Days for Girls London Ontario

 
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A few years ago my husband and I moved back to London after spending our teaching careers in Huron County. We were retired and it was time to come home to the community where we grew up. Shortly after the move I became aware of Days for Girls International. I learned that there were only eight teams in Canada, and no team in London. Just before Christmas that year nine of us met in my living room and Days for Girls, Team London Ontario was established.

Since then, more than 50 people have joined us in the creation of feminine hygiene kits for “Every Girl. Everywhere. Period.” We meet one day a month to spend the hours together cutting and pinning, sewing and serging, ironing and folding, as we stockpile our Days for Girls (DfG) kits.

To date we have distributed DfG kits in 14 countries, providing 2379 Girls with the help they need with menstrual management. Each time we have also provided the accompanying DfG educational component about menstrual health and hygiene. I have had the privilege of conducting many of these distributions personally, and I am humbled repeatedly by the extreme appreciation expressed by the Girls. They make it very clear that their new DfG kits will be life changing!

It is the appreciation the Girls express that makes a huge difference to all the people who support us in London Ontario. The members of Team London work together joyfully with integrity and determination to make each kit one that will be loved, used, and cared for by the girl who receives it. Knowing that our kits make it possible for girls to attend school during their periods when they otherwise would not, and understanding what a difference that makes in their lives, is both motivation and rewarding for us.

As we sew for “The Girls”, the word of our work is spreading through our city, and church groups and service clubs regularly request that we speak to them about our experiences. We are met with amazing encouragement from all across the city, as individuals and groups come forward to help in whatever ways they can. I always remind these people that they are a part of our story, no matter how small their role is in our work. Any contribution that is made ... whether it be time, or labour, or materials, or a cash donation ... benefits a Girl somewhere, providing her with dignity, hygiene, and education. The people of London tell me repeatedly that they are impressed to be learning about the girls we serve, and delighted to have the opportunity to be involved in such a positive movement. Days for Girls has an impact on all of us!

Most of the members of our team are retired, and to us the work we do is a way of making a significant positive change in a world that sometimes seems to be hopelessly problematic. Each kit we make is designed to last for three years, and represents 180 days that a Girl can attend school even though she is menstruating. By providing washable, re-usable, and gorgeous feminine hygiene kits, we have already delivered 435,420 days of school for Girls! That’s more than a thousand years.

As we make this important and measurable change in the lives of the Girls we reach, we ourselves are also changing. We are developing strong and caring friendships based on our common goals. We are reaching out to our community and beyond, explaining the importance of our work and providing opportunities for others to participate. We are becoming advocates for Girls ... Every Girl. Everywhere. Period.

- Jillian

Learn more about Days for Girls Canada on Facebook


Parkdale Community Legal Services

Parkdale Community Legal Services (PCLS) plays a pivotal role in helping to build and mobilize an ever increasing community movement to eradicate poverty and oppression. PCLS was founded in 1971 by Parkdale neighbourhood residents, community organizations and Osgoode Hall Law School, establishing one of the first and now largest community legal clinics in Canada.

With provincial and Legal Aid Ontario budget cuts, PCLS has been asked to reduce its own budget by approximately $1,000,000. This represents an unprecedented loss to PCLS, which has already forced multiple layoffs and threatens the very survival of the clinic. It is uncertain whether PCLS will be able to remain in Parkdale at all. Without a community legal clinic, Parkdale residents will not be able to access the services of PCLS’s four core groups: Social Assistance, Violence and Health (“SAVAH”); Workers’ Rights; Immigration and Refugee assistance; and Housing Rights matters.

The contributions of PCLS to the community are far too numerous to include in a 500-word essay. However, some recent highlights of PCLS’s legal and community work include:

In 2018, the Housing Rights division assisted over 850 households with housing concerns, which included mostly threats of evictions. The Housing division supports the development of neighbourhood-based organizing to resist the displacement of working class and low-income renters who are increasingly being pushed out of the community through gentrification.

In November 2015, the Immigration and Refugee division went to Ottawa to participate in Kanthasamy v Canada before the Supreme Court of Canada and won! This case focused on how immigration officers should exercise humanitarian discretion. PCLS participated as an intervener based on our 40+ years of experience representing clients on humanitarian and compassionate (H&C) applications.

The SAVAH division opened over 400 cases last year! This division provides a range of case work services including summary advice, informal advocacy, and representation with respect to decisions concerning eligibility for the Ontario Disability Support Program, Ontario Works, and Assistance for Children with Severe Disabilities. SAVAH continued to engage in women’s rights organizing and was integral in anti-racism organizing through the “I am NOT Invisible” campaign.

