“At Risk”

   

The term “at risk youth” is thrown around a lot, often without much thought or care. It’s a label that can feel very cold and dehumanizing.

But what are “at risk youth” really “at risk” of?

I think if we stopped and answered that question, we wouldn’t use the term so casually.

Because the truth is, right now, these youth are at risk of dying.

Drug addiction and overdose are not new to Ottawa, but the surge of overdoses over the past year is unprecedented. The youth I work with are more at risk of dying from an overdose than ever. So much so, that lately when a youth does not show up for our weekly art group, I get a knot in my stomach worrying they are the latest overdose victim.

It’s a really dark time.

But in the midst of this, the youth at Innercity Arts provide hope. Even in this darkness, they remain resilient and build each other up – like no other community I’ve ever seen.

I’m inspired by their strength. I’m humbled by their generosity. I’m thankful for their compassion.

I’m always amazed by the beautiful things they create. This year, they have created some incredible pieces of art and music and will showing it to the community.

I hope you can attend the show, and be witness to a truly hopeful thing in this dark time.

Event Link: https://www.facebook.com/events/131027517429263/ 

 

Shane’s Story, Episode 4: Outreach Team and P4Y

Shane's Story is a eight episode blog post where Shane tells her story in her own words.  Each week in December, on Mondays and Thursdays at 8 a.m. you can click on both the radio spot and then read the Episode of this special gal's story. Tweet it to your friends - it gets better as we get closer to Christmas, and Shane's special Christmas wish to each of you. Hold tight! it is going to be a great ride! Merry Christmas!" Click the 'play' button below, then read the rest of her story in this post: I met Moira (OIM youth outreach worker) a few years ago. That was during my really messed up time. I remember how it happened… I was busking on Rideau Street with my ukelele and Moira came up and said she ran an art group and that I should come. She gave me a sandwich and a juice box and she just kind of kept doing that every once in a while when I would be playing and panning. I thought it sounded like a trap. I know you’re wearing a vest and all that but anyone can wear a vest. I thought she had some sort of agenda. She came around 4 or 5 more times and I got to know her. There was another kid from the streets who had gone to art group that I had spoke to and she said that it was legit. I was like ok, and that there was free dinner every night. Ya I went and it was legit. That was pretty cool. At first I was nervous because there was older street youth that I recognized. I was scared at first but I got used to it. Plus there was like the art supplies I was like oh my god! I don’t have to pay for paint but I can paint anyways! So I kept coming. I think I’ve been going there for about 2 or 3 years. The art group is really great, you kind of get like self-confidence, like a self esteem boost especially when your art goes up for auction and your art is shown.   Sometimes you’ll see other kids art from the same group in like a restaurant. You feel like ‘I’m professional’. Definitely I look forward to every Thursday, guaranteed I am getting supper. It’s not gonna be just macaroni because I can’t afford anything else or just tuna because I can’t afford anything else. It’s gonna be like vegetables and casserole – not just pasta all the time.. It’s good, I like it. You get to learn social skills.  I guess I kind of missed learning social skills. You get kind of forced into it: it’s good talking to people or acknowledging strangers when they talk to me is now a little bit easier. It does a lot of good things for a lot of people. I like the art shows. Sometimes I just hang out by myself or whatever, and sometimes I play my own music, like live for people, and there’s lots of food. I’m always game if there’s food. I always bring my ukulele. You can hear what people say about your art, and that’s cool.
wishing well

A sculpture of a well Shane made at art group called "Space Change".

What a difference a year makes….

outreach workerSeptember 27, 2013 was a very special day for Eva: it was the day she moved off of the streets into her own place. It was a small room, but it was hers. And it was the first time in years that she had a place to call her own. Eva left home in her early teens. Eventually, she became homeless and addicted to drugs. As a young woman on the streets, she was quite vulnerable. But she learned how to take care of herself and when I met her on outreach several years ago, I quickly discovered that she was one of the strongest young women I had ever met. Despite having to be in “survival mode” on the streets, she still had a loving and generous spirit.  She would often point out others who needed help, or tell me places to go where she knew I would find more people needing outreach. She often joked that she should do outreach, because she knew how to find people. I soon learned that Eva was artist, and in fact, she was one of the first youth to join the art group. One time at art group I remember talking with her about her future, about getting sober and going back to school. She told me that she would never stop using drugs. When I asked why, she told me that last time she tried to get sober she became suicidal. Using drugs was her way of coping, and she was scared to take away that coping mechanism. But a year ago something changed. She started making small changes in her life, which led to big changes like stopping her drug use, reconnecting with friends and family, and starting to think more about her future and what it could be. This September marked some big landmarks for her: not only did she celebrate one year of living in her apartment, but she also re-enrolled in high school for the first time in years. September 25th marked another incredible moment: it was her first night doing outreach as an OIM volunteer. Together, Eva and I walked the streets of Ottawa handing out sandwiches, socks and drinks. Most of the people we met on the street had to look twice at Eva, often saying “Hey it’s you!” or “I knew you looked familiar!” before congratulating her on becoming an outreach volunteer. They were so proud of her. And we are too. I’m so excited to see what the future holds for Eva. Her new outlook on her future? She plans on becoming an addictions worker.

