Alex’s Story

by Melise Brereton on July 14, 2022 Comments Off on Alex’s Story

Finding a place to call home

Alex says the confidence and independence she’s found living on her own has been life changing

“I never really had the greatest relationship with my parents and it kind of came to a head a couple of years ago where I just couldn’t live in the same house with them anymore. I just found it wasn’t good for my mental health and I wasn’t pursuing any goals in life.

About three years ago, someone I had been seeing as a support suggested linking me to this housing agency. The agency came into my life at a time of dire need. I was rock bottom and didn’t know where else to go. I figured I had nothing left to lose. I didn’t enjoy my life and decided I would do anything to change it, even though I hate change.

The support I have received has been the one constant in my life over the last few years. I have had to upset my life and start over but through every step, there was always someone beside me saying, ‘You’ve got this. We’re here to hold your hand but we’re not going to do it for you. If you fall, you fall. We will help you get up, but you have to learn how to do this.’

I’ve grown quite quickly. I was dragging my feet, for most of my life because I’ve always been afraid to get to the next stage and do the next thing. I’ve been too scared of change. And now, though change is still scary, I’m looking forward to it. I’m now wondering what else is out there and what’s next. And how do I get there faster.

Now I’ve found my dream job. Since I was 12 or 13, I’ve wanted to work in a school and now I’m working in my chosen field of developmental services as an educational assistant. I absolutely love it.

Independence and confidence are the perfect words to describe what I’ve gained. While living with my parents I didn’t have a lot of either. But I’ve been given the opportunity to learn. And getting the physical space from my parents helped regrow our relationship, which had been toxic. 

I watched my sister go through years of homelessness and shelters and group homes when she was just a teenager. She’s 27 now and she’s doing so much better but she didn’t have the supports I have had. I didn’t have to be homeless.

I was the younger sister, so I could do absolutely nothing for her but now I can do something for someone else and let them see that there are supports out there. That’s my main goal in sharing my story. Everyone needs help sometimes.”

Help change lives today.

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Melise BreretonAlex’s Story

AJ’s Story

by Melise Brereton on July 14, 2022 Comments Off on AJ’s Story

Getting on the right track

AJ struggled with mental health issues from the age of 9 or 10. It was only when he found United Way-funded supports that he got the help he needed.

“I was diagnosed with obsessive compulsive disorder, depression, and anxiety at about nine or 10 years old. 

From my family’s perspective, it came out of left field. I was a really happy kid. I kind of just rolled with everything but then there was a sudden shift in my demeanor when I was just this ball of anxiety, which manifested in a lot of anger. My parents would just see the anger and not understand that there was anything else there. They didn’t have the skills or resources to deal with it. Even when my parents were trying to advocate for me, they got stonewalled.

A lot of my OCD is germ related. As my odd behaviour started and kids started to kind of give me a hard time about it, I think that’s where the social anxiety started to develop and then later the depression. I developed this feeling that I had to be perfect or I was going to fail. 

My parents took me to a whole bunch of doctors who didn’t listen to me at all. It was just very clinical. I kept ending up in hospitals because I was so unwell. 

I dropped out of high school and then I got fired from my job. My friendship situation wasn’t great because all my friends were moving on with their lives. I was treading water, if you can call it that.

When I was about 19, I went to emergency and they kept me for two days. After that, I went to a crisis house. They connected me with an organization and a youth worker. And right away, it was completely different.

She met me where I was at. She listened to me, she wasn’t telling me what to do, or imposing how I was supposed to be feeling. She just laid out all of my options. No one had ever told me I had options before, so all of a sudden I had this kind of control that I hadn’t had before. She told me to tell her what I wanted to do and she would help me do it.

She helped me settle back at home and to connect to services in her organization and in the community. It was the turning point that got me on the right track. 

I eventually did some self-esteem work and some youth peer support training. Through the youth training, I learned about harm reduction and safer sex and alcohol and drugs, so that I could give back to the community. That was really empowering because all of a sudden, I was in a position where I was being treated as capable. I’m studying film at college now. 

