A Day in the Life of an Outreach Counselor
by Amy Alton

June 11, 2016

Women Today

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The following is a personal testimonial by Amy Alton, Community Outreach Counselor with the Women's House Serving Bruce and Grey (WHSBG).

"For 23 ½ years I have worked as a Community Outreach Counselor with Women’s House Serving Bruce Grey (WHSBG). I continue to have tremendous passion for the work we are doing for women and children and, 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 Counselor, 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 County meeting with clients, making phone calls, checking email, cursing at the photo-copier that is constantly giving me grief, and attending a few meetings here and there. Although 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; providing information about community resources such as: Legal Aid; Housing; Ontario Works; Health Unit; Food Banks; WHSBG Shelter Services and Second Stage Program; assisting with education 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 women and their families.  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 a sense of self-worth and self-esteem. A lot of our time together is working on acknowledging a woman's 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 and 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.

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One question continues to be asked of Community Outreach Counselors: “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 a woman 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 Counselor, please call 1-800-265-3026.

About Women’s House Serving Bruce & Grey (WHSBG)

 WHSBG provides free and confidential services, within a supportive environment, to women 16 years of age and older, and their children, who have or are experiencing abuse, sexual violence or homelessness. Women’s House operates a 24/7 shelter in Kincardine, Ontario to provide a safe, supportive and secure environment for women and children fleeing domestic violence. Women’s House also provides sexual assault services in Bruce and Grey, a child witness program, transition services, education services, a volunteer program, community counselling and second-stage housing in Kincardine, Saugeen Shores and Wiarton. WHSBG is a registered not-for-profit charity governed by a volunteer Board of Directors and staffed by trained professionals. This year WHSBG is celebrating 30 years of community support and service.

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Saturday, June 11, 2016