The Workers’ Rights division was instrumental in making the $15 and Fairness a key issue in the provincial election. In 2017-2018 the division also collected $628,049.16 in unpaid wages and wrongful dismissal damages for workers in the Parkdale community. The Workers’ Rights division helps people like Eva, who with the assistance of the Workers’ Rights division, filed an Employment Standards Act claim against her employer for unpaid wages. The Ministry of Labour decided in Eva’s favour and issued an Order to Pay against her employer for $84,817.30. We believe that this is one of the largest amounts that the Ministry of Labour has ever issued on behalf of an individual worker.

On top of all that, Lerners LLP and Parkdale are intrinsically linked: Lerners and its clients have benefited from countless students trained at PCLS and then hired by Lerners LLP over the years.

John

Learn more about Parkdale Community Legal Services


Peacebuilders International (Canada)

Toronto’s Peacebuilders (Charitable Reg BN838776524RR0001) delivers restorative justice programs to support vulnerable youth under 18. Peacebuilders’ vision is “Youth realizing their full potential and building safe and peaceful communities.” Peacebuilders’ Court program has diverted over 1,100 youth out of the justice system without lawyers, had all their charges withdrawn, easily saving taxpayers over $45,000,000 at a cost of $5,000 per youth. Any donations will be applied to support other youth through this program. The website is: www.peacebuilders.ca.

The story below is from a youth who successfully completed Peacebuilders’ court diversion program:

“As a young kid from Scarborough I grew up in metro housing around drug dealers and gang violence in a broken home yet with a lot to be thankful for, but I failed to appreciate it at such a young age and I got into bad company.

I was introduced to Peacebuilders’ circles program when I ran into trouble with the law and was charged. Luckily they had an office in the courthouse, it was easy to meet them. I had to attend weekly sessions for 6 months. I was devastated at first, but little did I know that these 6 months would change my life for the better.

My experience with Peacebuilders from the first interaction was amazing. There was a whole community to help you. I was told that if I attend circles every week, I would be given tokens and pizza - pretty encouraging. At the weekly peer-group LOT (Leaders of Tomorrow) circles we were empowered with new knowledge, an opportunity to express our feelings, and have support in a safe place. LOT circles really showed me that I wasn’t alone as other youth also had problems.

After completing LOT, I moved onto individual circles with several circle-keeper volunteers who took time out of their lives to facilitate the restorative process. This was special. I brought my dad to one of the circles so that I could graduate from the program. I heard his thoughts and feelings about the situation that I was in. I shared my thoughts and feelings as well which brought a broken father-son relationship closer together, changed the dynamic of our relationship for the positive and really changed how we communicate. Upon the completion of the LOT Circles and individual circles, I graduated from the program. Since I showed significant potential and recorded improvement to the courts all the charges against me were dropped.

With this second chance, I became interested in finding out what type of jobs I could eventually get so that I could pay for day to day necessities and look after myself. I finished high school and became interested in opportunities in the business world. I went on to study Business Administration at Seneca College.

My experience with Peacebuilders taught me a lot, kept me out of trouble growing up and has made me a better person. Your support will enable Peacebuilders to help many other youth like me to get back to school, on track and succeed.”

Eva

Learn more about Peacebuilders International Canada

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Investing in Children

Investing in Children has provided our school, Fairmont Public School, with funding for years to support our daily breakfast program. We also have enough funding to create a snack program for the students. Each morning, our volunteers provide fresh fruit, veggies, yogurt, cheese, juice, milk and many other items to all students who want to partake. It is important to us that all students are invited to attend, so no one is stigmatized by going to the breakfast program. Investing in Children provides us with enough funding that we can make that happen.

Each morning, once breakfast is finished, the volunteers prepare a large bin with more items that are stored in the fridge near the office. Any student who needs additional food items can come to the office during the nutritional breaks and have access to the food. The bin is generally empty at the end of each day.

It truly makes a difference in many students' lives. I don’t have any one particular story, but I have over 200. We see kids come to school filthy, in clothing that hasn't been washed, with hair that hasn't been brushed, and with surely empty lunch pails. I have witnessed children open their lunch boxes to only find such items as a granola bar and a fruit snack package (no fresh fruit or vegetables, no sandwiches - all processed, sugar-laden food). Many come to school with a single item to eat for the entire day. I believe that some of the kids get most of their food for the day from the school.

Students in our Deaf and Hard of Hearing Program come to our school from all over the Thames Valley District School Board, an area of 7000 km2! Some are getting on their van so early in the morning, that they do not have the time to eat before leaving. Many students with working parents are responsible for getting themselves up and ready in the morning and do not leave enough time to have a bite to eat. Some kids, like my own, just don’t feel physically able to eat when they first wake up in the morning, but by the time they get up, get ready and arrive at school, they start to feel hungry.