I have been through so many private facilities and doctors and therapists who just seemed really siloed. The United Way programs are more interconnected. It’s more like an ecosystem.

It’s not easy to ask for help and it’s not easy to get help. The more accessible it is, and the more options people have, the more likely they are to find something that fits for them.

I share my story in the United Way speakers bureau and with youth I work with because if I had been able to find that right person and right organization at an earlier point in my life, things may have been better. So it’s important to me to help people find the lifeline that I did.”

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Melise BreretonAJ’s Story

Community Donation Warehouse

by Melise Brereton on July 14, 2022 Comments Off on Community Donation Warehouse

Partnering to support community

The United Way community donation warehouse benefits agencies, program recipients and volunteers

A community donation warehouse is serving the needs of United Way agencies and their recipients through collecting and distributing much-needed goods, but also by providing volunteering opportunities to those in community programs who are looking to give back.  

The warehouse launched in early 2020 in partnership with local businesses and individuals looking to make in-kind donations.

A small portion of the items received are used for United Way community auctions that raise revenue for the community investment fund, but most are distributed to partner agencies to share with program recipients or to support agency operations. 

The warehouse collects, stores and distributes everything that frontline agencies may need to do their critical work, including housewares, cleaning supplies, hygiene items, bedding, arts and crafts supplies, toys and games, electronics and appliances, and sporting and outdoor items. It also played a key role in distributing personal protective equipment to agencies through the pandemic. 

The donation warehouse is located in the back of a community living agency that enriches the quality of life of more than 400 people with developmental and physical disabilities each year through employment supports, supportive living in 30 residential facilities and on-site and off-site programming. 

“We are so happy to partner with the United Way on space for sorting, storing and distributing donations,” said Emily at the agency. Not only does it help those in the community who benefit from the donated items, but it provides volunteering opportunities for those served by the community living agency.

“Many of our clients want to contribute and stay busy and get a sense of independence. Sending them out into the community during COVID has been difficult, but this is a safe, supportive environment.”

The hope is to eventually have other community living groups bring people to the warehouse to volunteer.

“It’s fantastic because it supports United Way in giving to the community and enriches the lives of our clients, too.”

The household provisions collected and distributed by the warehouse have been a valuable addition to the work of a local agency dedicated to youth mentorship, particularly for vulnerable populations. United Way funding is a key reason the agency can provide one-on-one and group supports to more than 2,000 young people each year.

“An opportunity like the community warehouse lets us expand our services to offer tangible goods to families in need that we support,” said Natalie at the agency. “Without the United Way and other community partners, we just don’t have the capacity to do that.”

Families who wish to take part in the United Way’s Holiday Helping Hand program provide a wish list broken down by age, gender and personal interest. 

In 2021, the program gave a Christmas to 20 families, a number that grows every year, says Natalie. Recipient families says that without that holiday support, there would be no presents under the tree.

“The halls around our office as we get closer to Christmas really do look like Santa’s workshop getting ready for Christmas Eve,” she says.

“Our team who work directly with the families tell me that it’s a really amazing time when the families actually come to pick up their holiday boxes. There are tears flowing when they actually see a pile of goods from strangers that are all for them. It’s just Christmas magic.”

Volunteers installed new heavy duty metal shelving and rebuilt some of the existing shelves to maximize the storage and organization within the two large bays of the warehouse.

Dimitri, who owns a carpentry business, agreed right away to lead the effort because he believes in the work of the United Way. 

Dimitri and a few others worked a total of about 60 hours on the project. 

The impact of the United Way and its funded agencies is important to Dimitri because he wishes he had had access to community programs when he was growing up.

“I am successful and life is good for me now and I want to help people who are struggling. Life should get better for everyone.”

Dimitri thinks about his volunteering in terms of the Boy Scout tradition of holding branches for those trekking behind.  

“It’s the same in life. We should all be thinking about what we can do help future generations and make it easier for them now.”

