Fabulous Female Friday

Fabulous Female Friday – Olympian Kara Lang

It isn’t everyday that you get to interview your own role model. It isn’t everyday that you get to chat with her over email like you’ve known each other for years. And it isn’t every day that you get to share her story with others. But today I get to do all those things and I’m super-stoked to be featuring one of Canada’s best female soccer players.

Today I’m featuring Kara Lang, Olympian and World Cup soccer player. Kara was a member of the women’s Canadian National Team and she’s also my favourite athlete and soccer player.

I love watching women’s soccer on TV, specifically Canada’s team. I love observing all the players but I’ve always identified most with Kara because of her style of play.

Though my skill level doesn’t come close to Kara’s, I do like to think my style of play is similar, just down a few notches. I admire Kara not only for her skill in soccer but also her positive outlook on life and her passion to pursue her dreams.

Please join me in getting to know Kara Lang more intimately.

Tell us a little about yourself.

I’m 24 years old. I’m a former World Cup and Olympic soccer player, graduate of UCLA and now I teach Yoga and work on-air for Rogers Sportsnet.

What was it like to be the youngest women ever to play for Canada’s National Team?

I think at the time I was almost too young and naive to fully understand all that was going on around me. I just knew that I loved soccer; that I loved representing my country and that one day I wanted to be an Olympian.

I was also very fortunate to be surrounded day in and day out by so many inspiring and influential women at such an important age in my development. You couldn’t have asked for better role models and I learned so much from them both on and off the pitch.

At the age of 24, you retired from women’s soccer, how difficult a decision was that to make?

It was absolutely the most difficult decision I’ve ever made. I knew that it would be very hard to walk away from that lifestyle. For so many years it was all I’d ever known. It was extremely scary. But the hardest part was saying goodbye to my teammates. They were like a second family. You don’t really realize how lucky you are to have a constant support group surrounding you 24/7 until you don’t anymore.

Nothing can really compare to being a part of a team, and I miss that the most. But I also knew that at 24 years old I was way too young to be feeling as old as I was.

The last year leading up to my retirement was miserable. I felt like I was constantly fighting an uphill battle and eventually realized that I couldn’t push my body any further. I was getting injured all the time because I was constantly compensating for my knee and I was sick of being in pain.

I’ve always believed that happiness is a choice we make ourselves.

When I was told that I’d be facing a knee replacement in the future if I continued, I knew it was time to make a decision. For so many years it was eat, sleep and breathe soccer. It’s a huge sacrifice and it means you don’t have much time to pursue other things. I’ve always had other interests and I’m excited to have the opportunity to pursue other dreams now.

While I may not be able to play soccer anymore, I know that as long as I’m challenging myself and working hard to achieve my goals, I’ll be happy.

At the end of the day I’m grateful for the career that I had and grateful for the opportunity to now have a second one. I’ll always be involved in the game and hopefully I can continue to have an impact because it’s something that I’ll always be very passionate about.

Did you watch the Women’s World Cup? What was it like to be a spectator?

I did. I actually worked for Sportsnet as an analyst during the tournament. I think being so busy, and having my own challenge in front of me during the tournament was probably the only reason I was able to get through it. Had I been sitting on my couch watching the games from home as opposed to in the studio, focused on our broadcast, it would have been very difficult to watch.

There were definitely more than a few moments where I wished I could have been out there in the Canadian jersey alongside my friends and former teammates. But since it was my first experience in front of the camera, there was no time for self-pity! I had a job to do; a very nerve-wracking and exciting job at that.

The whole experience was so much fun and it certainly confirmed for me that broadcasting is what I want to do.

Contrast that with playing at the 2008 Olympics Games, what was that like?

I’d dreamt of being an Olympian even before I ever touched a soccer ball. I remember watching figure skating with my mom at 4 years old and knowing that one day I wanted to be there. Obviously it just wasn’t in the cards for me as a figure skater (not that I didn’t try; I skated for 4 years before choosing soccer).

There’s no other way to describe the Olympics other than a dream come true.

Going to the World Cup is one thing because in soccer it’s considered the pinnacle of the sport, but being a member of the Olympic team; being surrounded by so many world-class athletes, not just in your sport, but in every sport!…it’s pretty special.

With the absence of soccer at a competitive level, what are you doing to keep busy?

I practice yoga daily, and teach at our family’s studio – shunyata yoga in Milton.

What keeps you motivated to pursue your passions?

I think having the goal to always be doing something I love is my biggest motivation. I don’t believe in spending 90% of your week at a job you aren’t passionate about, no matter how much money you’re making.