Having the breakfast program and snack bin available for the students also gives them a chance to eat and try healthy food that they might not otherwise have the opportunity to eat. The breakfast program provides a social environment where the students can gather in our gym with their food and visit with their friends before starting school, and in some cases, making that daily transition between home and school smoother.

Through Investing in Children, we have been able to create a safe, inclusive place for students to come each morning, whether for a glass of milk, a piece of fruit or a full-on breakfast.

- Rebecca

Learn more about Investing In Children


Kids Kicking Cancer Canada

Kids Kicking Cancer (KKC) is a global organization dedicated to lowering the pain of children through the teaching of martial arts as a therapy. KKC is proud to offer the program in London, Ontario to in-patients at London's Children's Hospital and through classes held in the community. Children learn breath work, meditation and traditional karate movements that empower them to teach others and thus gain purpose within their lives. Children learn to “breathe in the light and blow out the darkness”. This has extended into the creation of a Heroes Circle program dedicated to lowering the pain of all children regardless of disease.

Our daughter, Sara has participated in Heroes Circle since August 2015. She was diagnosed with a brain tumour when she was 3 years old and underwent surgery, radiation and high dose chemotherapy. We are so thankful she survived. She is now 14 years old and lives with the late effects of the treatment.

She has regular medical appointments and blood work. She requires daily injections at home too. Over the years, she became more anxious with needles. People wondered why needles were a big deal, given all she had gone through, but the reality was a lot of fears, tears and hurt.

This all changed when she joined Heroes Circle. She learned how to feel in control of her pain and anxiety and breathe through blood work and daily injections. She loves the volunteer Senseis (teachers). She enjoys the non-competitive physical activity and learning Kata.

She wrote this poem:

Karate

Kicks, Punches, Blocks

I feel so strong

Nothing can go wrong…Ki-ya!

I punch the air

I kick the pads

I block the blockers

I teach the world to conquer disease with light

I lay down on my mat, I close my eyes

I release any pain in my body

When I wake up all the pain is gone

I cup my hands, I breathe in

Then when there’s no air left, I breathe in again

The same thing when I breathe out

We bow in and we bow out

We say power, peace, purpose

Katas are when you put all the moves in a dance

Belts, white, yellow, orange, green, red, blue, purple, brown, black

I love Karate. I love the Senseis

I am a powerful martial artist

by Sara S, 2017

Heroes Circle is special because it welcomes any child in pain – physical, spiritual or psychological – and their siblings. It is special because of their volunteers.

As a parent, I see the how the program has supported Sara to take control in the face of so much that she is seemingly not in control of. The program has brought me and my family a welcome sense of peace.

The program is offered to all children free of charge including uniforms and equipment. All funds received through this giveaway would be used to help offset those costs to ensure the program can be offered to all children who need it.

- Gill

Learn more about Kids Kicking Cancer


Youth Opportunities Unlimited

Youth Opportunities Unlimited (YOU) believes everyone deserves a home. YOU's newest project, Joan’s Place, will create hope and opportunity for all youth at risk by providing them with the tools and skills they need to overcome their challenges with addiction, primary and mental health, housing, education, and unemployment, and become part of the community around them. Mackenzie is a youth in London who was able to use YOU’s services to change her life, here is Mackenzie’s story:

Mackenzie has always been driven to succeed. But, as a teen, she realized reaching success wasn’t simply a matter of “setting her mind to it”.

“I struggled with substance abuse and my mental health in my teenage years, and graduated high school pregnant with my daughter,” says Mackenzie. Having her daughter months after graduation, she transitioned abruptly into adulthood and felt unprepared.

Worried about her ability to support her newborn daughter given the high cost of rent, Mackenzie faced a conflict. Without a job, she could not afford childcare, but without childcare she could not get a job. “I always knew that I wanted to do something with my life, but I could not get ahead,” says Mackenzie.

Solution-focused and eager to break the cycle, Mackenzie became involved with YOU’s program, Training for Employment Success. Through the program, she completed field training at the YOU Café. “I had the opportunity to invest in myself, which gives my daughter a better future as well,” she shares.

Working at the Café gave Mackenzie more than just on-the-job training. When her relationship with the father of her daughter became toxic, YOU recognized signs of abuse and distress, and acted quickly.

“YOU supported me, advocated for me and connected me with resources. I was given the courage to remove myself and my daughter from a harmful situation.”