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Melise BreretonCommunity Donation Warehouse

Chaitra’s Story

by Melise Brereton on July 14, 2022 Comments Off on Chaitra’s Story

Building a village in Canada

First-time mother Chaitra found the supports she needed to raise her young son

My husband, son and I came to Canada in 2019 after immigrating to the U.S. from India. My son was born in the U.S. and my husband and I worked there for 10 years. But we were still waiting for our green card and we were tired of waiting. Becoming parents was a big milestone for us and we wanted to have one of us at home with our son for a year. Without a green card, if the working parent was laid off, we would have had to leave. So we decided to come to Canada. 

When we arrived in Canada, our son was about 15 weeks old. I would take him to the library and there I learned about EarlyON programs for babies. When we moved to a new town, I looked up EarlyON and found the agency.

Through a newcomer parents program, I came to know a lot of other parents. It’s been great for my son, because we’ve set up play dates and it’s helped me learn more about the community here. There are a lot of informative sessions for me and lots of learning experiences for my son. I’ve learned how to build learning into playing with him at home. 

As a first-time parent in the middle of COVID, I’ve questioned myself a lot about whether I’m exposing him to enough opportunities. The program has been extremely helpful in putting my mind at ease that I’m doing something right. I’ve seen my son develop at a rapid pace, especially when we could go to the centre, and he was surrounded by other kids. 

When we moved to Canada, we came with no social capital. You really need a village to raise a child, but we had no one. We have steadily built our own village. I now have other parents to get advice from or to vent to when I need it. My son is thriving, COVID or not.” 

The agency offers programming focused on child development, best parenting practices, play-based learning activities, educational guest speakers, relationship-building among families, and connections to community services.

Early in the pandemic, the agency shifted to virtual offerings including online coffee chats and outdoor educational programming. The agency even put together online learning kits for families to borrow to use at home to learn Spanish or yoga or do science and technology activities.

“We borrowed a learning kit to do yoga, which has really helped with some tantrums my son was having. So much thought has gone into those kits. We’ve also done some of the outdoor programs with an educator that have been great, too. 

I am waiting for COVID restrictions to ease so that we can have more of a social life and continue to build our network here. If it wasn’t for COVID, I think we would have been at the family centre every day. I tell everyone I can about what is available there.”

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Melise BreretonChaitra’s Story

Nira’s Story

by Melise Brereton on July 14, 2022 Comments Off on Nira’s Story

Putting down roots

United Way Halton & Hamilton’s new Investment Framework is bringing stability and flexibility to the critical social justice and equity work of frontline agencies

United Way Halton & Hamilton’s new Investment Framework is supporting the work of critical frontline agencies, including a long-time champion of women, girls, the gender diverse and 2S-LGBTQIA+Q2+ youth. 

The framework is built on a foundation of three funding streams – Seed, Feed and Root – that bring together stability, maintenance, innovation, and systems–level transformation. The framework focuses on priority areas of poverty, children and youth, and wellness and belonging. 

Its goals include the development of strategic planning, capacity-building and services that address root causes, and encouragement of collaboration and continuous improvement. 

Seed provides short-term, flexible, project-based, venture-style funding focused on social innovation. Feed is three-year funding for established programs that align with UWHH investment priorities.

Root is five-year funding for organizations seeking to strengthen their agency at the core. It provides agencies more time to plan, grow and scale to respond to community needs. Achieving Root funding is a highly selective process with strict eligibility requirements, including a proven track record of collaboration, improvement and performance, outcome evaluation, diversity of funding streams and system-level change.  

One social justice and equity agency that has been awarded Root funding has worked for well over a century to promote and protect the rights of girls and women, along with gender-diverse and 2S-LGBTQIA+Q2+ communities.

“Root funding gives us the opportunity to really fill in gaps in critical pieces of the social justice and equity work that we do that often doesn’t fit well into funding boxes or priorities,” said Medora, the agency’s director of operations. 

“That’s part of the marginalization and oppression that women and gender-diverse people have experienced, especially in racialized communities. United Way’s Root funding really gives us the opportunity to continue this important work so that we don’t have to compromise on service delivery.”