As a soccer player, I was lucky enough to live a lifestyle where I got to do something I loved day in and day out, so I know how great that can be and I won’t settle for anything less. That’s not to say that it was always fun and it certainly wasn’t easy or lucrative!

The sacrifices were worth it because I was passionate about what I did and I was excited to do it every day.

There was a lot of dirty work involved. Fitness testing, training in the rain, long travel days, time spent away from loved ones, injuries. I felt that same way working at Sportsnet and that’s why I know it’s what I want to do now!

As a role model to young girls, what advice would you give them on pursuing their dreams in general and their dreams of playing soccer at the highest level?

I would say that no dream is too big and that anything is possible. As a player I was always driven by the idea that somewhere someone with the same goals as me was working harder than I was. Nothing worth having ever comes easy and nothing feels better than achieving a goal that you put it all on the line for.

As for soccer, I think challenging yourself and pushing yourself to the limit is the only way to improve so when I was younger I always played a few age groups up. If your own age group isn’t challenging enough, you’ll get comfortable and develop bad habits. Then if you do get the chance to play at the highest level, you won’t know how to deal when you aren’t the best player on the team anymore.

If you’re used to always being a big fish in a small pond you have to learn how to be a small fish in a big pond and fight tooth and nail for your position.

What’s the last song you listened to on your iPod?

Ooh that’s a tough one! I’m such a music geek, I can’t just pick one! Can I do a few?

You Should Do Better, Cut Off Your Hands, Heart in Your Heartbreak, The Pains of Being Pure at Heart, Caregiver by Memoryhouse (an awesome band from Toronto that I saw live the other night!)

What’s the last book you read?

I’m always reading a few at one time so Bossy Pants by Tina Fey- and Those Guys Have All The Fun (inside the world of ESPN).

Thank you so much to Kara for taking time out to share some insights with us. We’ll miss you on the pitch but look forward to following your broadcasting career. Best of luck!

For more on Kara Lang visit karalang.ca

City Mom

Fabulous Female Friday – City Mom on Britney Spears

In honour of my recent night of fame that you may or may not have heard about, today’s FFF is going to be a little different. Today I’ll be featuring Miss Britney Spears as August’s second Fabulous Female.

My sisters and I have always been fans of Britney Spears. We’ve made a tradition to attend her concerts together when she’s near London. We’ve seen her in Hamilton once and her recent concert makes it twice in Toronto.

Her Circus tour was the first time we decided to dress up like Britney. Her recent concert, the Femme Fatale tour at the Air Canada Centre, was the second time. For Circus we dressed up as characters that might be found in the production; we wore corsets, top hats and lots of lace. This time around we decided to dress up as past Britney personas.

Circus Tour

Our costume selection was quite the hit with Britney fans in Toronto. From the moment we took the roof down on my sister’s black convertible as we entered the city, to the moment we returned to the car to make the long drive home, we held celebrity-type status.

Toxic, Oops I Did it Again & Hit Me Baby One More Time

We were asked to pose for over 100 photos. Radio stations, other fans and even Britney’s official photographer were among the paparazzi. One photo even made it to britneyspears.com and to her official Facebook page.

We grabbed some drinks at a nearby patio before the show and it was there that a tour group walked by and in unison began clapping and cheering at us. It was unreal.

It was a whirlwind of an evening and I didn’t hesitate to post it all over Facebook and Twitter. After all, I do have a secret desire to become famous and I believe this is the closest I’ll ever get.

It was a response to one of my posts that made me decide to feature Britney this week as City Mom’s Fabulous Female. The comment said something like “…impressed that you’re a proud Britney fan, I’m still in the closet.”

I wouldn’t dare reveal who said this (don’t worry, your secret is safe with me) but it made me realize that I have been defending my fanaticism for Britney for years and it’s time once and for all to put some words behind it.

Today I’m interviewing myself on Britney…

Tell us about Britney.

Britney Jean Spears was born on December 2, 1981 in McComb, Mississippi but raised in Kentwood, Louisiana. She began singing and acting as a child with her first notable role as a Mouseketeer on the hit show The All New Mickey Mouse Club.

Britney is now 29 and the mom of two young boys. She’s not only a singer but also a songwriter, dancer, actress, record producer, author, fashion designer and video director.

Whether you are a fan of Britney or not, it’s impossible to say that she’s not a fabulous female. She has all the attributes and accomplishments that other fabulous females have, and she’s got something else, the ability to cope with living her life very much in the public eye.

What inspires you about Britney?

Britney is a business-woman before all else. Yes she sings, dances and puts on a hell of a good show, but she’s also an entrepreneur. She runs a very lucrative company and that is what we see on stage and on her album covers – her business.

