Youth Art Show II

The evening the kids have been preparing for had finally arrived.  It was time for the ‘Passion for Youth’ art show at Dominion Chalmers.  There was sufficient space for each artist to choose five pieces of their work to show, and it was a challenge for some to decide.  Hustle, bustle, the staging of sofas and tables from the art room on the second floor, the preparation of the interactive art table where guests could be creative, coffee, tea and snacks set near the entrance all combined to accelerate the excitement and anticipation.

In the end, all was readied.  The stage was set, the players were ready, last minute adjustments to the easels were complete, the live entertainment arrived ( Max and August), and the mood was  set. 

Guests enjoyed the ambiance, the artists and the art work.  Ahh, the art work.  For some of our guests, the time had finally come when the art work that was ‘for display only’ at our auction, was finally available for bidding.  There were pieces of art work that captured hours and hours of devotion, had become a  labour of love, and were now revealed to the public.

But there was something here far greater than what initially captured the senses.  There was a clear demonstration of a Master Artist at work with figures of moving clay.

The real demonstration of art was that of the artists themselves.

Initially, many of these youth never had any idea that they could create anything beautiful at all.  The images of childhood that are so familiar to us were either non-existent or so overshadowed with such painful memories that it would have been better not to have had them at all.  Years of repeated abuse served to reinforce their belief and image they would never amount to anything.  They were told as young children that they were losers, worthless  and discarded and treated as less than animals.  They had eaten from the garbage bins, slept in the bins or wherever they could, experienced cold and discomfort that are beyond description.  They were survivors, despite it all.

Tonight was different.  People they didn’t even know told them over and over again, that they had created something beautiful.  So beautiful in fact that they would like to buy the items and remember the artists.  The youth were the ones encouraging the younger guests and showing them how to hold a paint brush, how to mix the colors, how to ‘let themselves go’ and be creative.  Photos were taken.  The young artists were congratulated for work well done, praised for their choices of color or texture, and one small bit at a time, I believe some changes began to occur.

Maybe the voices of the past were wrong.  Maybe I’m not useless, after all, someone likes what I have created.  Maybe there is something good about me.  Maybe this is not the end.  Maybe, just maybe, I can do something good.  Maybe there is something good about me.

That was the real exhibition of art.  It wasn’t the paint on the canvas, or the music that filled the air: it was living, breathing, young people experiencing hope and a promise for the future.  And, maybe, just maybe, that might be enough to change a life.

Passion for Youth ART SHOW

Thirteen street youth will be presenting their art work for show and silent auction on Monday, November 15, 2010 from 6:00 to 8:30 pm at Dominion Chalmers United Church in Ottawa.

The kids have been preparing for this show for several months and will demonstrate techniques and applications in the course of the evening.

It’s all a part of building self-esteem and self worth into lives that have experienced only abuse and trauma.  Passion for Youth, means our passion for youth, but also identifying things that the youth are passionate about, working with those in a proactive, positive way.  Our mission statement:  Empowering street youth by engaging their passions though ABCD (Assets Based Community Development).  It seems to be working just fine.

“It’s amazing to see the difference a bit of encouragement and hope will do with these youth,” says Jason Pino, OIM’s  Youth Outreach Worker.  “In just a few months, we have seen kids get housing, get jobs, finish high school and begin to think about rebuilding their lives.”

Volunteer mentors spend time with the youth discovering, setting and working towards the realization of their goals.  In just two months of the program, four of the young people have reached their goal of reducing their drug use, and two of these have found jobs.

Come out Monday night, check out the artwork and meet the kids.  See you there!

Gary – a story about Resiliency (and more)

Gary came down the stairs at the drop in, saw me and said, “I haven’t got your money yet. I know it’s been three years.  I’m working on it.”  Gary has been involved in a court case where his landlord stole things from his apartment before kicking him out.  Gary really likes what we do at OIM, so much so that he has committed some of the money from the settlement to helping the poor.  My protests that this is not necessary do not make any difference. 

We sat down and talked for quite some time.  He told me that the first time his father gave him a black eye he was six years old.  He never could measure up to his father’s expectations, and would expect a beating when he brought home a less than perfect report card.  He wet the bed every night, and every morning he would pay for it.

He ran away from home twelve times before he actually succeeded in making a breakaway when he was fifteen years old.  He never went back.

Odd jobs in many different places over his sixty-two years, but he never settled down for a long time in any one place.  He stopped drinking a year ago. No programs, he just quit.  

He said his father was a very successful man from all appearances.  No-one knew how he treated his family, and in those days, it was a well guarded secret.  A leader in his labour union and in the community, he was well respected and seen as a pillar in the community.

Gary told me he spoke with his father before his dad died.  He did what he could to make things right.  In one conversation, his father wondered why his children didn’t call him.  “Well dad, you need to remember that you beat them almost every day,” Gary replied, “You can’t really expect much after doing that for so many years.  Plus, we all remember how mom was beat.”

It’s remarkable how my friend has survived these many years.  He holds no ill will towards his dad, he has forgiven him.  Now, instead he helps other street friends when he can and is well respected.  In fact, one of our street friends came over while we were talking and asked for some advice.  In his own gentle way, Gary turned his attention to his friend’s inquiry and did his best to help. 

It was time for him to go to an appointment, and we bid each other farewell.

This story is unique to Gary, but not uncommon in the street community.  Young children suffer all manner of abuse at home, are forced to leave – fearing for their lives, descend into the pit of addictions and find themselves on the street.

Thankfully Gary found a way out before it consumed him, and now has chosen to give back. And, in his current maltreatment by his landlord, is standing up for his rights and justice.

I marvel at Gary’s and others’ fortitude, resiliency and determination. I’m not sure I would fare so well.

