Willow’s Place (Women’s drop-in safe place)
Last semester, I completed a volunteer placement at Willow’s Place as a part of my requirement for the SOCSCI 3EL3 Leadership through Experiential Learning – a course led by McMaster’s Social Science Experiential Education Office. Although I completed this course last term, I continue to volunteer at Willow’s Place!
Willow’s Place is a safe place for women identified persons where visitors, regardless of ability, age, religion, race, or culture have the opportunity to realize their potential, rights and available resources. Their vision is to create a safe and inclusive space where women can come together to become empowered, create change, and enhance their quality of life. Overall, Willow’s Place provides a safe, intersectional environment that respects and embraces differences.
Being a volunteer
I have to admit, the idea of volunteering at Willow’s Place initially made me quite nervous. When I received the confirmation email that I had been assigned to a women’s drop-in safe space, I anticipated my inability to connect with the clients. However, by the end of my second shift, I had already initiated several conversations, worked one-on-one with clients, and bonded over shared interests.
As my engagement in the space grew, I was able to push myself out of my comfort zone and gain more insight of the diverse experiences of women in Hamilton’s priority neighbourhoods. Throughout this term, I learned the importance of having safe spaces like Willow’s Place for women to gather, whether it is having a meal, playing a game of bingo, or putting up ornaments on the Christmas tree. Everyone needs a place where they can unwind and escape.
The power of art!
Participating in arts and crafts are an extremely important way clients de-stress and connect with each other. The centre alone is filled and decorated with beautiful handmade crafts, making the space more homey and prideful.
For me, arts and crafts were a huge part of my childhood. I grew up cross stitching, scrapbooking school yearbooks, and making other creative projects with exceptional teaching specialists who went the extra mile to ensure that my differences did not negatively impact my success and enjoyment throughout my time in elementary school.
At Willow’s, I started with creating and managing the colouring sheets, assisting with activities, and even engaging with client’s art projects from home. Now, I have the honour of leading the weekly “Crafternoon” activity! From painting to making butterfly fridge magnets, I enjoy seeing the beautiful items the ladies create.
Using an experiential education lens to reflect on my experience at Willow’s Place had a greater impact on me than I thought. Over the 2017 Fall term, I learned a lot about myself, was able to improve my areas of weakness, discover new strengths, and recognize the importance of outreach initiatives acknowledging intersectionality. I highly recommend students complete an experiential education course or broaden their horizons by incorporating reflections into their current volunteer and community involvement! You may be surprised how the connection between your academics and engagement can help you become more aware of the workplace environment, the community, and your personal vision as a contributing citizen.