As a single mom balancing college, work, volunteering, friendships, relationships, and self-care, there are many things to get done in a day. YOU gave Mackenzie job skills, an income, and mental health counselling. They advocated about her abilities as a mother and helped her find affordable housing. “YOU gave me strength,” she explains.

Mackenzie and her daughter are healthy, stable, and growing. “YOU helped me find myself, learn to navigate a system that I felt trapped in, and become a strong and confident role model for my daughter. YOU helped me achieve my goals and because of that, my daughter is growing up strong. I am so proud of both of us.”

Stephanie

Learn more about Youth Opportunities Unlimited


The Sunshine Foundation of Canada

The Sunshine Foundation of Canada was established in 1987 by a London, Ontario police officer as a legacy to his son who passed away from muscular dystrophy. He wanted children like his son to be able to live their dreams. By 1990, Sunshine was a national charitable organization.

One year later, on December 24th, 1991, when I was 14, my family was involved in a head-on collision. Out of 7 people, only my mother and I survived. My mother received severe injuries to her head and body. The seatbelt cut through my body, severing many organs and my spinal-cord. I became paraplegic. My father died.

I was devastated. I lost my family, the use of my legs, my schooling, and childhood friends. I lost my dreams of becoming the next LPGA female champion. I lost everything. I was alone. I spent my days just surviving after the accident, without a hope for the future. I just got from the start of one day to the end of it.

Years later, a nurse told me about Sunshine and that they granted dreams to kids who have a severe physical disability or a life-threatening illness. I applied to meet Roseanne Barr. I had just read her biography about how she overcame an accident and started a career despite the people who said her brain injury was too bad.

I went to Hollywood, met her and other celebrities, and really saw how things worked in the film and television industry. By the end of my 5 days, my life changed – I knew a future I wanted. I wanted to become a writer for film, television, novels… anything entertaining that would evoke emotion.

So, I did. I came back with purpose. I was no longer just surviving, I was creating something for myself. I now have one published novel and one in process. I have a short film heading into the festival circuit soon. And I have two full feature International-award-winning films with established directors attached.

But more than this, I got back something I lost. I now have a family in Sunshine. I have a place where I belong again. To this day, I still volunteer with them, front-running the volunteer network here in Northern Ontario.

Two groups saved me from the horrors of my accident: the medical teams who saved my life and the Sunshine staff who saved my soul. I don’t think there is another charity out there that can do this kind of magic. They took a broken, lonely, hurt, little girl who lost everything, and gave her a life that she could not only be proud of, but one that she felt safe and loved in. They are deserving of every award that is out there.

The police officer truly did leave a legacy for his son. I know I’ll never forget the gift I was given. Any money donated would go to doing the same for other kids. Why wouldn’t you want to be a part of that?

A video of Sarah’s story.

- Sarah

Learn more about Sunshine Foundation of Canada


Craigwood Youth Services

When I was fourteen years old, my family experienced what can only be described as a breakdown. I had to leave the family home and became a ward of the Crown. Shortly thereafter, I found myself living in a residential home operated by Craigwood. This point in my life was, and remains, the most difficult struggle I have faced, and I consider myself lucky that I did not have to face it alone. Not only did I have a warm bed – a luxury which not all displaced teens have – but I also had support from a team of staff that were focused both on meeting my day-to-day needs and on teaching me the skills necessary to fulfill my own needs going forward. Put simply, the compassion and support I received at Craigwood enabled me to weather the storm.

After graduating from Fanshawe College in London, I returned to Craigwood, this time as a member of the staff team. It was at this point that I realized the diversity and complexity of the youth which Craigwood cares for. The youth I worked with came from many backgrounds and faced a wide range of challenges. What they all shared in common, though, was that they needed both support and a structured treatment program. They needed a supportive living environment, and they needed to be taught and to practice the life and social skills they would need going forward. I was proud to be part of the team which endeavoured to fulfill those needs, and it lifted me to see the youth progress as their needs were met.

I worked at Craigwood throughout my undergraduate degree at Western University and resigned only when I made the decision to attend law school in Toronto. I recently graduated from the University of Toronto Faculty of Law, and I will soon be articling at a Bay St. law firm. At my current age of 26, my life looks very different than it did when I was a teenager. I couldn’t have imagined having the opportunities that I do now. When youth are facing hard times, as most who live at Craigwood are, the future to them feels very far away. The challenges they face in the present are more salient to them and perhaps also to those who interact with them. But the people these youth will become in the future depends to a significant extent on the support they receive while navigating the turmoils of their younger years, and this is the vital role that Craigwood serves. It offers a home, it offers support, it offers evidence-informed treatment, and it offers compassion to those youth who need it most.

