helps people flourish in spite of mental illness. As told to Jessica Howard in the Spring 2016 issue of SHE magazine.

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Elizabeth’s Story

In 1995, I was diagnosed with schizophrenia. In the years before that, I struggled with paranoia and depression, as well as taking care of myself on a daily basis. I had also left university because I couldn’t keep up with my classes. By the time I was diagnosed, I didn’t know that I would ever recover.

About five years later I was able to return to university, taking one course at a time for therapeutic value. I could only work one or two days a week, so I did that to help pay for daily expenses. I never expected to get a degree, but after 10 years I graduated with a Bachelor of Communication and Culture.

My husband and I had been struggling financially, so after years of living on his income I wanted to find a way to earn my own income and use my shiny new degree. I decided on three goals: build a website, speak for a living, and write a book. A professor who heard one of my talks about schizophrenia had said that if I wrote my story, she would use it as a class textbook.

I wanted to launch my own business, but didn’t know where to start. A friend told me about the Women’s Venture Program at Momentum. It was a really powerful experience. Everything I learned was new, like marketing, financial forecasting, record keeping, social media, and contingency planning. The environment was welcoming and the staff really cared about what we wanted to do.

It’s kind of cute, because the contact list on my phone listed Momentum as “Mom.” They were my wisdom sharers, they were my cheerleaders—kind of like my mom. What I learned there helped me launch my business, Being Mentally Healthy. My mission is to help people know they can flourish in spite of mental illness. If I didn’t have Momentum behind me, I wouldn’t have had some of the successes I’ve had so far.

My book has been listed as either required or recommended reading for a few university courses. I went to Chicago to speak at the Forum for Behavioural Science in Family Medicine. I won a Lieutenant Governor’s True Grit award for raising awareness about schizophrenia.

I decided to be open about my diagnosis to raise awareness. Nothing’s going to change unless people stand up and say, “Yes, I’m doing well and I’ve got a mental illness.”

The Women’s Venture Program, which is delivered by Momentum in Calgary, AB, has received funding from the Canadian Women’s Foundation.

Elizabeth Anderson’s book, Being Mentally Healthy (in Spite of a Mental Illness) is available on her website, beingmentallyhealthy.com. She recently launched a crowd-funding campaign to produce an adult colouring book, The ABCs of Being Mentally Healthy, with 26 tips for mental health.

Amar’s Story

“Now I’m proud to be a girl.” When she was 12, Amar lacked confidence and felt like she was “just a girl.” Then she discovered a program that would change her life forever. As told to Diane Hill in the Fall 2014 issue of SHE magazine.

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Amar’s Story

“SOMETHING FOR THE GIRLZ” is a very prodigious program. It has done wonders for me and I am sure it has had the same impact on many—if not all—of the participants.

Before I took this program, I was just another girl. I was very uninvolved in life. I had a very “go home, watch TV, do homework, go back to school” kind of life. It wasn’t fun.

In middle school, I started to realize most people had hobbies, things they were really attached to and tried to excel in. I had friends who’d been playing soccer since they could walk. But it wasn’t like that for me. In gym I was usually really bad. I didn't get involved in sports or join clubs. I wanted to, but I didn't feel I was good enough because I wasn’t athletic or artsy. I thought maybe I’d never be good at anything. I always worried about what others thought of me, and I felt like maybe I wasn’t needed. I think I was looking for something that would be mine. I was on a search and didn't even know it.

I remember hearing about this girls’ program and thinking: “Okay, I’m not joining that one either.” But one day the program director was handing out flyers and I started talking to her and that made me want to go. At first I thought it would be a waste of time.

But “Something For The Girlz” completely changed me and made me into the person I’ve always wanted to be. Now I'm a complete sports lover, I’ve joined clubs and groups, I’ve met people from various backgrounds. I have different circles of friends now—just the way it should be.

I no longer worry about what others think of me, because now I know the only person I need to impress is me. I have thrown away my quiet and nervous mood, because now I am a happy go-lucky person. I knew this person was always inside me—I just never knew how to bring her into the spotlight. But thanks to “Something For The Girlz,” I found my true self and can let my inner nature shine. It has worked miracles for me and it’s helping me to achieve my dreams. I’ve learned so much—from all the science info to how to create healthy relationships with your family and friends.

Best of all, I learned that to be a girl is to be special. I am not only a girl—I am a girl who has the power to change the world. I am proud to be who I am. I am proud to be a girl.

Something For The Girlz is delivered by Thorncliffe Neighbourhood Office and has received funding from the Canadian Women’s Foundation. Amar has also volunteered as a mentor in the program.

Yoyo’s Story

“‘Confident’ is the word we really need to get out there.”

Yoyo Benchetrit thought the messages on many T-shirts for girls were disempowering. So she created her own. As told to Jessica Howard in the fall 2015 issue of SHE magazine.