Mural Reflections

The Passion 4 Youth Fine Arts Program spent the summer painting a mural on the wall of Trinity Anglican Church. It was an amazing experience.

Below are two reflections on the project:

On the right in a drawing by one of the P4Y artists, which depicts herself painting the mural.

On the left is a poem written for the mural unveiling by Jamaal Jackson Rogers.

Thank you both for sharing with us.

BRIDGE OF FAITH- by Jamaal Jackson Rogers 20140917_150339 From the moment that we realize That our pens, pages, voices, stages And a little bit of spray from an aerosol can Creates art It’s like magic Manifesting in even the most unsuspecting of places It’s as if our eyes have turned on a silent inner light Of faith And beauty A bridge for which our hearts can find comfort in community and a place to call our own In a second The landscape of a forgotten brick wall can become the vibrant canvas of which youth can call home An abandoned language Spoken in splashes of camaraderie Between the sinews of streets and shops and churches Whispered in wisps of concrete sermons To bring life back to the seemingly bleak and obsolete Giving birth to purpose and legacy You see It was never about how we find refuge when the world seems so dark And dull For the lovers of life And the crafters of art Can take just one thought and turn it into actions of love and brilliance and truth For truth can be seen And has been said can set you free So if we agree Then I ask us to look With our hearts wide open at the scene that has come together Built through movements of giving, selflessness, dedication, respect, understanding, activism Look And discover how faith and beauty intersect by a little bit of spray from an aresol can Look at how life is a like a journey on the longest bridge we will ever have to cross And with the blessings of art It won’t be so hard We will rediscover what puts the passion in compassion Marvel at the wonder and awe of the subtle lines and wavy curves of the human condition Revel at the power of the robust colours that hold the secrets to our universal connection But I ask you to not stand still Eventually I want nothing more than all of us to travel in succession From our alienated lives of dust, wood and concrete Into a congregate existence of unity, harmony and positivity There is hope In the eyes of the young who know what it’s like to be found but once was lost There is hope In the elders who have much to give from the experiences they carry in their palms There is hope And the miracle of it all is that you don’t have to search very far You don’t have to be a scholar graduated from Harvard or own a Bank account that holds plenty of dollars Because hope lies right here In this moment At the feet of life’s bridge that joins abstract and simplicity Fantasy and reality Stories and history Self-expression and self-reflection So today let us honour the citizens of our society Who have strived to make a mural that represents a philosophy of mutual solidarity Those who have called our minds eye to look again To find meaning in these streets A renewed belief composed in a house of paint where we can set the burdens of our differences free That faith, beauty, hope, art Can spark change Inside and out.    

Mentorship

“Tell me and I forget, teach me and I may remember, involve me and I learn.”  ― Benjamin Franklin

mentors Mentorship is one of the most important components of the P4Y program. Each youth in the program is paired up with one of the volunteers. That volunteer meets one-on-one with the youth each month and they encourage goal setting and offer one-on-one support. It is not our intention to force life changes or lecture the youth. Instead, our goal is to empower these youth by helping them identify their unique strengths they each possess. Not long ago, a new youth joined the program and I was explaining the mentorship program. One of our long time P4Y youth was sitting near by and added her two cents to my explanation: "Basically, you get to talk with someone who actually wants to listen to you. It's pretty cool." What a beautifully concise expression of the mentorship program: someone who actually wants to listen. Each week, I am simply amazed by the mentors capacity to show the youth just how much they are worth. It's amazing how powerful listening can be.    