The amount of controversy she has managed to overcome is amazing. Many women, if in Britney’s shoes would have given up by now. She has taken a childhood dream and turned it into an empire and not given up. But it’s not all about money and fame.

Britney is also a mom, just like me and you. She struggles with the same issues that motherhood forces on us. Whether she did in fact have postpartum depression or not, she struggled with motherhood just like the rest of us.

She had her low time but she fought it and won. This takes a strong woman and it’s something I identify with. She’s back on track, back to work and looking fabulous.

How do you identify with Britney?

I’m not joking when I say I know how she must feel. One day of being famous and I was exhausted. I couldn’t make a move without being looked at, spoken to, photographed, pointed and stared at. I imagine if everyday were like this it would get quite overwhelming.  

Big jobs come with big money, but the way I see it, even if she were to choose to quit today, the attention would never stop. This is something she’ll have to live with for the rest of her life. Knowing this I think she handles herself really well and puts effort into doing the best she can.

Though I didn’t shave my head in a fit or mental disarray, I did have moments of ‘craziness’ while battling Postpartum Depression. I did things I wish I hadn’t and I felt feelings that were scary and shocking. Had the world been watching my every move at the time, they’d think I was crazy too.

I know in a small dose what she went through and as most women who have suffered from PPD would agree, you feel  solidarity with other women who have travelled the same path.

Who wore it better?

Why do you think Britney is worthy of the Fabulous Female title?

You’ve heard the saying ‘actions speak louder than words’ right? Well when it comes to Britney Spears, this saying couldn’t be more appropriate. Take a look at this list of Britney’s accomplishments:

  • Only the second artist in history to have two consecutive singles debut at number-one
  • Third-most number one hits (among Mariah Carey & Janet Jackson)
  • Biggest selling musician worldwide (2000–2010) with global album and single sales of over 180 million as of 2010.
  •  Eighth best-selling female recording artist in the United States with 35 million albums sold
  • The youngest singer to receive a star on The Walk of Fame
  • The artist with the most mainstream Top 40 chart hits since 2000, with 21 tracks
  • Only female artist in history to have 6 of her albums debut at no. 1

 And this list doesn’t even come close to capturing all Britney’s accomplishments. She takes a lot of criticism and as do her fans but the proof is in her work. She’s doing something right.

What’s your favourite Britney song?

This is a tough question to answer, but it’s the question that always gets asked when someone is the fan of something in particular.

I love most of her songs but I’d have to say my favourite is Gimme More from her Blackout album.

What is your favourite Britney look?

Again, tough one…she’s got some great stylists. I loved her I’m a Slave 4 U look. The python was impressive!

Image from www.vertigoshtick.com

So there you have it, my take on Britney Spears as a Fabulous Female. I realize this isn’t the traditional format for the FFF feature but while I am trying to get a hold of Britney for a real interview, this will have to suffice.

Britney if you’re reading this…call me! I’d love to interview you for the Fabulous Female Feature properly!

City Mom

Fabulous Female Friday – Alicia Lang

I’m happy to feature Alicia Lang today as Augusts’ first Fabulous Female.

Alicia seems to be a normal, everyday mom but when you dig a little deeper you learn that she has an amazing drive and unique appreciation for her community.  Her ability to find a good work/life balance as well as making time for her community is really admirable.

I really appreciate Alicia’s honest and candid responses on motherhood and the ups and downs a new mom experiences. I wish more women felt comfortable sharing the ‘unexpected’ thoughts and feelings that come along with our new roles in life.

Please join me in getting to know Alicia.

Tell us a little about yourself.

I’m 29 and originally from Huntsville, ON. I moved to London 5 years ago to be with my husband. We have an absolutely beautiful daughter, Emma, who is now 17 months old.

 I love being active, and keeping busy.  I have been married for 3 years to my husband Andrew. I work for Selectpath Benefits and Financial as a Marketing Assistant for the president.  My life is always full of surprises and I love to be kept on my toes.

You’re very active with volunteering in the community; can you tell us about your work with the Alzheimer’s Society?

I have been involved with this organization for a couple of years now.  I help with their annual Walk for Memories and their biggest fund-raiser Cabin Fever Relief.

Last year I was fortunate to be a guest at the Cabin Fever Relief and it was amazing to see how everything is put together and presented. I had so much fun and yes, I spent money on the silent auction items…it’s a weakness I have when I go to fundraisers.

You also work with the Special Olympics; why is this important to you?

