We all need a better mirror and a little kindness

I was in sixth grade when I started noticing the things about myself that were different. The most obvious difference was my skin. I don't tan. I burn and then go back to my pasty white skin.

I was dubbed Casper. It could have been worse, I suppose.

And then it got worse.

"Did your mama drop you in a tub of bleach?" was just one of the cracks they made about my pale skin. 

It wasn't bullying. No, it was just inconsiderate children not knowing when to stop because they're hurting another human being.

The day it stopped was the worst day of all. Incessantly pointing out how pale I was. Making jokes that weren't funny...at least to me.

I felt like less and less likeable the longer the barrage continued.

I finally left the room without a word to my teacher or fellow students. I ran to the bathroom and cried, wishing with everything in me that I was not the person I was.

If you can’t see something beautiful about yourself
Get a better mirror
Look a little closer
Stare a little longer

Eventually I stopped listening to the voice in my head telling me that being different was a bad thing. I learned to appreciate my pale skin. I stopped caring so much what my peers thought about me. I figured out how to like myself as I was. 

It may seem like a trivial matter, this issue of having pale skin. So, let me add some context: I was eleven and lived in Florida.

It mattered to me, even if it didn't matter to anyone else.

It's still a battle sometimes to like parts of me that I view as less than perfect. But I have never let myself go back to feeling as if the person I am isn't good enough.

I hope everyone who sees this video goes out to find a better mirror, take a closer look and stare a little longer until there's no doubt in their mind that they are beautiful and valuable, just as they are.

Kindness Week in Ottawa is wrapping up today - let's go be kind to one another every day for another year, my friends.

The beautiful kindness of The Youville Centre

Lately, Brandon has been practicing a new word: beautiful. He often gasps when he sees an object and declares it beautiful, then tells us that he loves it. 

Those are strong words with deep meaning - beautiful and love. They go well together. I know my son doesn’t grasp them to the full extent, but one day he will and I hope he never loses that wonder at things he considers beautiful. I also hope that we teach him to appreciate and practice the absolute beauty of being kind to others. 

It’s Kindness Week in Ottawa and I’m participating in an effort to raise awareness about a program that offers incredible kindness to a very vulnerable group in Ottawa. When I was invited to tour The Youville Centre, despite the fact that I’d never heard of it prior to the email that Candace sent, I jumped at the opportunity. For those of you who are also not aware, here’s a snippet of the history of the centre and how it was started (from the web site): 

In February 1985, a group of concerned citizens met to find housing for young single mothers and their children (at that time, leases could not be signed by anyone under the age of 18). Within two months, they were planning to provide education for 12 mothers, a child care development program for 12 babies, and shelter for 4 of these families. From this small beginning, Centre Youville Centre Ottawa-Carleton Inc. was established officially on July 3, 1985.

Sister Betty Ann Kinsella was the driving force behind the creation of the Youville Centre. Thanks to her commitment and fundraising skills, Youville Centre began operation as a charitable organization in 1987. “The Centre offered the first program in Canada to address the comprehensive needs for education, child care, housing and support services for young, single mothers and their children.” (Excerpt from the Canada Gazette, September 2, 2000)

It’s often said that one person cannot change the world, but they can change the world for one person. The Youville Centre exemplifies this in a big way. Through the years they’ve grown from helping 12 mothers to helping dozens every year.

I remember myself as a teenager and I can’t imagine what it must be like to become a mother so young.

The Youville Centre offers these young moms the gift of an education - a high school diploma so that they can get better jobs. Youville gives them the gift of parenting skills - so they can offer their children the best life possible. The gift of support - so each young woman who walks through those doors knows without a doubt that they are not alone. The gift of resources - because obtaining clothing, childcare and other things for a baby does not come cheap.

Because of Youville, many Ottawa women who find themselves in the vulnerable position of having a child during their teen years are given a boost that is invaluable. There are often life circumstances that put these women at a disadvantage - from losing their home to being in abusive or unhealthy relationships. The Youville Centre gives them hope and opportunities.

Look at these beautiful women and their gorgeous babies:

Recently, The Youville Centre lost a significant source of funding - $40,000 - that covers the salary of one of the in-house counsellors that works with the young women. This is a loss that Youville is trying very hard to recoup to continue providing counselling services for those who need them.

Toward the end of our tour, after seeing the children in the nursery/preschool areas, moving on to the classroom and then the counselling facilities, we walked past a wall of pictures that is the pride of Youville. It’s not hard to understand why when you see the smiles of the women who graduate from this program. Heather Hegney, who led us through the facility, shared a story of a tour she’d recently done in which one of the group members looked at a photo with tears in her eyes and said, “That’s me.”

It’s hard not to get choked up when you hear about someone who’s been through the program and makes the effort to come back and help a new generation of young women get the same help that allowed her to achieve so much in life. What an amazing moment that must have been for her!

There are many ways you can help The Youville Centre. Monetary donations are always accepted (and greatly appreciated). 

There are many other ways you can help as well, from volunteering to donating gently used or new items, such as:

  • Plastic stroller covers for rainy and snowy days
  • Teen clothing – work attire and street clothes
  • Cosmetics/Toiletries/Hygiene Products (new or unopened) – hotel toiletries, sanitary pads and tampons, makeup, skincare products, shampoo, conditioner, soap, toothbrushes, toothpaste, floss.
  • New items – it is a nice treat for the girls to be able to have new items for themselves and their children.
  • LCD computer monitors
  • Running shoes for teen Moms for physical education
  • Warm clothing for winter
  • Toys (except plush toys and small toys that could be choking hazards)
  • Books for toddlers
  • Bus Tickets

There are some items that Youville cannot accept, so please contact them if you would like to donate anything that isn’t specifically mentioned on this list.

I hope you are inspired by the work The Youville Centre is doing as I have been.

Kindness truly is a beautiful thing to practice and experience. What kindness have you seen lately and how will you pay it forward?