Humans of NonprofitCelebrating the human stories of the nonprofit sector
Ernestine’s Women’s Shelter
How did you first got involved in the nonprofit sector?
I have always been passionate about bettering the world and helping others. By the age of 17, my goal was to work in international development, so right after I completed my undergrad in gender studies, I started an internship at an NGO called BRAC, in Bangladesh. While I enjoyed my foray into the field of international development, I quickly realized that my calling was to work on women’s issues at home, so since 2013 I have been involved with various Canadian nonprofits.
Where are you currently working? How did you get there?
I’m currently working at Ernestine’s Women’s Shelter as their Communications Coordinator.
My previous volunteer and employment experiences prepared me to work in the field of digital marketing and communications and my current job at Ernestine’s allows me to apply these communication skills to my passion for ending gender-based violence and empowering women.
What are you passionate about?
I’m passionate about social justice and intersectional feminism, but I am particularly invested in raising awareness about, and ending gender-based violence. I believe in the importance of providing support to the diverse communities affected by violence, to live without the threat or fear of violence. I am invested in building a world where violence against women and children isn’t an epidemic, where hopefully one day, there won’t be a need for professions like mine to exist. That’s the future that I’m working towards, and it’s one that is achievable through public education, awareness-building, and the dismantling of social inequalities and institutional barriers.
My understanding of gender-based violence exceeds traditional understanding, because I believe that it’s incredibly important to use an intersectional lens when we attempt to understand violence. My Master’s research examines a particular kind of violence against women – that is, the exploitation of Bangladeshi women in the transnational garment industry. My project is called “Reworking Canadian Understanding of Transnational Labour Exploitation” and it will be available online Fall 2017.
What do you love about your job?
I personally find meaning in life through helping others help themselves, and what I love most about my job is that it allows me to see this goal come to fruition. I get to see the impact of my work on a day-to-day basis, by seeing women rebuild their lives free from violence, and that’s really rewarding. I also love that I get to work alongside my feminist mentors and advise and uplift others along the way.
What are some of challenges you’ve faced in your career?
It’s very difficult to get noticed when you’re applying for a job as one of 400 other candidates. No matter how much you try, sometimes it’s just impossible to stand out amongst a pool of other outstanding professionals. Even worse, about 80% of job openings are never even posted and employees are often recruited through word of mouth. I overcome this challenge by always taking the opportunity to connect with like-minded professionals, and I don’t mean just connecting on Linkedin. I’m talking about building meaningful connections with people by: being authentic; being open to mentorship; staying connected; sharing my passion and skills; and asking to be informed about opportunities as they come about.
What do you wish you could change – either related to your work, or in the world?
People often think that working in the nonprofit sector means that you have to compromise and have lower salary expectations because you’re performing a social good, either because you don’t possess the skills, the education, or the desire to receive a decent standard of living. I want people to understand that we don’t work in this sector as a hobby – we dedicate our lives to these causes and it takes hard work and skill to work in this sector – and we deserve to be treated as such when it comes to salaries and benefits.
People assume that charities shouldn’t have “administration costs”, but these costs are often the salaries of its employees. These costs provide employees with livable wages to pay their bills and provide for themselves and their families. I wish more people would understand this about the nonprofit sector.
What do you do when you’re not working? What do you do to take care of yourself?
I just finished my Master’s, which I completed while taking on various contract positions in the nonprofit sector. At the same time, I tried to remain politically engaged and active to keep myself grounded. This led to a lot of burn out, emotionally, mentally, and physically.
My tried and trust self-care practices include spending time with my puppy, taking baths, making gratitude lists, and practicing mindfulness. When I find the news particularly toxic and triggering, I take the initiative to disengage from social media and avoid watching or reading the news until I’m feeling better. To me, self-care is also a form of resistance.
Humans of Nonprofit
“How did you first get involved in the nonprofit sector?”
“I started volunteering in the nonprofit sector in late 2007. I secured a position at the Etobicoke Humane Society, an entirely volunteer-run organization, as a member for their cat shelter team. This wasn’t only my first foray into the nonprofit sector, but also my first time working directly with animals and an organization that places a cause before profit. I eventually got involved with outreach for EHS which involved creating flyers and promoting EHS’ mission to community members. From there, I became a manager for their cat shelter and specialized in volunteer management. Following EHS, I volunteered for a number of nonprofit organizations including The Gatehouse, St. Felix Centre, Furniture Bank, Interval House, Better Living, and Christie-Ossington Neighbourhood Centre.”
“Where are you currently volunteering? What do you love about your current volunteer position?”
“Currently, I volunteer at a shelter for women and their children leaving abusive relationships. I started volunteering there in 2012 after responding to an open position they had posted.
“Over the years, my [volunteer roles have] varied widely. I initially helped sort and process donations. Gradually, I helped different departments with administrative tasks, such as preparing mailings, doing reminder calls, updating forms, and general computer help. I also worked as an intern for a volunteer program, where I helped with policy development, volunteer management, recruitment, and planning volunteer appreciation events.
