Contributed by Erdine (Dee) Hope, Toronto Writers Collective – My name is Dee Hope. That is what I am called here in the downtown core, where I grew up and worked for the past fifty years but is now a gentrified community. Currently I am a caseworker for a mental health and addiction support agency, volunteer board member for Focus Media Arts Centre, radio host for my show Earcandy, and a longtime community member and consumer survivor. “HOPE”, my surname, is a blessing or curse depending on who you ask.
Diverse to some, Regent Park has new, shiny things that contrast with the most marginalized human beings still lingering ambivalently in the remnants of their very soul and life. Coping with substance use, poverty and homelessness, they survive some of the harshest environments.
I have been called a fixture of the community, a mother of peace, my upbringing of faith personifying my last name. Vulnerability is the source of my strength. I guess you could say that words can break you or transform you. I am a writer, facilitator and trainer with the Toronto Writers Collective.
Nine years ago were the dark days of my soul. The Friendship Centre, a drop-in for those with truly no place else to go, was constructively changing and trying to get rid of me. The hope and strength I provided for so many for almost 20 years was no longer a requirement for funding. In the midst of chaos and deprivation, of strategic oppression, I was still grieving the loss of my beloved grandmother. Before she died, she said, “A woman will see your worth and be in your life.” I held onto those precious words.
Then I met Susan Turk Mozer, founder of the Toronto Writers Collective, on the coldest day that winter. “I want to start writing workshops, because everyone is a writer,” she told me in the damp entrance to the Friendship Centre, with clients sitting at tables or lounging and sipping from Styrofoam cups. I was not interested in her après-ski enthusiasm. But I didn’t know back then how it would change my life, my world, my words. The words, the worlds of others. Our stories. Our fellowship.
TWC metaphorically changes lives, communities and organizations through healing, transformation, identity, inclusivity, acceptance, transparency and bravery. With support and encouragement, people grow as writers and in other aspects of their lives. In creating a non-judgmental other, they often take risks, sharing stories for the first time and broadening their perspectives, growing.
We can achieve social change by offering opportunities, regardless of race, ethnicity, class, age, gender, sexual orientation or physical abilities. Inspired by the Amherst Writers and Artist Method’s 50-year history of using writing to encourage authentic voice in vulnerable communities, the Toronto Writers Collective is changing lives.
The TWC program nurtures and inspires members, giving us a chance to discover hidden talents, cultivate or continue our gift of writing. E ach workshop fosters imaginative and creative ways to share personal experiences and discover a deep and inner wisdom.
Over the years, the Toronto Writers Collective has facilitated 2,690 workshops, providing over 15,870 writing workshop experiences for community members, and has spread the power of language in Ontario and even to Quebec. It has recently pivoted in these changing times to provide virtual workshops. Three anthologies have been published, two launching this year: Front Lines: Bent not Broken and Front Lines: Until The Words Run Pure.
I am proud to have been published in Front Lines: Voices From the Toronto Writers Collective, metaphorically transformed by my experience as a single mother and community member of Regent Park. As the first participant in a Toronto Writers Collective workshop, I have first-hand knowledge and love to share the power of writing.