The stability of five-year funding allows for longer-term planning, better staff development and more effective capacity-building in areas of focus, says Medora, including supports for racialized communities, calls-to-action to address and eliminate racism, and advocacy for women facing precarious work. 

“As we plan to come out of this crisis situation, we need to be thinking about women differently and how much women bear the costs of inequity and how that needs to change.”

United Way Root funding also directly supports an after-school program in priority elementary schools, a peer-based post-partum program for vulnerable new moms, a food security and training program for women in transitional living facilities, and health and wellness activities for women experiencing poverty. 

United Way funding has allowed the agency to explore, create and test virtual programs and services that have proven vital during pandemic lockdowns, says Medora. As well, the agency has rolled out programs to maintain contact with those unable or unwilling to be online.

Root funding is also allowing for sustainable and dedicated resources for 2S-LGBTQIA+Q2+ youth. Flexibility in funding has allowed a peer-led program founded by 2S-LGBTQIA+Q2+ youth to shift from an in-person, activities-based focus to mental health and crisis-based interventions and supports. 

“This is an underserviced group and in the pandemic they are facing incredible vulnerability through isolation. Some are stuck at home with family they’re not out with or aren’t safe with and they can’t be their full self,” said Medora.

“It’s been very hard. Many young people just feel like there’s no hope, no end in sight and they’re so alone. We check in, one-to-one, whether on the computer or on the phone.”

Any 2S-LGBTQIA+Q2+ individual between 16 and 29 can sign up and a member of the team will message them once a week through social media or email.

Sometimes the chats are casual and light-hearted, but other times young people are talking about homelessness, unemployment and feelings of loneliness or isolation, says check-in program coordinator Nira. Where necessary, the check-in team links young people to mental health, housing and job supports, along with crisis interventions that are queer-affirming.

Whether or not they respond and start a conversation, the youth appreciate that someone is concerned about them, says Nira.

“There is comfort in knowing someone is looking out for you and thinking about you. This program is accessible and youth like it because they only have to share what they feel like sharing. Our numbers have grown through the pandemic.” 

Young people have said the program has been lifeline or a “soothing balm. People really, really rely on our programming and programs like us,” says Nira.

And some parents have reached out on behalf of their children to find people with shared lived experience they can connect with. 

“It’s been great knowing that there are parents out there who want their kids to be comfortable and be happy, and be who they are.”

The check-in program will continue after COVID recedes because not all queer youth can or will attend in-person events, says Nira. 

“It’s crucial that we continue to be here for them.” 

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Melise BreretonNira’s Story

Colette’s Story

by Sarah Hodgson on October 26, 2021 Comments Off on Colette’s Story

Finding a way out of the pandemic

Colette led an active life until the pandemic hit. A United Way-funded agency helped her get back into circulation.

“I have always been a gregarious person, so the pandemic proved especially tough for me. Here I was confined all alone inside the seniors’ home where I was living. I felt like a prisoner.

Until then, I led an interesting life. I had two children from my first marriage, including a son who was born with a disability. I later divorced and remarried and had another son. In 2016, both my eldest son and my husband died, while my daughter fought a hard battle against cancer, but she recovered.

After working in a hospital, I helped set up and manage a local community service centre. I was involved with a number of organizations. Then the pandemic hit. 

A United Way-funded agency found a way to help us exercise. They would set up in the parking lot and give us instructions by loudspeaker and we would follow them from our balconies. Later they added music. Because of that we no longer felt so alone. 

It led me to retake control over my life. I left the home to get my own place.

Some of my friends were active in the agency that had provided the services. They knew about my life and work experience. An invitation from the director led to a meeting and, eventually, I ran for the board of directors and became treasurer. 

We have around 1,200 members today and I fully expect that we will reach 2,000 in the near future. We have a terrific team with people who really want to help seniors through activities such as lectures, coffee meetings, workshops, dance classes, community gardens and shared cooking.

As I meet more and more people as part of these activities, I’m seeing that many seniors are unsure how to access services  that can help them stay independent. It feels good to be able to help in that regard.

