“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/ 

 

Episode 8: Danielle’s Christmas Wish

Hi I'm Danielle. My wish is that everyone has someone to be with this Christmas, and if not, that they feel God is with them, that His presence would comfort them and remind them that they are not alone. I wish that everyone will have a place to stay, that no one has to spend Christmas out in the cold. I hope and I pray that OIM continues to help those in need, and that God continues to reveal Himself to their community and bless them, to do his work through them with people who need it most. I wish that no one will go hungry, that every child wakes up Christmas morning with joy and wonder in their hearts, and families everywhere would come together and really appreciate love and happiness.  I wish for you who are listening, that whatever your situation is, that you have a wonderful, wonderful holiday and are surrounded by love, friends and family. God bless you. Have a blessed and Merry Christmas!    Please give consideration with your family to adding just one more person to your Christmas list and sponsoring one of the youth in our program for only $30 /month? Click “Donate Now” and make a lasting difference in the life of someone who just never had a chance before, just like Danielle.

Danielle’s Story: Episode 7 – What’s happening now

 
“Danielle's Story” is a series running throughout December.
To listen to the audio backgrounder from Family Radio CHRI, click the play button below. Follow along all month to hear this amazing story!
Jason baptized me in the Ottawa River. He used to drive me to church with his family. It was a turning point in my life. I graduated from the art program, and entered Algonquin College for Animation.  I graduated last year. Right now, I am getting closer to getting a studio job as an animator.  In another couple of weeks I'll do another interview and then I will be able to complete my homelessness journey, and support myself without relying on others. My art is more than creativity, it was my means to escape the horrors of abuse and homelessness. It kept me going. I  escaped the temptation of drugs, and turned to my stories when I needed to escape that world.  It was my home when I had none. Homelessness taught me what happiness is all about. It is not about materialism. It is not about having money. I was happiest, when I was with my friend and her mother. I was happiest when I was at OIM, as a part of the art program, and their staff and volunteers offered so much - support, encouragement and acceptance. This has made all the difference in my life. Life is about love.   Please give consideration with your family to adding just one more person to your Christmas list and sponsoring one of the youth in our program for only $30 /month? Click “Donate Now” and make a lasting difference in the life of someone who just never had a chance before, just like Danielle.

Danielle’s Story: Episode 4 – Back to Ottawa (again)

“Danielle's Story” is a series running throughout December.
To listen to the audio backgrounder from Family Radio CHRI, click the play button below. Follow along all month to hear this amazing story!
When I was 17, my stepfather invited me back to Ottawa and I agreed, after he promised he would never hurt me again. When it was time for me to go back home, he got his fiancée to drive me instead to one of the shelters downtown. I had no money, no family or friends, and no experience on the street. It was in November, and it was cold. I had no idea the homeless youth existed in the city and I couldn't imagine it happening to me. But it did. But there was a change in my life: suddenly I realized that I was in control. I could choose where I would live, and where I wanted to go. That first night I was filled with excitement. It was a cold November and I didn’t even have a winter coat- my step parents refused to give it to me. I only had a sweater. But I had my very own mug that was donated to me. And this mug represented my independence.  It wasn't long though before the harsh reality of youth homelessness hit me. My living conditions were not all that great.  I met a woman who had just been raped, and there was still sperm on her leg. Not long after, I realized that she was a prostitute. I recognized that I needed to get out of there - and found myself at the Young Women’s Shelter. On that day, the street youth were mourning a girl who just been murdered. At first, I felt safe, and I was excited about my new beginnings, but there was a frightening community surrounding me - drugs, violence and gangs. It was a normal way of life for street youth. Youth used drugs all the time: a girl who was pregnant said, "I don't care if my kid is stupid;' one girl bragged that she had 6 abortions, and another young girl got drunk to try to self abort her unborn twins. A boy was stabbed outside a drop in. While I was at the shelter, two girls were kidnapped and taken to Quebec as sex slaves. I was almost attacked walking home by somebody who wanted to drag me off to his gang watching from a dark alley nearby.  Stay tuned to Family Radio CHRI as two episodes unfold each week following the 8 o’clock morning and 5 o’clock evening news. As you prepare for Christmas with your family remember there are kids who are all alone. Why not let them know that they are NOT alone? Please give consideration with your family to adding just one more person to your Christmas list and sponsoring one of the youth in our program for only $30 /month? Click “Donate Now” and make a lasting difference in the life of someone who just never had a chance before, just like Danielle.

Fabric Art

Last week, local artist and OIM volunteer Ruth Allison did a workshop with the youth at Innercity Arts. She talked to the youth about her love of using fabrics in her art. She said she gets inspiration from music, and then creates art pieces that reflect the music. She showed the youth techniques for using fabric on canvas. Although the youth were more used to using paint on canvas, they had lots of fun exploring with fabrics.