Caring – Even When it Hurts

This past week, Moira, our youth outreach worker got the flu – the bad kind.  After a few days away she thought she could return to work and attend a seminar, but at noon I told her we needed to go.  She did not look well.  She tried to take some chicken soup, but that did not go well.  She rested at the office, but it wasn’t enough.  We had to cancel Passion4Youth art program and I told her I would drive her home. On the way home, Moira took it upon herself to personally contact each of the kids in the art group, to let them know of the cancellation, that she would be OK, and that if they needed a food hamper that they should to come to the office. I was deeply moved by her interactions with the youth, and equally by the caring responses by the kids. From what I heard (by accident) the kids were very sorry she was not well, yes they would be fine, and how could they help? One offered to bring tea to her apartment. Others suggested a hot bath, plenty of rest and drinking lots of water.  All good advice, but even more so when we realize that these kids hardly looked after themselves. The caring responses by Moira perfectly completed each scenerio.   Concerned more for the kids than herself,  Moira consistently and skillfully redirected each conversation back to the kids themselves.  “Are you going to be all right?” “What happened then?” “Wow, what do you think will come of it?” and many more questions of concern were made came as we travelled to her home. No wonder our youth group has done so well! That kind of care and attention to people is not something that just happens every day. It is a beautiful thing. (The following is an observation, and is not meant to reflect pride (although I am very proud of the people who come alongside us to be a blessing)). Multiply that by almost one hundred volunteers, and it is not hard to see why our street friends and youth hold OIM in such high regard. Question:  Think of the times when someone reached out to you – at a cost to themselves.  Remember how much that meant to you? If you were alone and lonely (like many of our friends who call the streets their home) can you imagine that the impact would be that much greater?

The Small Things Guy…

Following from last week, my friend ‘Jesse’, the ‘small things guy’. So last week at the drop in, I had to call the police and ask them to remove Jesse as he would not cooperate and leave when I asked him.  The reason?  He was drinking (no surprise) openly (not allowed) and blatantly (not allowed) and was not showing respect to the church where we house our drop in (the biggest offense), neither did he respect the staff and volunteers who make things work. I was hurt – OK, so I know it’s not about me – but it pained me that my ‘friend’, who in his last letter from jail called me his ‘Best Friend’ walked and stomped all over me (not literally) and our friendship (I thought). He left the premises last week only when Ottawa’s finest escorted him out – no problem. So my week goes on and I think about Jesse a lot, and our friendship, and wonder how badly it’s been violated.  Then I’m looking through my shirts and I find one that I think Jesse would like and bring it to the drop in, thinking I would meet him there today. On the way it struck me that Jesse would not remember even one of the details of our encounter last week.  Nothing. Staff called to tell me he had arrived at the drop in and I came shortly afterwards. We connected.  I gave him a shirt.  He liked it. I told him I loved him, and he knew that.  I told him he was not respectful last week and I had to call the police.  What?? he said. Didn’t remember a thing.  Truly.  We hung out for a while and he said he would help me with the memorial service to come later that day.  It was a new day. Fresh start. My Best Friend.  Again. So what to do?  Life goes on.  Hold things lightly.  Hold others with a firm grasp.  Never let go of hope.  Never give up on people.  Love unconditionally – people need to be loved. Question: What about the seventy times seven plus one? Does love ever draw the line? PS (and unrelated): It's not too late to join our Urban Intervention Training for new volunteers: next session Feb 6. 2014

Unexpectedly – my day completely turned for the BEST!!

Sitting in a coffee shop in Hintonburg last week with  all my attention focused on the completion of a report for an upcoming meeting, my deadline is today and I am thinking and writing furiously, when my attention is diverted to a very pleasant voice of the barista chatting up one of the customers. In my experience, most baristas are rather pleasant – maybe it’s part of the job description, or maybe pleasant people want to serve delicious drinks to people and it’s natural thing, I’m not sure. Anyway, this is beyond the ‘usual’ niceness– a college girl, super pleasant, she seems so genuinely caring in dealing with all the customers. So now, I am struggling to concentrate and write my report, all the while half-listening to the barista  fulfil the customer’s order, talk to him about his day, wishing him the best day ever, and I am losing my focus on my work. As I finish the sentence in my report, hey, I think 'that voice sounds familiar, could it be?' I look up from my report and YES IT IS - one of the graduates from our Passion 4 Youth art program!! No kidding! I haven’t seen her for two years!! In a flash it all comes back to me. How she heard about our program, called us to see if she could be a part of our program (although she didn’t think she was very good at art), then joined our work skills program, then graduated, and next year will graduate Algonquin College with a diploma in animation . I walked to the counter and she passed me a chocolate coffee drink (without looking up) and in a cheery voice, ‘This must be your drink?’  ‘No, I think it’s hers’, and she looked at me, looked again, quickly gave the drink to the lady beside me, and ran around the counter as fast as she could, threw her arms wide open, and gave me a great big hug, “Ken, I can’t believe it’s you.” Wow! We caught up with news and so on, and tried to figure out how long since she had been involved in P4Y. “You guys really helped me get through that time.  Those were hard days. Really hard. You helped me so much.”  We talked as much as we could (she had just come to fill in for a shift – her first time at that coffee shop) we exchanged contact information and she is going to come by the office, and we’re all going to go for lunch! In that moment, in that encounter, it was as if all the world stopped, all troubles ceased, nothing else existed or mattered, and life was so worth it all – and it was good. Real good! Question: A coffee shop I frequent rarely; her first time filling in a shift for another employee; the timing for both of us; me sitting close enough to hear and recognize her voice; What do you think? Coincidence or divine encounter? Think God arranges these kind of re-connections?

