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What's It Like To Volunteer For...A Women's Shelter?

Posted By Samantha Glave, Volunteer Guest Blogger, February-02-16
Updated: February-01-16
 Photo courtesy of The Redwood
 Estimated reading time: 3 minutes


Population Served: Women, Children

According to the City of Toronto, the emergency shelter system has grown rapidly and the face of homelessness has changed since the 1980s. As a result, the shelter system has become more specialized and flexible to meet new needs within the homeless population.

Volunteering in the shelter system allows you the opportunity to work with different populations, depending on the vision and mission of the specific organization. The Redwood is a women and children’s shelter in Toronto that aims to create a world where women and children live free from abuse and all other forms of violence and oppression, by offering programs and services that assist women and children to live and flourish without abuse, homelessness and poverty.

Have you ever wondered what it’s like to work at a women’s shelter? Volunteer Toronto spoke with Sarah Robinson, a Children’s Programming Volunteer at the Redwood to give you some insight into what it’s like.



 Note: Answers have been edited for clarity and brevity

VT: What are some common assumptions people have about the volunteer work that you do?

SR: That it's restrictive, depressing or really hard. The staff are so considerate of my schedule; I never worry about having to change time or cancel. The work doesn't feel like work― I get to goof around with some of the coolest kids I've ever met, and I don't have the responsibility to get them to sleep at bedtime! It is so far from sad. Even on hard or challenging days, everyone is so supportive and uplifting. I always leave with a happy heart and feeling really glad that I went.

VT: What is the time commitment involved?

SR: The Redwood is really flexible and understanding with commitment changes, but I am usually in for 1 to 1 1/2 hours a week.

VT: What type of training is provided?  

SR: The Redwood provided training on child behaviour and the effects of violence on children and always has optional training sessions available, like Crisis Prevention Intervention, which I’ve found to be very helpful.

VT: What’s been surprising or challenging about your volunteer work?

SR: I’ve been surprised at how quickly you bond with the staff, women and children. This has been the loveliest surprise. The Redwood has become a safe space for me on tough days. In the same way, developing a close bond makes it challenging when the women and children leave, but we are also happy for them.

VT: What advice do you have to give to anyone looking to do this type of volunteer work?

SR: Just try it! You'll be surprised by how easily it fits into and enriches your life.

VT: What skills and characteristics do you feel contribute most to success in your volunteer work?

SR: Patience, compassion and an open-mind (plus a dose of good humour) will help immensely when volunteering.    


Watch this digital story created by Redwood volunteer Yiran Shao about the myths surrounding shelters


Think this volunteer opportunity is restricted to women? Think again! When men volunteer at the Redwood they act as positive role models for the children at the shelter. If you have any more questions about volunteering at the Redwood, including how to start volunteering, visit their webpage.

To look for other volunteer opportunities, use Volunteer Toronto’s helpful search feature or contact one of our referral counsellors.


Samantha Glave is a writer and editor whose work is regularly published on the Ontario Public Service’s intranet.
When she’s not writing, you can find her watching science-fiction, doing kettle bell workouts or reading the
latest research on raising the ‘strong-willed’ child. She lives in Toronto with her husband and their six-year old son. 
You can find her on LinkedIn


Tags:  Helping a women's shelter  The Redwood  Toronto  Volunteer in a women's shelter  What's It Like To Volunteer  Women's Shelter 

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