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Yoyo’s Story

IN MY YEARBOOK, I wrote about my teacher, Ms. Jones. She taught me to be just who I am and to not hide the things I’m good at. In her class, we made T-shirts about being grateful. She said when she saw me in my shirt, standing proud and tall, it inspired her to want to get everybody to be proud of who they are.

She came up with an idea to do a workshop called “As We Are”, which I got to participate in. It was a great experience. In the workshop, we started by looking at T-shirts with bad messages about women. For example, one said “Allergic to Algebra.” That offended me because I really like math. It upset me to see a girl wearing that and thinking she’s not allowed to be good at math because it’s “for boys.”

We discussed these messages and brainstormed to come up with more positive ones. We also talked about women we think of as leaders and who inspire us. There are a lot of female athletes I think are good role models, like Serena Williams. Serena shows she doesn’t think that anyone can stop her. We also talked about family members who inspire us. I said my mom, because she’s confident, she works hard, she’s supportive, and she really believes in women’s rights. After that, we worked on our own T-shirt designs. I wanted mine to describe what women are to me: confident, leaders, musical, athletic, intelligent, and proud of who we are. I put “confident” twice because that’s the word we really need to get out there.

I think a lot of girls are put down just because of their gender. A lot of people say there’s two categories, women and men, and they need to follow certain rules, like women being pretty or being skinny. And then that kind of lowers the way girls think. They don’t try as hard because they think, for example, “I can’t play football, because girls don’t play football, so why bother?” I usually wear the shirt I designed to bed, because it gives me a reminder before I go to sleep. I have three copies of it and my brother wanted one, too. He’s seven. Hopefully, this project will go worldwide and a lot of girls will start standing tall and being proud. And they’ll hopefully try to be leaders to other kids, too.

As We Are is a Canadian Women’s Foundation funded project that encourages girls aged 9 to 13 to challenge stereotypes and design T-shirts with positive messages.

Sylvia’s Story

“A new way of thinking about leadership.”

As a graduate of the Canadian Women’s Foundation Leadership Institute, Sylvia Wootten strives to empower the women who she works with and serves at the Newcomer Centre of Peel. By Sylvia Wootten.

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Sylvia’s Story

Since time immemorial, women’s strength has been our ability to share knowledge and empower one another. As we work toward gender equality, we need women to believe in their ability to take on leadership roles and excel at them. And the sharing of that leadership knowledge is exactly the work being done by the Canadian Women’s Foundation Leadership Institute.

When I began the leadership program in May 2014, I wanted a better understanding of leadership—not as a title or a measurement of power, but as a way of sparking change and community development.

These skills were relevant to me as the Manager of Settlement Services at the Newcomer Centre of Peel. I work with many women colleagues, and I work to empower immigrant women who are adapting to life in Canada. Professional development opportunities are few and far between in this sector.

The Institute gave me the opportunity to connect with experts and mentors, explore new leadership methods, and understand the mentality behind women’s leadership tendencies and behaviours. But this was only the beginning. The program taught me a new way of thinking, to better understand the reason ‘why’, as opposed to simply knowing the ‘how’.

We covered topics including social enterprise management, marketing strategy, critical and strategic thinking, and democratic leadership styles. We looked at leadership through a gender lens and identified the leadership qualities we have, and those we need to develop.

Another unique aspect of this program was that it gathered 25 women from diverse personal and professional backgrounds. We were all bound by a common vision: to help make women’s lives in Canada better. We remain connected and continue to advocate on behalf of the women and communities we serve, opening up spaces that were previously closed to us, and ensuring that even the quietest of voices are heard.

The impact of the Canadian Women’s Foundation Leadership Institute goes well beyond each participant. It extends into each woman’s organization and community, resulting in very real outcomes.

The Newcomer Centre of Peel and the newcomer community have benefited from new ideas feeding into the expansion of our work. The Institute gave us the opportunity to apply for a $3,000 grant to build capacity for leadership within our organizations. Through the grant, I was able to secure training for all of our management staff to learn about organizational critical thinking and to develop a new strategy to focus on more immigrant women-focused programming.

I’m also using specific skills I learned at the Institute to develop a new initiative in the Peel region. I’m working on forging a partnership that will bridge the gap between mental health service providers and offer more culturally sensitive services to new immigrants and Syrian refugees as they make Canada their home.

As I move forward in my career, I strive to be a part of the age-old tradition of learning, where knowledge is passed from one woman to another. Not at the head, but in the middle. I strive to use my knowledge to empower the staff under my direction, so that they can empower the women that they serve. It is my hope that these immigrant women and colleagues take their place in the chain of learning, and inspire the women who follow them.

The Canadian Women’s Foundation Leadership Institute is a three-year pilot project launched in 2012, in partnership with the Coady Institute at St. Francis Xavier University in Antigonish, Nova Scotia. The Leadership Institute builds the capacity of emerging and mid-career women in the non-profit sector across the country.