“What I like most about volunteering is the close-knit communal feel of the organization. I’ve volunteered for a multitude of organizations, and the one thing that kept me feel connected — and ultimately committed — to volunteering is the sense of community. I also like how the work is meaningful to me, and is cause- and value-driven.”
“What has surprised you most about nonprofit work?”
“My experience [volunteering at different agencies] was enlightening because it provided a first-hand experience into the realities certain demographics face, and in so doing, it challenged my perception of how things are. Specifically, it challenged the stigmas and stereotypes that people in my social network and broader society had assigned to certain populations — such as the homeless.”
“What do you wish you could change in the world?”
“I think the world can feel like an impersonal place sometimes, full of people pursuing their own self-interest. A sense of community and belonging — especially one outside of family — can be hard to come by. As such, it can certainly feel isolating and lonely, even amongst big urban centres like Toronto. So, if I could change the world, I’d like to see one that values uplifting individuals, the importance of having a sense of community, and one that affirms the worth of the individual.”
“What do you do when you’re not working?”
“When I’m not working, I mainly like listening to music, doing journalling or self-reflection, hanging out with friends, or, over the weekend, visiting a nightclub.”
“What might someone be surprised to know about you?”
“I present myself as a reserved, collected, and calm person — which I am, but if a new and adventurous opportunity arises, I have no problem just pursuing it and absorbing the experience. A few months ago, I travelled to Cuba and went snorkelling in deep water without knowing how to swim.”
Manager of Advancement, Women’s College Hospital Foundation
“How did you first got involved in the nonprofit sector?”
“I’ve always had a passion for media and women’s advocacy. Growing up in a small town in northwestern Ontario, not a lot of people shared my interests in the same way around feminism, and there weren’t a lot of outlets. I didn’t know how to translate it into anything bigger… So, I went to Ryerson for Radio and Television Arts to explore media. I began working for Corus Entertainment before graduation, and dabbled in volunteering to maintain those social justice interests.
“One day, my boss at Corus gave me her ticket to a Canadian Women’s Foundation event featuring Margaret Atwood. I looked around the room filled with women who all cared about supporting other women, and creating gender equality. I had never seen anything like it, and was so incredibly inspired. After the event was over, I immediately reached out to the Foundation to ask about volunteering.
“Over the next few years, as I grew in my media career, I became more deeply invested in the Foundation, volunteering through writing, speaking, fundraising and becoming a donor. I learned how my skills might translate to this sector. As my relationships within the Foundation grew, I was approached by one of their executive staff and offered the role of Manager of a new national fundraising campaign for economic development programs for low-income women. As she was on the phone describing the role, I was basically already packing up my desk at Corus. It was like being handed a dream job on a platter. I haven’t looked back since.”
“What was the best day you ever had at work?”
“There are magical days when you get to combine everything you know and love all in one. One such day happened when I was raising funds for a campaign for violence prevention programs and women’s shelters. I was doing a radiothon in Winnipeg, based out of a big box store. It was my second year doing that broadcast. I have always been especially fond of radio. Getting to do radio and social justice work together is my sweet spot.
“That day we broadcasted for 12 hours straight (they always put me on the longest broadcasts, probably because they knew I would never run out of words), and was present in-store. We were talking to donors, customers, about the issue of violence against women, as well as to survivors.
“A woman called in to donate. She said she’d listened the year before to the broadcast, and remembered me being on air. At that time, she was in an abusive relationship. She was at her breaking point, scared, and didn’t know how to get out. She felt ashamed, and felt that she couldn’t reach out to her loved ones. Because of the messages of support and resources we provided on-air, she said, she found the ability to find her way out, and went to a women’s shelter. And now, a year later, she was calling to say thank you for providing the hope and resources she needed to find safety.
“While she was still finding her way out of her marriage, she was going back to school, and felt a renewed sense of optimism about the future. It was a powerful moment.
“The best part, however, came after we went off air. I was gathering my things, and someone tapped me on the shoulder. It was her. After our on air conversation, she wanted to come in the store to give me a hug.
“It’s one thing to do this work, write the reports, speak about issues. But when [the person] you are working for wraps their arms around you in gratitude, everything changes. I realized without that work she might not have been there to hug me at all. I was profoundly humbled and reminded why I joined this work, and am so grateful to everyone who contributes to it. It takes all of us.”
“What’s one challenge you’ve faced in your career?”
“I think imposter syndrome is something that affects too many women, at too many stages, ages, and situations… Women have been conditioned to underestimate and or underplay their expertise or knowledge. Confidence, and the ability and willingness to speak out are not simple when you consider power dynamics, gender bias, cultural conditioning and other things. This affects everything from the ability to throw a ball in sport to putting up a hand at the boardroom table. My imposter syndrome can play out in different ways, and my previous tendency to centre male authority took a long time to unlearn. And then I unlearned it in spades.”
“What has surprised you most about nonprofit work?”
“I remember when I first moved to this sector, my friend John, who never worked in nonprofit, said, ‘That’s awesome, better hours, flexibility, sure the pay is garbage but it’s going to be a breeeeze!’ Turns out he was wrong.”
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