Volunteer Stories

Volunteer Tackles Seniors’ Issues

by Jennifer Blyth

Moira Tait, photo by Jennifer Blyth

Moira Tait, photo by Jennifer Blyth

When the Victoria Women’s Transition House needs someone to speak to older women about the issue of senior’s abuse, their “go to” person is Esquimalt’s Moira Tait.

Articulate and experienced, Moira has volunteered with Transition House for about four years, speaking to all who will listen about the conditions facing many seniors at the hands of those who would manipulate or harm them.

How did Moira come to be such a fervent supporter of the Victoria Women’s Transition House?

“I was a client as a senior woman,” the confident 70-year-old says simply.

The juxtaposition of that statement with the feisty, independent woman is telling: Given the right circumstances, any woman could be in a position to need the kind of help Transition House offers.

Reeling with grief after losing her son to cancer, “that grief put me in the position of being taken advantage of.”

And the truth is, “what happened to me happens to a lot of people and for different reasons and under different circumstances.”

Somehow Moira managed to make it to Transition House, where she became a member of the senior women’s support group. Speaking to some of the barriers facing women seeking help, “I can’t tell you how humiliating, how embarrassing it was to be an older woman and be in that position, and to have to ask for help,” she recalls. However, “to be in a roomful of your peers and to be sharing so many similarities – it’s really apparent how many people this has happened to.

“It just about killed me and I’m one of the toughest broads I know,” she can say now with a smile.

That she found a group of women who had shared similar life experiences, who truly could empathize with her situation was her saving grace. That, her own strength and those around her helped in her recovery. “Coming here gave me the tools,” she says. “The women who run the older women’s support group have been doing this work for a long, long time. They just believe in people.”

Emerging from her experiences, Moira had renewed motivation to help prevent similar violence – emotional, verbal, financial or physical – from happening to others. “I have always been fighting for the underdog.”

Today, her focus is squarely on the rights of seniors. “There are so many people who need this so much,” she says. “It’s just such a passion.”

Of the various forms of violence, “the most damaging one for seniors I believe is the psychological abuse – being given the feeling of outliving their usefulness,” she suggests.

About the same time that Moira found Transition House, she also discovered yoga, thanks to the recommendation that she explore the benefits of an ashram. Today, among her myriad other efforts, she also teaches yoga at various community centres and seniors’ residences. “I’m not a good sitting meditator, but I’m a good moving meditator,” she quips, adding in all seriousness, “it helps keep me calm.”

She has also participated on numerous boards and committees, including Esquimalt’s Arts, Culture and Special Events Committee, the B.C. Coalition to Eliminate Abuse of Seniors, B.C. Community Resource Network and, of course, as a volunteer speaker for Victoria Women’s Transition House.

“Moira inspires people because she takes action,” says Transition House’s Suzanne Dubé. “It takes courage to tell your story publicly but Moira has the strength and the courage.”

The message of prevention is essential, to break the cycle of violence from one generation to the next.

“If your background is one of violence and turmoil, you raise your kids in violence and turmoil, until you know better,” she explains. The solution is a combination of intervention but also – and essentially – prevention. “Abuse is wrong, no matter how, no matter who, no matter when.” However, “there’s a ripple effect with every person you help.”

Moira’s story is part of the inspiration for a new Transition House initiative, Peer Leadership Development, aiming to provide the means for older women to help others. “We want to inspire women to help other women,” Dubé explains.

Moira continues to inspire, looking ahead to future challenges – including pursuing civil rights for senior tenants–and some more personal ones, including leading a senior women’s yoga vacation to Mexico. “The yoga was just what I needed, then the counselling came along–the Transition House seniors’ support group came along–and it’s good to be me now,” Moira says.

“I like to say Transition House takes a broken and traumatized person and turns them into a whole person.”

Adrienne’s Story

Adrienne BettyEveryone has different reasons for volunteering and for choosing the kind of volunteer work they do. For Adrienne Betty, it was a little boy called Andrew.

As an elementary school principal in Calgary, Adrienne had worked closely with Andrew, who was struggling to manage his anger. It turned out that Andrew’s anger stemmed from witnessing his father’s brutal abuse of his mother and his inability to stop the abuse. Through her work with Andrew, Adrienne became very fond of him and his mom.

So when Adrienne saw the ad in a Victoria magazine looking for volunteer members of the Victoria Women’s Transition House Society Board of Directors, it all came together. Having just retired to her hometown of Victoria after 35 years away, she was looking for volunteer work that would build on the skills and experience acquired in her career and take them a step further. Clearly, Transition House was a good fit. Adrienne joined the Board in 2002, and in September 2009 completed a six-year commitment on the Board, including four years as co-chair.

“There are lots of wonderful ways to volunteer at Transition House,” Adrienne says, “but being on the Board has worked really well for me.” She particularly enjoys the “situational” nature of Board work – working hard for a period of time on a particular project, and then moving on the next. “It’s challenging, interesting, engaging, stimulating – and very rewarding,” she says. “I have learned so much from the Executive Director, her leadership team, the staff and my Board colleagues.”

For action-oriented people, like herself and many of her fellow Board members, stepping back from hands-on action to the arms-length governance role can sometimes require an adjustment, but the work is powerful in its own way: “Women working with women, women supporting women, and building on the strengths of the women on the Board to make decisions that are in the best interest of the women we serve.”

But whether you take Crisis Line calls, or work with the counsellors in a support group, or shop for groceries for the Shelter, doing volunteer work for Transition House will make a difference, because Transition House makes a difference.

“By providing programs and support in a caring, nurturing environment,” Adrienne says, “and a model that brings about change from within rather than imposing it, Transition House helps women make changes in their lives, encouraging them to see a path that they can start moving along, step by step or leap by leap.”

In turn, the courage to take those steps and leaps inspires everyone involved, Adrienne adds as Andrew and his mom inspired her. “The women’s stories of survival and their commitment to making better lives for their children and themselves are profoundly moving and inspirational.”

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