I lost a piece of my heart…

Today I lost another piece of my heart.  That’s what I feel when I meet someone who just makes me want to weep. Today I met Constantine….a proud man with a proud name.  He tells me he is seventy years young.  He tells me he is a descendant of Constantine the Great.  He is Romanian he says and has been here for many years, fleeing persecution in his native land.  He says his family left behind is better off without him, he must leave so they can be safe.  He tells me he has been here for many years but has only been on the streets a few months.  He says that mold was discovered in his apartment, that it was making him sick but no one did anything about it.  He tells me he suffered a small stroke and that scared him.  He left his apartment, for good.  Now he’s on the streets.  He has trouble finding food that he can eat because he can’t cook on the streets and his doctor has told him to not eat salt as it’s making him sick.  His legs are swollen from water retention.  He prays.  He thanks God he says every morning when he wakes up.  Thanks Him that he made it through another night.  He’s cold.  He’s wearing three jackets and three scarves today but he is still cold.  He says he has lost about fifty pounds since September, since he’s been on the streets.  He says he has hope though.  He’s pretty sure he’ll be getting another place in a couple of weeks.  He prays it is mold free.  I pray it is too Constantine. There is something wrong with this world when we allow a seventy year old man with multiple health issues to sleep on the street. Today I lost another piece of my heart.  I think maybe God did too……

God’s hands on a cold night…

This past Wednesday, Ottawa experienced what I hope was the last winter storm of the year (fingers crossed!). It was windy, snowy and wet. Buses were cancelled and everyone was warned to stay off the messy roads. But that night, I was scheduled to do outreach from 9-midnight. I would love to tell you that I am a really tough/super-amazing outreach worker who is always motivated to walk the streets to do God’s work.-but that’s just not true. Last Wednesday I was exhausted, and the last thing I wanted to do was walk around the empty streets of Ottawa in a storm. In fact, I was secretly hoping that Jeff, my outreach partner, would cancel so I could stay in my nice warm apartment. But he didn’t, so I dragged myself to the office to do outreach. We did our normal outreach route down Elgin and throughout the market. The streets were mostly empty and quiet. (When the weather is really bad our street friends are much harder to find. Not because they are in a safe, warm place, but because they are anywhere that is an escape from the elements) On our way back to the office, I was dreaming about the hot shower I would have when I got home, when we heard “Hey outreach!” It was Laura and Kelsey, two youth who I have met a few times on outreach. Neither had jackets. Neither had boots. Both were soaking wet. “Do you guys have any sleeping bags?” they asked. We didn’t have any with us, but we told them they could come back to the office with us to get some. They walked back with us to the office, and we learned that they had both been kicked out of their places so they had nowhere to go. There was no space in the youth shelter and both refused to go to the adult shelter, saying they were too scared. Instead, they were going to sleep outside. They warmed up in the office and changed into dry socks. We gave them food and sleeping bags, and they thanked us over and over before leaving to go find a dry place to sleep. It was easy for me to give myself a pat on the back that night. “Good job Moira! It’s a good thing you braved the elements so you could help those girls.” Then it occurred to me that I was giving myself a whole lot of credit. When really, God has these two girls in his hands and He will take care of them. He may have used me and Jeff that night, but if we had not done outreach God would have taken care of those girls. And this does not make me feel like I am not needed, but rather reassured God will take care of his children.