I have been with Special Olympics London for 5 years now. I started off coaching swimming, then soccer and now I run the basketball program. I was also the athlete registrar for the past 2 years. I was in charge of almost 500 athletes and 60 for my basketball program.

My volunteer work is so important to me that even while on maternity leave I continued with my positions. After Emma was born she came to every practice with me in her Snuggy.

Since returning to work I had to step down from the athlete registrar position. I absolutely loved that job but I had to realize I was not a super-women. My basketball team had a very exciting year! We went to a qualifying tournament which means we could end up at Provincials held anywhere in Ontario. I find out later this fall.  After Provincials we could make it to Nationals and then Worlds! 

This organization is probably the most rewarding for me; every day I’m able to see the athletes I have worked with and have helped to either put a smile on their face or helped them with life skills.  There is nothing more amazing than being involved in sports that I’m so passionate about and seeing what you have helped to create. I am honoured to be involved.  Most important it keeps you in check to know how special life really is and you should never take it for granted.

How do you balance a full-time career, volunteer work and being a mom?

Hmm. Well I just do!  Unfortunately I am not privileged to be like some superstars who make it look easy and have nannies on call 24/7. I’m not anything more special than any other mom; I just work my butt off and never take no for an answer.

You have to be disciplined and have structure in your life and know that it’s okay to ask for help. Some days I’m totally whipped and others I just feel on top of the world.  I get up every day no matter how I feel and think today is going to be a great day! When I open the door to my daughter’s room and see her glowing smile, how can I not feel so blessed?

Why do you think it’s important to continue working in the community on a volunteer basis?

We are so lucky to live where we do. Especially when there is so much anger, hate and war around us.  I feel we should give back to our communities to give them a piece of us as a token of our appreciation for the gift to have this freedom we share.

 As a busy mom, how do you find time to stay physically fit? Is it true you’ve been training for a ½ marathon?

When I was pregnant I was able to stay fit by playing competitive soccer until I was 7 1/2  months and I also ran until I was 8 1/2 months. Even though I was told by numerous people how I was putting my baby’s life in danger and how selfish I was.

 I love being active and knowing how important it is to stay healthy. I am a doer; actions speak louder than words. When Emma was born I wanted to make sure I could start my outdoor season for soccer in time, so when she was only 4 weeks old I started training. By 6 1/2 weeks I was out practicing. I ran almost every day on a treadmill while she napped.  When she got older I would have her up stairs with me while I did some weight training.

Last fall, I ran the Terry Fox Run. I started to train for a 1/2 marathon last fall but it has been extremely hard with everything on my plate so I do what I can. At this point I don’t think I will be ready this fall since I will be expecting my 2nd child in December. So basically I run as much as I can and still play competitive soccer for Dorchester.

What advice would you give to other new moms on maintaining a work/life balance?

Next time marry for money…ha-ha, just kidding…deep breaths!

Stay positive even when you feel your world is upside down and you’re ready to lose your mind! Being a mom is the most rewarding and unthankful job put together.  We just do things without hesitation or thought.

Ask lots of questions and remember that none are dumb.  I’m pretty sure I am not the only mom whose baby didn’t come with an owner’s manual/return policy. I wrote everything down from the time I was pregnant until now so I can share my experiences with others.

 What did you find most surprising about motherhood?

How much I loved it! I know that sounds funny but I find that I’m not like most women; I’m not girly. I don’t watch chick flicks and I hang out with the guys.  When I was pregnant I never loved it. I felt bad, I mean every woman seems to love it but I never did and I still don’t.

The labour kills and even when Emma was placed in my arms for the first time, nothing. I never had that “love at first sight” feeling.  I know I sound very strange, but it’s the truth. I was freaking out to think I wasn’t feeling the way other moms felt. Then one night when Emma was about 2 months old, I was all alone and I was feeding her. I looked into her eyes and she gazed into mine with the most breathtaking look and at that moment I knew I wanted nothing more than to be with this little gift that was given to me.  I was shocked to learn that everything I thought I knew or wanted had in one split second changed forever.

What’s the last song you listened to on your iPod?

Eminem – Won’t Back Down

What’s the last book you read?

Couldn’t tell ya…I’m not a reader.

City Mom

Fabulous Female Friday – Jennifer Hedger

I’m so excited to feature Jennifer Hedger from TSN’s SportsCentre as June’s second Fabulous Female.

I went to elementary school with Jennifer and her brother in little ol’ Lambeth, Ontario (now part of London). Growing up, both Jennifer and her brother were good public speakers. Each year students had to prepare a speech and present it in front of his/her class.  Not many of us liked having to give a speech but Jennifer seemed at ease and she always made it to the finals.

