Updated: Feb 12, 2019
Volunteering has always made me feel so alive. I love helping others and always have, but there's something special about volunteering, especially in the various roles I have had over the years. In previous years, I had volunteered at the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) in Toronto. My volunteering here lasted for close to 4-5 years. At CAMH, I have had the amazing opportunity to conduct a dance class for a few years and also conducted an art class for another two years in several units throughout the centre. I loved my various roles at CAMH and I am forever grateful for all the amazing clients and workers I met throughout the years.
In the past year, I have had the incredible opportunity to volunteer with Elizabeth Fry Toronto. Elizabeth Fry Society is such an amazing organization that provides community support, housing, education, counselling, release planning, and many other services to women who are in conflict with the law (or at risk of being in conflict with the law). Through Elizabeth Fry Toronto, I have had the honour of being a part of the Talk and Listen Phone Line program, which is a phone line for women who are in conflict with the law. Through extensive training in understanding the emotional and mental stress of navigating the justice system and the effects it has on those who are experiencing it, support is offered to help refer callers to resources and services, understand the bail program, housing and shelter, domestic abuse, and also for helping with loneliness and isolation and the comfort to listen and chat out what's going on for them. This phone line is lead by volunteers and everyone is doing such an amazing job at helping those who need it. Phone lines are set up in various institutions so that people can pick up the phone and access the volunteer at the other end of the line, without the caller having to pay a hefty fee for the phone.
In addition to the Talk and Listen program, I have also been a volunteer Life Coach to many participants in the newest My Start-Up Women's Entrepreneurship program (in partnership with Rise Asset Development at the Rotman School of Management, University of Toronto). My Start-Up is an awesome opportunity for participants who want to start their own business and learn the skills surrounding that. It can be a challenge to secure employment with a criminal record, which can further stigmatize women in this job searching process, so that's another great reason that My Start-Up was created so that it could help empower women and participants to carve their own path. My role in My Start-Up as a volunteer was to provide Life Coaching sessions for participants. Our sessions were focused around building confidence and self-esteem, discussing barriers and obstacles and how to get past them, discovering passions and strengths, letting go of fears and limiting beliefs, and getting excited about the entire process. These sessions were so amazing for both myself and the clients, and I love being a part of this program.
I have recently started volunteering in the Court Support Program with Elizabeth Fry as well, which helps women navigate the system, provide referrals and services, and provide emotional and practical support. This role is new for me, and I can't wait to continue this incredible journey.
Volunteering has helped shape me and provide me with effective listening skills, conversational skills and has ignited me with such passion. I always knew I was quite the empathic person, but I never knew how much empathy I really had until volunteering became a big part of my life over a decade ago. I love working with people and I enjoy empowering others so much. Getting out into the community to be there for other people is such an experience that I hope many people get to have in their life.
Have you ever volunteered? If so, what do you enjoy about it? I would love to hear your stories and comments, and if you have any questions, always feel free to ask! I love sharing my experiences and how they have shaped me today.