I couldn’t thank United Way enough for supporting our organization. Without these funds, it would have been impossible to offer services during the pandemic. Not only have I found a new life, but I’ve also regained my confidence. I know that the pandemic won’t last forever.

You have to keep your chin up, look positively at life and tell yourself that things will get better. One of my core values is about helping others. That’s essential because it makes me feel strong and useful. Even if you’re sad inside, you can smile at someone and cheer them up. A simple “Hi” can break the isolation.”

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Sarah HodgsonColette’s Story

Premji’s Story

by Sarah Hodgson on October 26, 2021 Comments Off on Premji’s Story

Support during hard times

Premji turned to a United Way agency when his wife Shanta was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. What he didn’t expect was to also find community for himself.

“My wife, Shanta, has Alzheimer’s. Before I found United Way, it was very difficult. She’s the patient, but I was the sufferer—she didn’t know what was wrong, but I did, and I was in misery. 


We moved to Canada in 2003 to join our children. We lived in a beautiful seniors’ home; my daughter was close by and my son was in walking distance. I would say the two-and-a-half years we spent there were some of the best times in our lives.


But I noticed Shanta’s behaviour had become erratic. Years before, the doctor said she had some anxiety and depression, but this was different. One day, she told me, ‘The police came and dropped me home.’ She had been walking along the highway. This happened three or four more times—the police would find her and bring her home.


I was dealing with my own health challenges during this time, and I didn’t understand what was happening to Shanta. I was exhausted from all the doctor’s appointments to figure out what was wrong. But then the doctor told us it was Alzheimer’s. We saw neurologists and psychologists and they told me, ‘You have to get ready.’ They meant that I was now a caregiver and I had to be prepared for what was coming. They strongly recommended that we find some support.

I gathered my strength and started looking for an adult day services program. Thanks to United Way, I found one to help treat Shanta. She started going two days a week, but soon she went six days a week. What I didn’t expect was that it would also help me. I became a member of the senior wellness group at the United Way agency that ran her program. I got good contacts, and I went to classes. And when I felt overwhelmed, they helped me.


The agency helped me understand how to help her, and how to be a caregiver. They even gave me a ‘Hero at Home’ certificate. That was my recognition, and I was very happy. Eventually though, it became too much for me to handle. We had to find a nursing home for her. That was hard, too, because we have been married for 55 years and now, we were to be separated. 


But the agency helped us find a nursing home, and even housing for me. I told them I just wanted to be close to her. Within a week, they found me an apartment in the same area. In fact, it was just adjacent to the nursing home. Really, they were doing so much for me. 


But then, Corona. My wife was scared. I was scared. My son decided Shanta would stay with him during the pandemic. As for me, I am still meeting with the senior wellness group. But now we are online. We connect on a daily basis, and on Wednesdays, we meet on Zoom. 


Before, I was looking for ways to help my wife. But it is God’s design that I landed with these people, too, because I also found connection and culture. The impact on my life has been very significant. Thanks to United Way, Shanta and I have had five good years—and we are looking forward to more.”

Help change lives today.

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Sarah HodgsonPremji’s Story

Mariya’s Story

by Sarah Hodgson on October 26, 2021 Comments Off on Mariya’s Story

Overcoming isolation alongside other immigrant women

Mariya was able to meet new people through training and volunteering.

“I was born in Kazakhstan, in a village called Merké, where I lived until I was 16. Then, I left to study medicine, and I met my husband, who is from Azerbaijan. He was studying in France at that time, and I went to join him. We then decided to emigrate to Canada, and we arrived in 2016.

The first challenge when you emigrate is the absence of family, relatives and friends who you leave behind. I find it challenging to make new friends here. Family, love and friendship are values that are very important to me. I wish we could be more considerate of the people around us and kinder to all living things. 

I came into contact with a United Way-funded organization that provides services to immigrants when I saw an advertisement on social media to recruit ‘intermediaries.’ At first, I thought it was a paid job, but I soon found out that it was a volunteer position. I was still interested because it would allow me to work with immigrant women and families. I would also receive training that would be useful to me.