The finals were a big deal; you got to stand up in the gymnasium in front of the whole school and give your speech. The winner went on to an even bigger competition. The rest is a little foggy but I do remember when I learned that Jennifer was a co-host on SportsCentre, I wasn’t at all surprised.

Jennifer is now facing her toughest job to date; being a new mom. I love her candid responses on motherhood and the adjustments she’s had to make.  I’m sure you will agree that she’s a rather inspiring woman and a fabulous female!

Please join me in learning more about Jennifer.

TSN SportsCentre

Jennifer Hedger and co-host Darren Dutchyshen on TSN's SportsCentre -Image from tsn.ca

Tell us a bit about yourself outside of your career.

Well, I guess the most obvious thing to point out is that I’m a new mom! My son Jaeger was born March 18th. I’m married to Sean McCormick, a fellow sports broadcaster, and we married on the Mayan Riviera in 2006.

As you might imagine, my life is dominated by sports…but I do have SOME outside interests. I absolutely love to cook…I am addicted to the Food Network and I love making food for my family and friends.

A year ago, I started doing yoga, and it has changed the way I work out. I used to do cardio and weights, but now I do ashtanga yoga and cardio, and it has changed everything. Body, mind, soul…I was a skeptic, but it works.

And finally, my husband and I are big music fans. We like to take trips to see our favourite bands. Muse at Wembley, U2 in Dublin, The Tragically Hip in Boston…any excuse to see live rock n roll. This of course, was BEFORE we had Jaeger.

Tell us about your career; where did you start and how did you make it to TSN as a co-host on SportsCentre?

I started out at the New PL in London as their ‘summer events’ girl. Then came fill-in hosting gigs here and there when someone was on holidays. I auditioned to be a host on their morning show, New Day, but didn’t get the job. Instead, I was forced to branch out of London, and I got a job on a reality show in Toronto “The Lofters”.

While I was a “Lofter”, I appeared on Off The Record with Michael Landsberg on TSN. That appearance got me an interview at TSN, and after 3 months of begging and pleading for them to hire me, they did!

What was it like covering the 2010 Olympics in Whistler?

Amazing. Emotional. Grueling. Rewarding. Unforgettable.

I was able to interview Jon Montgomery after his Gold medal run in Skeleton, and it was the highlight of my career. It has since become this iconic image of the Games, Jon walking to our set in Whistler, chugging a pitcher of beer.

At the Olympics, sometimes you interview people on the worst day of their life (Melissa Hollingsworth) and sometimes you talk to them on the best day of their life. I was very fortunate to talk to Jon on the best day.

You’re a new mom, how are you enjoying this new role in life?

I’ll be honest, the first 8 weeks were really tough. I wasn’t prepared for how demanding it was going to be; the constant feeding, no sleep, constant crying. I struggled with going from having this rewarding career, to not being able to make my son stop crying.

At work, somebody was always there to tell me I’m doing a good job or that I had a good show, or that my writing was clever, but when you’re a new mom no one tells you you’re doing a good job. It’s thankless stuff.

But then at about the 10 week mark your baby smiles at you. And sleeps for 7 hours in a row. And the sun starts to shine again. I am really enjoying being a mom now, but it was not an easy, or an immediate transition.

How did you get your job on The Lofters? And what was that like?

I auditioned to be on the show because I needed a full-time job in TV. I saw it as a year-long audition toward a career in sports. Luckily, it was.

It was an intense experience. Being a reality TV personality isn’t just about your own privacy but also about the privacy of your family and friends. I don’t regret the experience; t was a necessary stepping stone for me, but I regret the intrusion on my family.

How did it feel being voted as Hello! Magazine’s Top 10 most beautiful women on television and what did that mean to you?

It was incredibly flattering! I was so excited for the photo shoot, and then the magazine came out, and I saw the picture, and I burst out in tears! I am definitely my own worst critic, but that photo was terrible! I was humbled.

I joke to my friends how much my life has changed. I went from Hello! Magazine’s Most beautiful to Canadian Family Magazine’s “10 Mom’s We Love”!

At this point in your life, what are you most proud of?

Hmmm, that’s a tough one. MOST proud of?

I guess I’m most proud that I’ve been able to achieve the things that are important to me. I can honestly say, I have everything I want. I have a loving husband and beautiful son, and a rewarding career. Sure, I wish I had a tighter stomach, a house with a yard and a well organized closet but you can’t have it ALL.

What advice would you give to women on pursuing their passions?

Work hard. Harder than the person beside you.

Take rejection graciously, but don’t accept it. Keep going.

Cry in private. There is nothing that makes a male boss or counterpart more uncomfortable, than a crying woman.

