Sharing your thoughts and feelings, even it’s just by getting them down on paper, can be a scary feeling. However Farah and Jonathan, two volunteers who lead writing programs at Homes First’s Kennedy and St. Clair shelters, find that the open communication fostered by their sessions has helped residents to support and learn about one another.
“The first class we had was very touching. Everyone was very comfortable sharing their pieces, which I think was something that surprised everybody,” recalls Farah.
“It does a lot for their mental health and their sense of purpose,” says Jonathan.
Both masters students at Guelph, Farah and Jonathan found Homes First when a call was put out to students in their creative writing program, asking for volunteers to lead writing workshops as part of a larger harm reduction program. Since September, they have guided residents through writing practices and prompts aimed at building community and helping participants to analyze themselves and their world.
Hosted once a month, the workshops bring in a diverse group of participants at each shelter including some who have dabbled in fiction writing before, and others for whom English isn’t a native language. In both groups, Farah and Jonathan have made connections with residents that extend beyond the time constraints of the workshop.
Participants in Jonathan’s workshops often continue to write on their own time, and return to the next workshop eager to share their new pieces. Farah, for her part, recalls a time that a resident once ran into her outside of the shelter: the pair stopped to chat not only about the workshop, but also about what the resident going through in other aspects of her life.
“There’s a lot if impact in that,” Farah says.
Despite never having worked or volunteered in a shelter environment before, Farah and Jonathan feel at ease talking and working with participants, even if they might be struggling through more complex issues like addiction.
“There’s a lot of sincerity [with participants], and I just find that refreshing, and pleasant to be around,” says Jonathan.