OPINION

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whgb colour fullI am Amy Alton and for 23 1/2 years I have worked as a Community Outreach Counsellor with Women’s House Serving Bruce and Grey (WHSBG). I continue to have tremendous passion for the work we are doing for women and children. In celebration of WHSBG’s 30 years of support in our community, I am writing about a day-in-the-life of a Community Outreach Counsellor, hoping to bring greater understanding of the work we do.

I could simply start by telling you that I spend my days travelling to appointments throughout Grey and Bruce counties meeting with clients, making phone calls, checking email, cursing at the photocopier that is constantly giving me grief and attending a few meetings here and there. Although that’s true enough, how does one really do justice in describing a job that aims to help change lives for the better and in return get back more personal satisfaction than you could ever imagine?

My appointments with women, from age 16 to their early 80s, focus on different life challenges they are facing, or have overcome, such as divorce and separation, child custody, conflicted family dynamics or coping with life stressors. Many of the issues are centred on how past or present abusive relationships have impacted their lives; information about community resources such as Legal Aid, housing, Ontario Works, education, Health Unit, food banks, WHSBG shelter services and Second Stage program; and discussion about abuse reflected in her own experience.

The most gratifying part of my role is being a stepping stone towards a happier, healthier and safer life for her and her family. It takes a lot of courage and strength to leave an abusive relationship and start over. Many of my clients face financial, housing, transportation and child care challenges. Probably the most prevalent is regaining her sense of self-worth and self-esteem. A lot of our time together is working on acknowledging her resilience and making changes on her terms.

When naming the abuse, we are identifying many tactics which include physical, emotional, verbal, sexual, financial, controlling, harm to pets and personal possessions, alienation from friends and family, and sabotaging relationships with her children.

The emails and phone calls I respond to are from different community social organizations working with women they believe would benefit from WHSBG counselling, to help support her immediate needs as well as long-term goals. There are different avenues to be referred to counselling including, self-referral to WHSBG, Child & Family Services, Canadian Mental Health, Victim Services, New Directions and Probation and Parole.

The meetings I attend are about supporting, advocating and being a liaison with community resources. Over the years I have found myself assisting clients with doctor’s appointments, emergency rooms visits, family and criminal court proceedings, Child and Family Service orders, Service Ontario needs, Mental Health intake, meetings with lawyers and police, food bank accompaniment, and connecting with community drop-in centres. The intention is to be a voice when needed and another set of ears to help interpret information that might otherwise get lost.

One question continues to be asked of Community Outreach Counsellors, “Isn’t it difficult to hear all those sad stories?” Listening to someone share their experience of abuse and trauma can evoke feelings of anger, sadness and worry. However, we do not stay there for long. Knowing where she came from and what she has been through can help her move from the dark place of fear and hopelessness to feeling hopeful and more in control. In response to that question, it would be far more upsetting not allowing her to have a safe and supportive space to tell her story.

If you, or someone you know, would like to speak with a WHSBG Community Outreach Counsellor, please call 1-800-265-3026.

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