Brandon

Learn more about Craigwood Youth Services


Indwell

Indwell is a charitable organization that is relatively new to London. In the 1970's Siny and John Prinzen of Hamilton, saw a need to support vulnerable adults dealing with mental health issues and Indwell was formed. Indwell now provides more than 500 people with supportive housing in Hamilton, Woodstock and Simcoe. Indwell has expanded to London due to the urgent need to create affordable, supportive housing to address chronic homelessness, especially for people with mental health challenges.

Currently upon discharge, if a psychiatric patient has no family supports, they are sent to a shelter, as there's a year’s waiting list for subsidized housing. Shelters are the worst place to be for anyone suffering from mental illness. Many discharged patients have paranoid thoughts and are anxious and the shelter environment just escalates their symptoms. As a result, they leave the shelter as they feel safer sleeping under a bridge or ATM, etc. These people need a supportive environment to help them develop a sense of belonging and feel part of the community.

Indwell is opening their first building, Woodfield Gate, at 356 Dundas this month. There are 67 one bedroom units and each unit is completely furnished, including the dishes! There will be support staff available in the secure building. There is a community kitchen and dining/living room which will provide for a healthy dinner, life skills and social skills. Thirty patients from Parkwood will be moving into their own apartment at this location later this month! I can see the joy on their faces already! Some have been waiting nearly a year to be able to be discharged to supportive housing. This move will free up 30 psychiatric beds which are always in high demand, thereby relieving some of the hallway healthcare for psychiatric patients.

Indwell's next project is to construct a new building on the former site of the Embassy Hotel. This building will have 75 one bedroom fully furnished, supportive, affordable apartments. Indwell needs to raise $2 million dollars from the community in order to unlock further government funding. This project is near and dear to my heart, as my son died in June after suffering from untreated mental illness for several years due to the shortage of mental health beds and community supports. I'm hoping to raise enough donations for Indwell, to pay for the community kitchen at this new project. If I am successful, a plaque will be placed outside of the kitchen in my son's memory.

Please help give hope and homes to those who have so bravely fought their way back from mental illness and smooth their transition to wellness by supporting Indwell.

- Linda

Learn more about Indwell


PHSS (formerly Participation House Support and Services, London and area)

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“Alex’s next fall could kill him.” My family was in crisis.

My brother, Alex, was born with cerebral palsy and he lived an active and vibrant life for many years. In 2004, he lost his balance and fell, suffering neurological damage, leaving him paralyzed from his chest down, and needing help with daily life. I moved back into our family home to help our elderly mom, and we sold our family business to look after Alex full-time. The prognosis was grim, so I put his name on the Participation House waitlist in 2004.

In 2013, Alex’s wheelchair took a spastic turn and pinned him in a ditch under his 300+lb power wheelchair. As a result, he suffers from severe chronic neck pain and is unable to turn his head, lay flat, or turn without pain. His world became very small.

Alex suffered a few more falls, which caused bruising to his spinal cord and lost many critical functions. He was admitted into Parkwood Hospital in 2015, and we were told that his next fall could kill him. We sold our family home of over 30 years and moved into a one floor accessible condo.

Alex is considered medically fragile, which significantly reduced his options: live at home and be cared for by our weak, elderly mother; or live in a nursing home at the age of 48. Alex indicated that he would rather exercise his right to die than live in a nursing home.

After 13 years on the waitlist, our lives completely changed; Alex finally receives 24/7 supports from Participation House. We are no longer his caregivers, and we can be a family again. Participation House is in a league of its own. They not only provide a safe, accessible home with excellent supports, but are devoted to caring for the whole person, including his emotional and mental needs. He is able to participate in activities in the community as he wishes, and his staff team help to identify meaningful opportunities. The staff are the most giving, caring, and compassionate people I have ever met, and I am truly humbled by each and every person at Participation House.

Participation House should receive a donation because they support some of the most vulnerable people in the community, and there are no other community support options for people considered medically fragile in the area. A donation for Participation House would be able to help people like Alex and help other families in crisis.

Founded in 1988, Participation House Support Services is a registered charity that supports more than 200 people with complex medical, physical, and developmental disabilities in more than 50 locations throughout London and region, providing 24-hour care in residential homes, day/overnight respite, recreational programs, support for those living with chronic mechanical ventilation, as well as those living at home with their families.

Although I have no specific connection to Lerners, I have a general knowledge of them, and I admire them for their generosity and connection to the community.

YouTube video

- Jin

Learn more about Participation House Foundation

There were 4 four other stories describing the impact of the work of PHSS that almost made the Top 10 finalists. Read these Honourable Mentions here.