Check out what they made!

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Reaching a Milestone

Innercity Arts reached a significant milestone this week: we registered our 100th youth. This is a pretty amazing feat, given the programs humble beginnings. It all began back in 2009, when our Youth Outreach Worker met a youth on the street and noticed the therapeutic and transformative nature of art. After getting input from Ottawa's street-engaged youth, we decided to start a strength-based arts program called the Passion 4 Youth Fine Arts Program (now Innercity Arts). On the first day of programming, our Youth Outreach Worker set up the art supplies and waited for the youth to arrive. But they didn't. Not the first day at least. But pretty soon, they started showing up. But by the end of 2009, there were nine youth in the program. These nine youth saw something special in the program. It was their word of mouth that caused the program to grow. Today, we see over 40 youth each week in our program. It may have began with one youth and one idea.....but it THRIVED because of the support of volunteers, donations, and prayers. Thank you to all of our youth and supporters.  

Kindness

A few months ago, a new person walked through the doors of the drop-in. He was friendly but seemed very cautious. He asked a lot of questions….as if he wasn’t sure if he could trust what we were up to. So I showed him around and tried to give him some answers. I offered him coffee and invited him to sit with some others who were playing cards. About an hour later, he came to find me again. His demeanor had completely changed – he looked happy and excited. “Did you see those women washing feet? I can’t believe that!” (He was referring to our foot care volunteers, who wash and care for the feet of our street friends.) He said he wasn’t used to seeing this level of kindness –just a few days before he had been released after spending several years in jail. Jail was rough, and kindness was rare. He said he couldn’t believe the kindness of the volunteers at the drop-in. The very next week, my new friend brought in 3 handmade dream catchers – one for me and one for each of the foot care volunteers. He said he wanted to extend kindness back to us. Since then, my new friend has attended drop-in every week. He always arrives with a smile and offers to lend a helping hand. dreamcatcher

Here is a photo of the dream catcher he made me. A reminder to me of how meaningful kindness can be.

 

Changing the Legacy of Youth Homelessness

How can we change the legacy of youth homelessness in Ottawa? This is a complicated question with an array of possible answers. Back in June, we partnered with A Way Home Ottawa and set up a table at Glowfair. We asked people to answer this question in just one sentence, and write it on a piece of cardboard. Tons of people made signs and pretty soon our table was surrounded by cardboard. People had all sorts of great suggestions: more affordable housing, advocacy, community outreach... But of all the signs, the one that stood out the most was a sign made by a little girl, who was probably around 7 years old. When asked how to help homeless youth she wrote: Love everyone. Every day. Every night. love everybody sign Yeah….I think that if we all took her suggestion the legacy of youth homelessness in this city would drastically change.     20160617_213139 20160617_213147  

Art Show….Sneak Peak!

The youth of Innercity Arts have been working hard, creating some amazing art for the upcoming art show. Here's a sneak peak!

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Please come out and show your support!

Thursday May 12th from 6:30 pm-9:30 pm

Lansdowne Horticulture Building 1525 Princess Patricia Way

 

Adulting101

Although I consider myself a fairly competent adult, sometimes the youth in the art group ask me questions that leave me stumped – and I feel like I need to go find a “real" grown-up to help. This happened a few weeks ago when Mark asked me about credit checks. While I knew a little about them, I brought in one of the volunteers (Doug: aka a “real” grown-up) into the conversation…just in case. Doug was able to answer with ease, which led Mark to ask more questions about banking, taxes etc.  You see, Mark had been homeless for years but he recently gained employment and moved into his first apartment – so now he’s trying to navigate adulthood. At the end of the conversation Mark admitted that he felt stupid for having to ask these questions. He said “I’ve been homeless since I was 13…..I should know this stuff.” My heart sank. Because of course it makes sense that he doesn’t know this stuff. While most youth have parents to transition them to adulthood, Mark’s been on his own for years. I reflected on this and thought that even at age 30 I have so many amazing people who I can call up when something about adulthood is confusing me. It would be awesome, I thought, if I could lend my people to Mark to help him navigate adulthood. And that’s basically what we decided to do. Together, Dana and I created a seminar called “Adulting101”. Any youth could attend to ask questions about living independently (taxes, banking etc…), and we would try our best to answer. We also brought in some experts to help: a career coach, a financial adviser, an entrepreneur and a few other highly successful adults. The results of this night were amazing. There were tons of questions like: “If I get a job, how does a boss pay me?”, “What if I’ve never filed taxes before?” and “How do I start my own business?”. It was an incredibly simple night – no structure, no complicated programming. Just young people eager to ask questions and adults willing to listen and offer guidance. Simple but so effective.