[vc_row][vc_column][vc_custom_heading text=”Resident Blog Writers” font_container=”tag:h2|font_size:40|text_align:left|color:%23232323″ use_theme_fonts=”yes”][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column width=”1/3″][vc_employee image=”393″ name=”Liza McClelland (she/her)” position=”co-editor” instagram=”https://www.instagram.com/dear.lizaa/”]Liza is currently in her final year of her Disability Studies degree at Western while working as a direct support worker at a group home. She identifies as a non-disabled support worker and ally to the disabled community. From a high school co-op student, to respite worker, to inclusion camp counsellor, to direct support worker, she has had lots of experience supporting this community. Liza is looking forward to discussing the chaos, challenges, joys and opportunities of direct support work and allyship. She is also a sucker for cheesy romantic comedies, tacos, naps, pineapple on pizza and long drives. Liza is middle sister to her best friends who all grew up in Durham Region. She spends a lot of time at her family’s cottage in Prince Edward County with their spunky pup Savanna. She’s really happy to be here and happy you are here too!
IG: @dear.lizaa[/vc_employee][/vc_column][vc_column width=”1/3″][vc_employee image=”1951″ href=”https://www.boundtocreate.com/” target=”_blank” name=”Lauren Brotman (she/her)” position=”contributor” instagram=”https://www.instagram.com/laurenrachelbrotman/”](Photo credit: Brendee Green Photography)
Lauren’s personal and professional life has extended across many parts of the world. She and her family moved to Canada from South Africa when she was a young child. An award-winning actor, writer, creator and artist educator, she lives in Toronto with her 7-year-old son and husband. After five years of creating work in northern B.C., she’s recently returned home where she and her husband run Bound to Create (B2C), a theatre/film/tv creation company that explores how the struggles of humanity can bring out the greatest light.
Lauren’s world was rocked in 2018 when she was diagnosed with Advanced Breast Cancer. After an almost 2 year battle, and after her mother’s 30 year battle with mental and physical illness, Lauren’s journey towards healing is an ongoing deepening of her capacity to learn, to love, to surrender and to serve through action, a process she is honoured to share through Willowjak. For more on Lauren, please visit boundtocreate.com
@ellesvalleyfilm[/vc_employee][/vc_column][vc_column width=”1/3″][vc_employee image=”464″ name=”Andres P. (he/him)” position=”contributor”]I am first generation Afro Latino Canadian. First of my kind every time I walked into any room. But I adjusted well and it was a unique experience for both myself and the individuals I met. My parents divorced when I was in grade 8. It was rough, leaving my mom bitter and my dad macho and I was broken by the experience. Suppressed my childhood emotions for decades. Avoided and distracted from my issues with school, alcohol, drugs, work and promiscuity, but it finally caught up to my when I had my family. I projected my pain on to my wife until she couldn’t take it anymore, so she left me. I was left unexpectedly homeless, jobless and alone. I had to rebuild myself from the foundation up and started therapy to heal and break my cultural and family cycles. So I am on a journey of healing and I hope to share it so others will know they are not alone anymore. Rebuilding a foundation begins with the new self. #thenewme[/vc_employee][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column width=”1/3″][vc_employee image=”457″ name=”Steph D. (she/her)” position=”contributor”]I am a stay-at-home mom in my 40s, still finding it hard to believe that this is my title in life. Mom of two young girls and married to a pilot (in other words… part time single parent). I am ‘Auntie Boom’ to Willowjak, and have the tattoo to prove it!
In order to ensure that I continue to follow in my big sister Stacey’s footsteps, life decided to throw me a curveball. My youngest was born with a mysterious disability that several doctors refused to acknowledge. She was diagnosed with autism at 2, and finally the genetic disorder DDX3X at 5. I’m almost always tired, and I feel as though my goal in life is to survive. I’m sure that I am not alone on this quest.[/vc_employee][/vc_column][vc_column width=”1/3″][vc_employee image=”449″ name=”Jake Haley (they/them)” position=”contributor” instagram=”https://www.instagram.com/jakeyhaley/”](Photo credit: Greg Rempel)
I’m the Jak in Willowjak.
Jake by day and Matilda by night – experimenting with the world of drag and modelling while fiercely repping the LGBTQIA2S+ community. Navigating my way to independence in Toronto with the love of my family and autistic brothers supporting me. Determined to come through the darkness of mental illness and addiction so that I can use my experiences for good and to lend a hand of support to others to help them do the same.
IG: @jakeyhaley[/vc_employee][/vc_column][vc_column width=”1/3″][vc_employee image=”617″ name=”Marilyn R. (she/her)” position=”contributor”]I’m a 39 year old Métis wife, mother, daughter, friend, teacher, advocate. I love coffee and squirrels. I married my high school sweetheart and don’t know where I’d be without him. I’m mama bear to two amazing sons with autism who teach me things every day. I struggle with anxiety and depression. I find joy in the little things in life. I discovered my Métis heritage in my 20s and have been learning about Indigenous traditions and issues since. Life has taken me on many twists and turns I never saw coming. I try to walk the path with Bravery and look to Love.[/vc_employee][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column width=”1/3″][vc_employee image=”542″ name=”Lisa K. (she/her)” position=”contributor” instagram=”https://www.instagram.com/theaspielifeoflisa/”]I’m 31 years old, and I’m from Courtice, ON Canada. I am an autistic person and graduated college in 2013 from the Community Integration through Cooperative Education program with honours and was the top student of the program at Durham College. My area of concentration was Early Childhood Education. I currently work as an Early Childhood Assistant at a local child care centre and I enjoy what I do. I’m studying Russian and hope to visit Russia when it becomes safe again. My hobbies include going to the gym, running weightlifting, reading, swimming, yoga, hiking, meditation, knitting, cooking, and learning new things. I also love traveling and last year I went on a plane to Punta Cana. I am a huge cat person.
IG: @theaspielifeoflisa[/vc_employee][/vc_column][vc_column width=”1/3″][vc_employee image=”433″ name=”Tara F. (she/her)” position=”contributor”]I am a 40 something wife and mom to 4 complicated young people. Before being mom I have filled the roll of 1:1 volunteer, camp staff, out of home respite provider, group home staff, educational assistant and special services at home worker. Each of our children have joined our family through foster care or adoption. I left the paid workforce 12 years ago to be home full time to meet the medical, physical and mental health needs of our children. When I am not mom I like to sing, bake and spend time outdoors.[/vc_employee][/vc_column][vc_column width=”1/3″][vc_employee image=”409″ name=”Nicholas M. (he/him)” position=”contributor” instagram=”https://www.instagram.com/nicmccabe_/”]”The first thing you should know about me is that I am extremely high energy. You will definitely see that in my writing. I’m from Durham, currently studying Psychology at the Royal Military College. I’d like to use my energy for good through this medium, spreading positive messages and taking the often overlooked approach to things we see in our day to day lives. With that said, most of my writing will also include an element of stoicism, as I use that in addition to my positive mindset daily to deal with the world around me. I welcome feedback as I begin sharing my thoughts.”
IG: @nicmccabe_[/vc_employee][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column width=”1/3″][vc_employee image=”640″ position=”contributor” name=”Rev. Michelle B.”]Who am I?
This is always a tricky question. What defines who I am?
I am a 52-year old woman of faith who is an ordained minister within the United Church of Canada. I am married to an incredibly supportive and loving spouse, John. I am a daughter, a sister and an aunt. I am someone who intentionally chose not to have children for many reasons, that you may learn about through my blogs. I am a life-long learner. Personal growth has always been an important part of my journey. I have an Honours B.A. in Psychology and a Masters of Divinity and Masters of Religious Education from Emmanuel College, University of Toronto. My continuing education has focused on conflict and leadership, grief and end of life, pastoral care, and accompanying those with mental health issues. I competed internationally in track and field, in the discus, in an earlier life. My life went off the rails in my early 20’s and it began a difficult, painful and life-giving, even transformative journey through mental illness and healing. I am passionate about sport, the outdoors, travel and reading. My favourite colour is purple and my favourite expression is AWESOME! I am looking forward to becoming a regular contributor here.[/vc_employee][/vc_column][vc_column width=”1/3″][vc_employee image=”607″ name=”Deb P. (she/her)” position=”contributor”]Hi, I’m Deb. I started writing a third-person bio meant for a grown up, but I couldn’t stop laughing. So here I am, factory-direct. I’m quite frankly flabbergasted that I am here at all. Seriously, I’m a 63 year old aging hippie with a sarcastic tongue and out of control ginger hair, making my way armed with little more than a basket full of failed hair products, an accounting degree, more than a few dog-hair dust bunnies, a horrific retirement portfolio, a basement full of things I should chuck, a vague feeling that maybe God does indeed care about me, and a seeming inability to tame my compulsion to attempt to
control all aspects of my life all the time before they happen. Side passions for writing, design, pot throwing, and music.
I woke up one day and found myself sucker punched into a life I never dreamed I would have to live. I have made a LOT of mistakes (with more doozies probably to come, according to my youngest spawn who says “you’re always doing dumb things, mom, it’s so annoying”). Not exactly a life-hero type of person. And yet, here I am because Stacey miraculously thinks I have something to say, so I’ll do my best to not make her regret her choice… I am passionate in advocating for women “of a certain age”, especially we single ones, because we
aren’t quite dead yet, in spite of the fact that we are often largely invisible and made to feel redundant on many levels. (No, I will not go quietly into that good night). I refuse to act or dress “appropriately” for my age. I am also a staunch defender of the right to love who you love, and being free to be fully who you are, in any way that floats your boat. That we need to re-embrace the ways of those who were here first if we ever want to save this planet (and ourselves). I hope to make you think, make you laugh; and
mostly, feel like no matter where you are in life, you are never alone, and whatever dumb thing you think is going to sink you, won’t. Because heaven knows if that were true, I wouldn’t be here.[/vc_employee][/vc_column][vc_column width=”1/3″][vc_employee image=”460″ href=”https://www.drjenparsonsnd.com/” target=”_blank” name=”Dr. Jen Parsons, ND (she/her)” position=”contributor” instagram=”https://www.instagram.com/jenparsonsnd/”]Dr. Jen Parsons is a licensed naturopathic doctor and experienced speaker based in Toronto’s thriving east end. She treats patients with anxiety, insomnia, skin conditions, hormonal conditions, and digestive issues. The majority of her patients are experiencing a transition in their life be it a divorce, new job, new school, new diagnosis.
Dr. Jen received her doctorate from the Canadian College of Naturopathic Medicine and in the course of her clinical internship she served disadvantaged communities at Queen West Community Health Centre, and practiced in a mobile medical clinic with Naturopaths Without Borders in Cap Haitien, Haiti. Prior to her naturopathic studies, Jennifer received her undergraduate degree from Mount Allison University.
She is a committed lifelong learner. The field of integrative medicine is always evolving. In between clinic days, you’ll find Dr. Jen reading up on the latest clinical research, attending local and international conferences, and taking continuing education courses.
In her spare time, Dr. Jen enjoys hanging with her hilarious son and husband, cooking healthy meals for her family, practicing yoga and traveling.
IG: @jenparsonsnd[/vc_employee][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column width=”1/3″][vc_employee image=”786″ position=”contributor/social media admin” name=”Amy McClelland (she/her)”]Amy is a fresh graduate from the University of Waterloo with an Honours Co-op degree in Therapeutic Recreation. University does not come naturally to a person with a learning disability, making Amy uniquely proud of her undergraduate accomplishments. Amy is working to be more open about her disability and strives to view her learning challenges as an opportunity for growth in resilience and creativity.
Throughout her young adult life, she has worked with a wide variety of populations, striving to provide meaningful and empowering recreation opportunities. She has worked with rehab patients, people with disabilities, veterans and mental health clients searching for more equitable access to community recreation. She believes wholeheartedly in the therapeutic benefit of doing what you love, as often as you can.
Amy is currently working as a Direct Support Professional in a group home for adults with developmental disabilities in Kitchener, Ontario. She is working to find growth and connection opportunities as she navigates the challenges of being a new graduate. She is a bubbly, people-person, who loves running, watching sitcoms and enjoying good food with good people. Amy is excited to journey toward wellness alongside all of you!
firstname.lastname@example.org[/vc_employee][/vc_column][vc_column width=”1/3″][vc_employee image=”961″ position=”contributor” name=”Allie G. (she/her)”]Part time teacher of French & Spanish, full time mother and wife. I love walking my dog, reading and travelling with my family when the world isn’t in the grips of a pandemic. If hoarding ever becomes truly necessary it will be coffee I stockpile, not toilet paper.[/vc_employee][/vc_column][vc_column width=”1/3″][vc_employee image=”1107″ href=”https://www.spiritedhealing.ca/” target=”_blank” name=”Michelle Scrimgeour-Brown (she/her)” position=”contributor” facebook=”@spiritedhealing” instagram=”https://instagram.com/revmichellesb/”]Michelle Scrimgeour-Brown is a master energy healer, published author, clairvoyant and non-denominational minister who practices at Spirited Healing. She delights in training others to hone their own intuitive abilities through her program Ignite Your Intuition, and she is excited about the opportunity to shift energetic blockages in real time, making it possible for you to truly step into the life you long for. Her book, In the Past…, is available on her website at www.spiritedhealing.ca/book and at local independent bookstores.
FB: @spiritedhealing[/vc_employee][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column width=”1/3″][vc_employee image=”1192″ position=”Contributor” name=”Fancy Y. (she/her)” instagram=”https://instagram.com/love.run.lift/”]
[/vc_employee][/vc_column][vc_column width=”1/3″][vc_employee image=”1174″ position=”contributor” name=”Amanda Coolman (she/her)” instagram=”https://www.instagram.com/Coolman_Eh/”]I’d like to say I fall into the “sandwich generation” – and while I have no children of my own to care for – I find myself falling somewhere in between caring for my mother and caring for my sanity. When I am not working, I have the honour of helping look after my amazing mother, who has suffered 2 strokes in the past 11 years. Being a caregiver is not for the faint of heart, and if I am being honest, it can be a crappy club to be a member of. I have fallen down more times than I care to count through this journey, but while channeling my incredible stubbornness, strength (both of which I come by honestly,) and several F-words (Faith, Family, Friends and Food), I keep getting back up.
IG: @Coolman_Eh[/vc_employee][/vc_column][vc_column width=”1/3″][vc_employee image=”1401″ name=”Ms. Devine (she/her)” position=”contributor” instagram=”https://instagram.com/”]I am a 33 year old Step-Mom to three kids who would describe me as a dramatic, fun-loving hopeless romantic (insert eyeroll). I’m a transplant from Pickering, Ontario who is currently living in Calgary, Alberta. My friends would describe me as an open-book, a safe space and an ever evolving shoulder to cry on (my friend told me to say that). I work with children with special needs; a career inspired by my involvement with Willowjak. I have been thrown some pretty big curve balls in my short time here on this planet but, have faced them with a good book in hand and a cup of tea on my night stand. My hope is that what I have experienced in my life can be of use to others. Some support to prove that we are not alone; though we may feel like we are, that we are seen; though we feel invisible and that we have a voice; though we may not know we have one yet. – Ms. Devine/Mitchell/Mitch[/vc_employee][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column width=”1/3″][vc_employee image=”1446″ name=”Laura M. (she/her)” position=”contributor” instagram=”https://instagram.com/”]Banker turned stay-at-home mom turned full-time pastoral care worker and youth minister. Mom to three young adult daughters (Shy Liza and Amy plus one more we might someday convince to write for Willowjak as well); a wife to one amazing guy; and a caregiver to many. Laura is a firm believer that staying connected with your people, a good cup of coffee, a good book, and a good day by the lake is good for the soul.[/vc_employee][vc_employee image=”2281″ name=”Liv M. (she/her)” position=”contributor” instagram=”https://instagram.com/”]Hi, my name is Liv, and I am a grade 12 student in Bowmanville, Ontario. I am the youngest McClelland girl and the only one to have not yet written for Willowjak. I love watching basketball, sipping on overpriced coffee, singing along to the Hamilton soundtrack, and cuddling with my pup. I hope to share my experience of being a young person graduating, working a student job in customer service, and simply growing up through these weird times. I have recently started my own mental health journey and want to take you all along with me as I discover what works and what doesn’t for my well-being. I love writing and am so grateful that Willowjak has given me a place to let you see the world through my eyes & I can’t wait to share it with you! – Liv[/vc_employee][/vc_column][vc_column width=”1/3″][vc_employee image=”1215″ name=”Julie Racine (she/her)” position=”contributor” instagram=”https://instagram.com/”]* Sharing the Gift *
In the midst of an idyllic life, a cancer diagnosis hit Julie Racine at 41 like a ton of bricks. After her initial grief and the shedding of many tears, Julie soon started to view her cancer as a gift. Yes – a gift! She viewed this as an extraordinary opportunity to transform the pitfalls and challenges in her life into something powerfully positive. Gathering her courage and putting pen to paper, Julie committed herself to sharing her gift with everyone; hoping that others as well, would discover the gift of love that could be found in the face of adversity. With “Sharing the Gift”, Julie Racine imparts her unique perspective on the human existence and proposes an enlightened and generous approach to embracing life. Living mindfully with nature and in peace within herself, Julie sows the seeds with words of hope and invites the reader to trust in the power and gift of love.
“Trust, let go and believe. Love will carry you through the rest.”
Julie Racine (1973-2015)
(This series has been posted with permission from Julie’s mother Hélène Beauregard and is fulfilling Stacey’s promise to share Julie’s gift through her writing)[/vc_employee][/vc_column][vc_column width=”1/3″][vc_employee image=”1458″ name=”Jennie O. (she/her)” position=”contributor” instagram=”https://instagram.com/”]Jennie is a Toronto based Clinical Social Worker in private practice. She enjoys working collaboratively with clients to help them gain clarity, insight, and meaning in their lives. When not at work, Jennie recharges through wandering the woods, devouring books, or backcountry canoe camping with her family.[/vc_employee][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][/vc_column][/vc_row]