There are going to be times when you just want to burst into tears.; try to hold it together. When I didn’t get the job as morning host in London at The New PL, I thought my career was over before it began. I was so angry at the bosses at The New PL for not giving me the job. Little did I know, they did me the biggest favour of my career. They pushed me to go outside of my comfort zone. If I had of got the job, I would likely still be hosting morning TV in London.

What’s the last song you listened to on your iPod?

Beastie Boys – “No Sleep ‘Til Brooklyn”

What’s the last book you read?

“Medium Raw” – Anthony Bourdain

City Mom

Fabulous Female Friday – Cassandra Griffin

Fabulous Female Friday

Fabulous Female Friday

I am so excited to be able to feature Cassandra today. She’s a one-of-a-kind, intelligent, fabulous female who has set her mind on making a positive change in the world.

I am so inspired by what Cassandra does day in and day out. She’s a lot younger than I am, yet she seems to have much more wisdom.

I hope you enjoy reading through the amazing work Cassandra is doing in countries like India and Guatemala and the work she is doing with women in less fortunate situations. Cassandra, along with Save A Family Plan, is contributing to a better world.

Cassandra Griffin

Tell us a little about yourself.

I am 25 years old and I currently work and study in London, Ontario. I attended high school here at St. Thomas Aquinas Catholic Secondary School and after I graduated, I went on to study music and theatre at both the University of Western Ontario and Sheridan College in Oakville.

Although performing is a great passion of mine, I became more interested in global issues of social justice and my desire to learn more led me to King’s University College here in London, where I study Social Justice and Peace Studies and Economics.

The feeling of solidarity I have developed for the poor has guided my studies and led me to travel to Guatemala and India to learn and share in the lives of marginalized families and communities. I love traveling and learning about different cultures.

When I’m at home, I like to explore creative activities like sewing, crocheting, baking, and making jewelry. I also love to read and I am a bit of a tea granny. I am currently working as a Program Support Officer at Save A Family Plan.

Tell us about Save A Family Plan.

Save A Family Plan is a not-for-profit international development organization that partners with families and communities in India to seek justice and work with the poor. Our head office is actually located right here in London!

The organization has been in operation for 47 years and was started by a Catholic priest from India named Father Gus, who was working as a Professor of Chemistry in Fredericton, New Brunswick. He started the organization by partnering 5 families in Canada with 5 impoverished families in India to provide financial support and encourage learning and greater cultural understanding.

Since then, Save A Family Plan has grown tremendously and currently runs several programs in India. The Family Development Program partners families in India with benefactors in Canada and the US and focuses on empowering families to use their skills to create a source of income.

The families receive $20 a month for 6 years and in this time they are assisted in developing a small business, as well as undergoing training and planning to help them address the other issues they face. Over 50,000 families have already graduated and reached self-reliance through this program.

We are running a five-year Community Development Program in partnership with the Government of Canada that will provide 580 impoverished communities across India the chance to learn and work together to address the problems they face in an inclusive way.

We support a variety of smaller projects around the country that focus on areas such as healthcare, education, environment consciousness building, good governance, child labour, HIV/AIDS, disaster management, gender issues, and support for people with disabilities, orphans, and the elderly.

We are committed to ensuring that 100% of all donations raised reach the poor in India.

How did you become involved with SAFP?

I first got involved with SAFP as a volunteer through a class I took at King’s. It was a Service Learning Course that allowed students to volunteer within our community to explore the work that so many wonderful organizations are doing and to put some of our knowledge into practice.

I chose SAFP because of my interest in international development, particularly in Asia. I was delighted when they decided to hire me as a student intern while I continued my studies. Now I am a full-time staff member in the office.

Tell us about your past and upcoming trip to India.

Last summer, I was fortunate enough to be selected as a student intern to travel to India for 3 months and work with Save A Family Plan’s India staff.

India is an amazing country, with a very rich culture, delicious food, incredible art and clothing and many beautiful people. It is also a country where the gap between the rich and the poor is continually growing.

During my time there, I visited several of SAFP’s partner organizations through the Family Development Program in Kerala and Tamil Nadu. Along with the local field staff, we visited many families supported by the program. The families explained their situations to us and we worked with them to make a plan to address the complex issues that they faced.

It is always shocking as a foreigner to witness the intense struggles that are the everyday reality for so many people. In these situations, it is amazing to see the value that some support and encouragement, along with a bit of financial assistance, can have in a family’s life.

I was particularly impressed by the courage, strength, and intelligence of so many of the women I met. Women who were determined to work hard to support their families and give their children a better future, despite the numerous disadvantages facing them. They continue to be a great inspiration to me within my work here in Canada.

