After more than seven years as a staff member, my time at the Women’s Centre is coming to a close. In addition to being the approach that informs everything we do here, the Women’s Centre’s Community Capacity Building Peer Model has also offered me so many opportunities for growth and learning that I am so grateful for.
The Women’s Centre aims to be every woman’s place for support, connections and community. I have seen countless women and girls come in feeling isolated, disconnected, and/or seeking like-minded allies to work for change on issues affecting their lives. I have seen these same folks find their voices, build strong relationships, invest in their communities, and engage in important work to try and make positive changes for women in our city. I have seen all of these things in myself too.
Support: When I think about all the skills I have been able to develop here – communication, activism, program development, facilitation, evaluation, leadership, public speaking, etc. – I am so appreciative of all the support I have been given to do so. From staff who saw my potential and gave me opportunities I would not have had elsewhere so early in my career, to the women and girls who took an interest in, volunteered for and showed up for the things I was involved in – the encouragement has been endless.
The Women’s Centre was also a safe space throughout the ebbs and flows in my own personal life, whether I needed a distraction or a listening ear. The women here taught me how to speak up for myself and assert my own needs. The centre provides support, but we also make a habit of not assuming what women need, and so I learned to ask for what I needed, a skill that has been vital in the rest of my life.
Connections: I cannot imagine another place where I’ll be able to meet so many different women and girls, with such diverse capacities, interests and experiences. These connections have torn down any assumptions I had around what a woman or girl is “supposed” to be. There is no one way to be a woman or girl. The possibilities are endless: fierce, soft, compassionate, curious, loud, hilarious, sensitive, angry, creative, assertive, fearless, kind and so on – and many of these at the exact same time. We are complex in a world that often tries to reduce us to stereotypes.
These many connections have also taught me that there are so many ways to ensure equity and fairness in the world. My relationships with girls have also taught me to respect their wisdom and the fact that they are experts in their own young lives. They have reminded me that the solutions to injustice are often simple – that looking at the world with the clear eyes of a young person is sometimes the best way to refocus and simplify our social change efforts.
Community: The Women’s Centre is the first community I was part of where I felt like I could show up 100% as myself. It challenged my assumptions about the way women relate to each other – I have seen, without a doubt, that “cattiness” is not the default. This community has shown me that caring, honest and accountable relationships are possible.
When I think about community, I remember a time in my first year here, when a woman I was providing peer support to broke down and began to cry. I panicked – was I supposed to offer Kleenex? Offer her a hug? Before I could decide what to do, another woman who had been drinking coffee in the social area sat down at the desk and wrapped her arms around the woman, and they cried together. Now I know: community is receiving support when you need it, but also having chances to provide it when you can give it.
I could probably write a much longer post about all the amazing things I have learned from the women here, but I will leave it at there for now. I am stronger, more self-assured, more flexible, more curious, more in awe of women, more full of rage, and more full of love than I was when I began. I will continue to return to the Women’s Centre in different ways throughout my life, both in my heart and in person.
If you, reader, are a woman who is part of the Women’s Centre community, I want to say thank you for everything you have given. I have learned from this community because of your contributions.
We wish Sarah the very best on her adventures overseas, and thank her for her many contributions to our community! We are also excited to welcome our new Girls Leadersip Coordinator, Grace Millar, to our team. Learn more about Grace here!