“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/ 

 

What if it was you?

Valentines Day Week - just passed. Kudos to all of our volunteer outreach workers in all capacities: street outreach, drop in, office drop in, prayer partners, donors, those who cook for our event dinners, the ones that donate sleeping bags and all kinds of other goodies that we use as tools to make connections with those who live and breathe on the streets of our city. Sometimes, just sometimes, our street outreach volunteers might walk their routes in minus 30 degrees, and come back feeling somewhat disappointed because on this cold night, they only saw a couple of street friends. Then the thoughts come, "I wonder if I am making all that much difference anyhow. It doesn't feel like it tonight at least." Stop. Pause. What if it was you? You on the streets, maybe even on that one cold night when no one much pays you any attention really, and you feel invisible, forgotten, neglected, and abandoned. Then the recurring thoughts from your past come: thoughts of 'no good', you'll never amount to anything, you are not really worth the effort... Then an outreach worker shows up with a sandwich, a juice box, but more importantly, a smile, an inquiry about your week, a reminder of something that you said last week or time when you last connected, and some random (or planned) word of encouragement that really lifted your spirits... How would that make you feel? For the one's and two's and groups on the streets, and the teams of two or three volunteers walking and watching-  add these together and you have two: one, a great deal of difference in someone(s) life; and two, 'everything' (and all that entails) to our those who call the streets their home. A small thing for us maybe, but what if it was 'you?' I know it would mean a lot to me. Ken MacLaren

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 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.

Danielle’s Story: Episode 3 – A repose in the midst of trouble

“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!
As soon as I turned 16, my friend's mother invited me to live with them. It was a very emotional experience finally escaping my family once and for all. It was a highlight of my life. I remember laying down in the small bedroom that they let me stay in. They painted a nice cloud on the ceiling and they all were so very sweet. At the same time, I was worried about how they might treat me. I had these panic attacks, with my heart racing and feeling like I was about to die. I was confused emotionally, and scared, I guess. My friends mom was very structured. She taught me about doing chores: doing dishes, laundry and all that. She never yelled at me, included me in the trips to the cottage, included me in all their family activities, helping in the garden. They noticed that I was struggling with my homework, so they sat down with me at the table and helped me focus. I just wanted to write stories, but they helped me get through school.  Living with my friend proved to be the safest time in my life that I have ever felt. My grades went from D's to A's.  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.

Danielle’s Story: Episode 2 – The Beginnings of Abuse

“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!
  This is Danielle's story in her own words: We moved to Ottawa when I was six, that's when the abuse picked up. I remember coming home from school, afraid even before I got there. School started, and every day when I got home from school I would hide in my room, covering my ears when the stomping of feet began. I knew a beating was coming. My mother or stepfather came quickly down the stairs to hurt one of us if there was a noise, or if the baby had woken up. As  the years went by, the abuse became more serious and frightening. I knew something was wrong- but I didn’t know what to do. Even when social workers would come to investigate, my mother would threaten us not to say anything. I didn't dare speak up, for fear the beatings would become even more severe. I had to take Reactin to help with my skin condition, and my step mom would take that away from me and I'd get hives. I could write my name on my arm, the hives were so bad. Finally, when I was 15, my grandmother intervened and insisted that my mother could not take care of me. She took me out of province to live with her. For a while, things were going well- I was happier, I felt more confident. But one day, before a field trip, when I meekly asked my grandmother if I was driving to school with her, she suddenly grabbed by the arms. I still have scars from her nails and I went to school covered in blood. 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.

Danielle’s Story: Episode 1 – Early Life

“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!
Hi my name is Danielle. This Christmas, I’d like to share my story with you- not to make you feel sorry for me, but because, I strongly believe stories help bring communities closer together. They teach us powerful lessons. They help us grow. They teach us to be thankful. I am so very thankful for all that God has given to me through OIM and people in our  community who really want to help others. Stayed tuned to Family Radio CHRI to hear my story after the 8 AM and 5 o'clock evening news. Here is my story as I told Ken. My father had been disowned by his parents; my mom lived in a group home and suffered from mental health issues. After my mom became pregnant with me while staying at the group home, she left the province and cut all ties with my birth dad. I never met him as a child. He tried to make contact,  but my mom would not allow it. When I asked my mom about my dad, she never told me the truth, she changed the stories all the time. She told me she didn't know where he was, but I found out later, she knew where he was all the time.  I remember as a young child asking God to please help me find my father. But I never found him.  My step dad came into the picture when we moved to a different province, and they had a child together. I had friends that wouldn't talk to me because my mom would tell them untrue things about me.  It was also around then, I noticed my mother was acting very strange - she and my step dad fought constantly and she’d throw things at my stepfather. He was using drugs and alcohol regularly, and when my sister was born, she had developmental and speech delays that really affected her.    When my brother was born, he had even more learning disabilities. They beat him with a belt, threw him down the stairs, yelled in his ear - he can't hear properly even now.  He hurt his sister with his metal toy car, and my step dad took the metal toy car and hit him with it on the head.  At the  time, I wished my siblings had never been born. I think my parents stopped loving me.   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.  

He fought like a soldier

Every Tuesday for the last several years, you could always count on Marcel to greet you at the drop-in. Walking in first thing in the morning (with a Tim Horton's cup in hand, of course), he would make his way to his regular table, but not without first greeting each staff member and volunteer. He had a special connection with two of our volunteers: Ken and Kirk, who are both veterans. You see, Marcel was a proud veteran himself - having served in the Canadian military for several years. But like so many other veterans, after leaving the military he felt lost. He struggled with alcoholism for years, which eventually led him to the streets. But Marcel was a strong man, who persevered. He fought to get off the alcohol and to reclaim his life. He got sober and got a small apartment. But even after surviving homelessness, his life was not easy. He struggled daily with depression and PTSD. But he fought. He fought like a soldier. This Tuesday at the drop-in, Marcel did not show up to greet us. One of his friends brought us the news that he had died over the weekend due to a heart condition. There were tears shed, as friends comforted each other.

So this Remembrance Day, the OIM community is remembering Marcel. We remember his courage and his resilience.

We thank him for his service.

And we will miss him dearly.

Marcel 3

Marcel at the drop-in.

 

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.