This fall, I will be returning to India for 3 months as a staff member of SAFP. I will be taking some training in community development for the first month and I will spend the rest of the time monitoring the Community Development Program that is currently underway. This work will give me the opportunity to travel to many parts of the country and witness the great work that the field staff and targeted communities are doing.

I feel truly blessed to be able to travel to India once again and to be involved in such inspiring work.

Can you share a little about your experience in Guatemala?

In 2009, I had the opportunity to spend a month in Guatemala living in a community that was greatly affected by the civil war and had rebuilt everything from scratch.

Along with 14 other students, I participated in all the community activities, including teaching English in the school, planting trees, caring for the rain forest, cooking, collecting and cleaning eggs from the poultry farm, and planning a festival for the children.

We learned a great deal from the community members about the political situation in the country and the civil war, which has had a lasting effect on many communities. It was interesting to see the way the people had worked together to design and build a community based on their shared values and needs.

How do you support the women you interact with in your work?

The situation of women in developing countries such as India and Guatemala is extremely difficult. Women are far more likely to be victims of poverty, violence, and discrimination than men are and they face many social conventions that limit what they are able to do and how they are valued in families and communities.

Save A Family Plan’s programming places a special focus on women. By providing training in gender issues and creating self-help groups, our partner organizations help to encourage important discussions within communities, giving a voice to women on critical issues that negatively impact girls and women.

SAFP also places importance on the education of girls and providing women with skills training and small business opportunities so that they can earn an income to support their families. Many move on to become leaders and key decision makers within their communities.

Although the process is slow, women’s increased participation in the social, political, and economic life of their communities can lead to changes in social norms and greater equality among men and women.

When meeting with women in my work it is amazing to see the impact that a human connection and feeling of solidarity can have. By listening to the stories of those I meet and sharing in their experiences, a relationship can be built that is based on respect and love. This can be incredibly powerful especially in a country like India where people have historically had little contact with others outside of their social class.

It is important to share our experiences and understand how our lives as women are connected even though we come from very different places. I hope that these connections have a positive impact on the lives of the women I meet, although I often feel that I am the one who has the most to learn by sharing with them.

How can people contribute or get involved with SAFP?

There are many ways that you can support the work of SAFP. If you would like to know more about what we do or to donate to any of our programs, you are welcome to visit our website (www.safp.org) or call our office (519-627-1115) for more information.

You can also follow us on Facebook. If you are close to London, you can visit our office to volunteer some of your time and we would also be happy to come speak to any group you belong to about our work.

Perhaps most importantly, I hope that individuals will take time to learn more about social justice and keep updated on different issues affecting people around the world, in order to be strong global citizens. Find an issue that is meaningful for you and try making a small gesture to work for change!

What are your future goals?

I look forward to continuing my work with Save A Family Plan and eventually completing a Master’s Degree in Economic Development. I hope that I will be able to find new ways to promote social justice and work for a better world.

What’s the last song you listened to on your iPod?

Billie Jean by the Lost Fingers; they’re a great band from Quebec who play gypsy jazz guitar and this song is from an album of 80’s covers.

What’s the last book you read?

Louis Riel: A Comic Strip Biography by Chester Brown. It provides an interesting perspective on this important figure and early Canadian history. And the pictures make it fun!

Thank you Cassandra for sharing your amazing work with us! Keep up the inspiring work!

City Mom

Fabulous Londoners: Amy Van Es & Writtle Magazine

I’m happy to present to you Amy Van Es, Founder and Director of Writtle Magazine, as May’s first Fabulous Female.

I met Amy almost a year ago through Twitter and our common love for writing and blogging made us quick friends. City Mom readers first met Amy back in October. Amy has come a long way since the fall.  She has become a new mama and launched an amazing project.

I am inspired by Amy because she has identified her passion and has not stopped in pursuit of it. She’s taken her love and skill for writing and her passion for the London community and created a wonderful publication that celebrates London’s literary talents.

I hope you enjoy getting to know Amy and Writtle Magazine.

Amy Van Es

Tell us a little about yourself.

Every so often, I write a self-portrait piece – sort of a snapshot of who I am at the very moment I write it. The latest one has a line that says it well: “Like glitches on a screen, I hustle from place to place; from moment to moment. Although I appear besprinkled and winded, my feet are always touching the earth heavily on all four corners”.

This time in my life is a busy one – I’ve got Writtle Magazine that has just released its Inaugural Issue and a six month old daughter to raise. In the midst of all the crazy I do my very best to remain grounded and calm.

I have a peace sign tattoo that I got, ironically, at the darkest time in my life. Even though folk music has my heart, I spend a great deal of time listening to 90s pop. I love to kayak and play baseball. I was a bowling champion as a child (seriously). And finally, I hate normal peas but love the ones still in the pod.

Tell us about Writtle Magazine.

In a book I read recently by an industry legend, it says that it is essential to have a passionate, steamy love affair with your publication. So, I am beyond thrilled to babble about the magazine.

Pioneered from a dream to satisfy my craving for a career in both design and literature, I began working toward a publication that does just that. When mixed together with my desire to belong to a community of like-minded people, I got a fabulous elixir that created a hub for the literary industry to express themselves.

We showcase the talented writers in our community (right here in London, Ontario) and help to promote and probe the industry. Although this began as my dream, it has quickly taken on a life of its own. It wasn’t too long into the process of producing the first issue that I realized there was no way I could do it alone. Thus, we are a magazine made by London, for London. What a fantastic job our community has done!

Writtle Magazine

How long have you been writing?

I’ve been writing for my sanity since I was a young child. I have always kept a little black journal that housed my greatest hardships and triumphs. Now, I have a museum of my emotional history sitting on my book shelf. I don’t suppose I write for anyone but myself, but I do share my work. I’ve been doing that for the last year or so.

What motivates and inspires your writing?

I only have one motivation, emotion. I cannot just pick up a pen and begin to write. I need to be prompted by an emotional moment. The good news is that I am incredibly sensitive and have a lot of those moments.

I can see a man walking solemnly down the street with his un-groomed dog and instantly be filled with the loneliness I believe he’s feeling. There are certain things that prompt such moments, through my daughter, movies, people and music and reflecting on the past; they’ve all been known to drive my pen.

What are your future plans for Writtle Magazine?

I have high hopes for the project. When I imagine where we will be in a few years, I envision a cozy space that is open for anybody to walk in, take a seat and read. This space will double as an office for us. How amazing it would be to have a place to come and discuss literature, write with fellow wordsmiths, or just hang out for a few hours.

In the much more immediate future, I plan to begin hosting events throughout the city in which you can hone your writing skills, listen to others and learn about interesting topics that effect the industry. I guess the plan for the magazine is to become more than a publication. I want for us to become an even cozier, nutritious community.

Writtle Magazine

Who can contribute to Writtle Magazine?

Anybody that is from or resides in London who has written anything can contribute, no matter the experience level. Whether you’re an aspiring journalist, an established novelist, or a recreational poet, we’d love to read what you’ve written.

Currently, we have 5 departments:

  • Biographies of literary personalities in the city
  • Short stories/flash fiction
  • Poetry
  • Book reviews
  • Articles on current and interesting topics surrounding the literary industry

With that being said, I’m totally open to the possibility of any form of writing. If you have a new idea, or a piece that fits into one of those categories, send it in with a completed Release Form (found on our website ), a little blurb about yourself, and a headshot.

You can send your submissions electronically or via postage:

Email: info@amyvanes.com

Mailing Address – 405-1235 Huron Street, London ON  N5Y 4L5

When sending electronically, people have been printing the Release Form, filling it out, scanning it and then sending it in via email along with their piece. If you don’t have the means to do so, you may send your submission electronically and then mail us the Release Form. Just let us know how you’re getting all the pieces to us and we’ll be sure to keep an eye out for it!

What advice would you give to other women in terms of pursuing their passion?

A lot of people I speak to tell me that they wish they could drop everything in pursuit of their dream. I tell them that dropping everything sounds dramatic. If you can’t work yourself up to a dramatic change (or simply don’t have the means to do so), begin to chase your dream one step at a time. I didn’t decide to do this overnight. I took one step toward my ideal life each day and this is where I’ve ended up. And it is fabulous!

What else do you have on the go?

I want to achieve mastery of my craft, so I’m putting all of my energy into that. I am far from that point, but I’m working diligently at getting there. I’ve been taking courses on creative writing and working a lot on my writing. As I’ve mentioned, I also have a daughter who I spend every day with. It’s my first priority to make sure she has an amazing life. Those combined with the magazine is enough to keep me occupied!

What is the last song you listened to on your iPod?

Grace Potter – Ah Mary

What is the last book you read?

Bright Shiny Morning – James Frey

Contact Amy:

Writtle website: www.writtlemagazine.com
Personal website: www.amyvanes.com
Tel: 519 868 6721
Email: info@amyvanes.com
Facebook : Writtle Magazine (London)
Twitter: @AMY_VANES

Photography By: Photography By Kayliegh

City Mom

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