More than that, this experience allowed me to overcome isolation and depression. The training I received also gave me a better understanding of the society where I now live. It helped me to feel at home. I met wonderful people and felt useful.

Through that role, I was able to learn about Quebec society and the services offered by various organizations. As an intermediary, I might act as an interpreter during board meetings or during parent-teacher conferences. I could also, for example, help someone fill out a form or find activities for the children. 

I think this training should be offered to most immigrant women. Usually, it is the men who go to work in the new country first. But thanks to the training, women can improve their French and learn how to look for a job or write a resume. And this can benefit the whole family. 

My work experience is over now, but I am still called upon when needed. As they say in this organization, ‘once an intermediary, always an intermediary.’ We are like a big family.”

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Sarah HodgsonMariya’s Story

Laura’s Story

by Sarah Hodgson on October 26, 2021 Comments Off on Laura’s Story

A journey to wellness

United Way’s mental health resources helped change Laura’s life—and gave her hope and a new outlook

“When I found United Way, I was suffering from depression and anxiety. Every night, I was going to bed praying that I would not wake up the next day. But even when my depression was at its worst, I knew there must be a different life. 


I am originally from Romania and back home we just don’t talk about mental health and seeking support is seen as weakness. For years, I struggled alone and in silence. When I came to Canada, my degree was not accredited, and I had to retrain to continue my career. I am a perfectionist and I put so much pressure on myself to succeed that I lost sight of the harm I was doing to my mental health. 


I started looking for a support group for people who were going through what I was going through. But I felt like the services I found were a little bit disempowering. They were only talking about my weaknesses. Yes, I have depression and I have anxiety, but I’m not the label and I think I’m capable of being much more. 


The approach at the United Way funded agency was so different. Those classes are facilitated by people with lived experience. I felt like they were saying, ‘I know what you’re going through. I’m not here to teach you a lesson. I’m here to tell you that you can find your way back.’ 


My ‘aha moment’ came during one of the classes. One day, I was listening to someone’s story, and they were sharing their feelings of worthlessness. But I was like, ‘How can you think are worthless. You are such a wonderful person!’ I didn’t verbalize that; I thought it. But then I realized, maybe I’m just like this person. I’m beating myself instead of looking at the other side.


Going through United Way supported classes showed me how powerful it could be to navigate your challenges. Mental health is not something that you achieve and then you forget it—it’s something that you have to maintain.


Today, I am in a much better place. I know that mental health issues are nothing to be ashamed of. Recovery is possible and there is hope for a better, happier life.

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Sarah HodgsonLaura’s Story

Cindy’s Story

by Sarah Hodgson on October 26, 2021 Comments Off on Cindy’s Story

A winner at the game of life

Cindy sees obstacles as new opportunities for a win

“As a person with an intellectual disability, it’s not always so easy for me to reach out to others. Yet, I know I have much to offer because I am sociable, friendly, and cheerful. It’s important for me to have friendships.  I have to overcome other obstacles because of my diminished vision and partial paralysis, , but I find ways to look after my personal needs.

That is why I rely on the services of the agency affiliated with United Way . They help me with social interaction, learning and, of course, recreation! My favourite activities are bingo, karaoke, and outings, such as restaurants and bowling. When I play, I like to win.

But I can be a winner in other ways too. Through the activities, I am recognized for my initiative and engagement and for taking on personal challenges. I can go beyond expectations. It shows that I have stick-to-it-iveness.

Since joining the program, I have gained more confidence. Before, I was too shy to ask for help. Today, I am learning to communicate with others, to say things in the right way and to apply my filters. With the organization, I feel safe. 

It was tough during the pandemic when I couldn’t go outside. I felt isolated even though I could talk to my friends on the phone. I want to urge donors to continue to give so that the agency can keep offering help. United Way supports the agency’s services, and I can go there to have more control over my life. Thank you for helping and giving me the chance to tell my story.”

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Sarah HodgsonCindy’s Story