Finding My Place With The Stop
By Ani Ramos, Information and Advocacy Worker
My journey through The Stop has not only helped me to find my place within my community, but has also made it easier for me to understand how I can use my experiences to make a difference in the lives of others.
I came to Toronto nine years ago. Slowly but surely, Canada became home.
For many years, I didn’t have thoughts on social issues, and I wasn’t aware of the many ways in which members of our community experience injustice. At the time, I was lucky enough to work full-time. I went home with a paycheque that allowed me to live comfortably as a single woman.
After many changes in my personal life, I became pregnant with my daughter. In February of 2016, late into my pregnancy, I stumbled upon The Stop Community Food Centre by coincidence.
The Stop opened its doors to me every Wednesday through the Healthy Beginnings program, which I routinely attended because it provided me with useful information on many pregnancy and post-partum topics. More so, I believed the people who run the program truly cared about my well-being. I was able to build myself up within the community – without even consciously knowing that this was happening.
I remember seeing my Family Support Worker as a godsend. Looking in her eyes while telling her my story was truly healing. I felt heard. Looking back, I understand how I experienced a deep desire to be in their role. “If only I could be on the other side,” I told myself, “being helpful to another person in a similar position.”
At that moment, I was hooked. The Stop seemed like my little piece of heaven; I felt welcomed, cared for, and uplifted. I was inspired to work with my community. I didn’t know exactly how, but I knew that The Stop would be the place to start.
For the very first time, I felt part of something. I was grasping many different concepts while also going through one of the hardest and most vulnerable moments of my life: embarking on the big and scary mission of parenting my child on my own – without financial stability, at a young age, living in a basement apartment, with very few friends to count on and no other family in Canada.
As many say, “Everything will come to you at the right time.” In my case, this turned out to be true!
Luckily, through the Healthy Beginnings program, I found out about a training coming up during the winter months at The Stop. I applied to be a participant, not knowing to a deeper extent what I signed up for, except that it would enable me to get more involved with The Stop. Mark, The Stop’s Community Advocacy Team Lead, got in touch to let me know that I had been selected to be part of the Community Action Training (CAT). I have to mention how incredible, thoughtful, and validating it felt when I was told that having my daughter wasn’t an impediment for The Stop to choose me as a good candidate for the CAT program. The Stop kindly offered child care for my daughter while I attended the training.
All I can say about the training program is … “Wow.” What a life-changing experience. The Community Action Training challenged my views and helped me to re-learn how to see the world through an equity lens.
Our facilitators helped create a safe space in which I felt accepted, supported, and included. While I already had a sense of the meaning of community, I did not know the important role that I can play within my community, and the impact I can help create, through my awareness of systemic issues such as poverty, inequality, and food insecurity.
I learned to be thankful for and to acknowledge the land on which we live. I learned how to be an ally. One of the many abilities I didn’t know I had was to be able to stop and calm down in a mindful way. I was able to leave my problems outside of the classroom during each session and focus on cultivating my knowledge around taking positive action.
There was a sense of constructive engagement among my fellow trainees. Together, we learned about intersectionality, active listening, ways to interact with fellow community members in a non-judgemental way, taking into account our similarities as opposed to our differences.
The Community Action Training led me to develop ways to pull myself together and trust my capacities and skills, all while taking an entirely new and positive attitude towards my personal struggles. I learned to feel that I have enough and that I am enough. With these powerful tools, I was able to overcome feelings of embarrassment and insecurity about my personal situation.
Recently, the opportunity arose for me to apply to a new position in The Stop’s Advocacy Office. I’m now a member of the staff team, and I’m here to be part of the change in our community.
Today I am better, partly because of The Stop. Working here now is the perfect opportunity for me to serve others. Now that I see everything from the other side, I am able to truly understand the great value behind each and every hard-working staff member at The Stop.
Today, I strive towards opening up the way so that my daughter will grow up in a fairer, more equal society. As a mother, this will be my legacy and my infinite joy.
Picture above: Ani and her daughter in our Food Bank.
Ani and Mark are working together to prepare for the next Community Action Training, taking place at The Stop this fall. See details below: