“It’s an honour to be in this position and to have people sharing things with me that are hard to share,” said Tracy Kwissa, the new community navigator for Lanark County. “I am very open. I am not judgmental. Everyone has a valid story that is worthy of being heard and being helped.”
Funded by a one-year Seed Grant from the Ontario Trillium Foundation, this position at The Hunger Stop in Carleton Place, a thread of the Lanark County Food Bank, is responsible for supporting and guiding people through the complex and often overwhelming maze of community services. The community navigator is the go-to person for members of the Lanark County community who need help figuring out things like financial aid and affordable health supplies in order to sleep well and wake up looking forward to the day ahead.
Kwissa is a passionate volunteer who is involved in many local community services. For example, she has volunteered and worked as a private contractor with the Lanark County Interval House, she sits on the Sexual Assault and Domestic Violence Advisory Board for Lanark County and she co-facilitates a support group for parents with children who struggle with mental illness.
As someone who has always been naturally inclined to help others, Kwissa said the 20 hour per week position is perfect for her. She says The Hunger Stop makes sense as a first point of contact for clients who need to be hooked up with additional community resources. “When you spend all day thinking about how hungry you are, or how hungry your kids are, it becomes more difficult to deal with other stressful things like paying bills or being able to afford glasses for your child,” Kwissa says. “Being able to come here and put good, nutritious food on the table means we are able to help clients with the things that come afterward.”
The Hunger Stop, located at 5 Allan Street in Carleton Place, provides five days worth of meals to clients who register. The Hunger Stop offers bakery items, grocery store items and fresh produce from local donors. Clients ‘shop’ at the The Hunger Stop with the same dignity of variety and choice that they would at grocery stores or markets.
The more people are set up with the resources they need, the more they are able to contribute to the community, Kwissa says. “I want people to know that even when things like anxiety, depression or lack of money make you feel like an outsider or make you feel alone, you’re not actually alone. There is a safety net.”
Most importantly, Kwissa wants people to understand that it is okay to ask for help. “Regardless of what you are going through, you are part of this community and you are not forgotten. I am eager to help, I just need to know who you are and what you need,” she says. “I always say, my door — and my heart — is open.”
As a woman who left an abusive marriage and raised her three children with the support of her friends and family, Kwissa is familiar with poverty and the importance of community services.
“Poverty does not mean you are less clean or uneducated and it does not happen due to something someone did or did not do,” she explains. “It’s just the position that a lot of people find themselves in due to whatever their circumstances are.”
First appeared in the May issue of Hometown News.