Auction 2010 Report

Our second (which might become an ‘annual’) auction happened this past Monday, October 4.  Here is a brief report about our evening:

  • Over 220 guests in attendance
  • Over 150 Silent Auction items
  • 16 Live Auction Items
  • 70+ volunteers
  • We raised just over $20,000!

Greg Paul, author of God in the Alley and The Twenty Piece Shuffle, spoke passionately about the role people caught in poverty can play in our lives.  Drawing principals from Isaiah 58, Greg challenged the audience to a higher, truer form of worship and engagement of people who are experiencing poverty and homelessness.  Personal interaction stories from his own community, Sanctuary, in downtown Toronto, provided concrete illustrations of how we can achieve community that embraces all levels of social and economic strata.

Dave Smith, with credentials too numerous to mention, did an outstanding performance as our auctioneer.  Many of our guests commented on how the entire evening was such a positive and enriching experience. 

One of the highlights of the Silent Auction was the collection of art that was donated by the youth in our Passion for Youth art program.  Kids who are part of the program donated their own pieces of art to help support the work of OIM.  Tremendous!  Five of the kids attended the program, and enjoyed being a part of our evening.  Hats off to you kids!

To crystallize the evening into one word, I would choose ‘fun’.  People really enjoyed themselves: people were talking, interacting and laughing.  At the same time, we were challenged with the reality of homelessness in a country wrapped in wealth.  It was definitely a win-win-win situation.

To those who participated by volunteering, attending, providing auction items, baking delicious desserts, staff and board – thank you very, very much.

We are already thinking about our auction next year.

Thanks for your support!

Live and Silent Auction – the details

Generally speaking the needs on the street are increasing and for many charities across Canada, there are dwindling resources as people are faced with financial crises of various sorts.  We are hosting a fund raising auction that I would like you to attend.  The details are in the rotating banner above, but if you are interested, I would like to share with you some of the events of the evening:

Greg Paul, well-known speaker and author will be our guest speaker.   Greg is from Sanctuary, Toronto, and in addition to his role as a pastor of a church in the downtown core, has authored two best sellers: God in the Alley and The Twenty Piece Shuffle.  Another book will soon be released.  Greg is a member of the National Roundtable on Poverty and Homelessness and a member of Street Level.

Dave Smith, a renowned philanthropist, businessman and entrepreneur in Ottawa has agreed to be our auctioneer.  Dave has a heart for youth, and has founded the Dave Smith Youth Treatment Centre.  Additionally, Dave has been instrumental in the process of bringing a residential detox program to Ottawa.

In addition to over 150 Silent Auction items, we have a number of live auction items.  The live auction items will include, but not limited to the following list:

  1. The Rideau Canal Story – a set of 8 customed framed prints celebrating the 150th anniversary of the building of the Rideau Canal, value $1400
  2. Stradivarius Violin (copy) & Two framed prints: Damsels with Stringed Instruments, value $1,000
  3. The OLD WEST Collection: 26 volumes, faux leather covers, time-life series, value $600
  4. Lunch with the Chief Vern White.  Value: priceless!
  5. Romantic Getaway #1, one night at the Lord Elgin, $100 coupon from the Keg, a camera, bath set.  Value $410
  6.  Romantic Getaway #2, two nights at the Auberge de mon petit chum, Wakefield, $100 coupon le Moulin Restaurant Wakefield, Book “Celebration of Love”, special “Basket of Healthy Chocolate”.  Value $500
  7. Big Girl’s Special, One month membership tanning package, Nine West designer sunglasses with Coach case, a gift certificate for cut, style and highlights, and SPA bath set.  Value $650
  8. Big Boy’s Special, One hour plane ride over Ottawa in Cessna 150, Complete car cleaning, DeWalt heavy duty drill, 40 pc socket set, 5 Guy tools, Jack Astor Restaurant Certificates, Haircut, Certificate Play It Again Sports.  Value $545
  9. 98.5 the JEWEL Advertising Kit, Forty 30 second spots on Ottawa’s own “the Jewel” 98.5 fm. Value $2,000
  10. Pitt Special SA2  A plane ride on one of eight ‘Red Baron’ biplanes in Canada.  A ‘once in a lifetime’ opportunity to ride the wind. Value: $450
  11. ROOM REDO – Upper Room Home Furnishings Gift Certificate $2,000 towards a consultation and furniture remake of a room of your choice in your own home.

Tickets are available by calling our office 613-237-6031.

Love to see you there.  Thanks for your support!

Years of Building

It sometimes takes years to build enough trust for some of our street friends to talk to us about their lives.  Red is thirty-six and we have spoken fairly regularly over the past eight years.

Most of our conversations revolve around things that are of concern to Red.  He is preoccupied with the spiritual world and speaks of his battles with demons, and even the devil himself.  Wisps of hair from his bangs fall down over one eye, both eyes glisten and he speaks of the devil coming at him with a gun, but he is stronger and uses his own power to beat him up.  That would be God’s power in him.  His world is complex and difficult.  He stays at the local shelter mostly, but has taken to the streets when that doesn’t work out.  He suffers from schizophrenia and his endless conversations with the voices that are inside his head lead to sustained self-medication.

This week we had opportunity to talk once again over coffee.  There were the usual demonic and satanic battles that he was waging, with strong testimony that he will not be overcome.  Then his tone changed.

He told me that one of the staff at the shelter want to talk to his mother who lives in the Maritimes.  He refused to allow this because, well, what would she tell her?  He said his parents know he is on ‘skid row’ and he doesn’t want to bother them about his own problems.  He told me his dad is a retired firefighter and he has a brother four years older than he.

We spoke quietly about his family relationships and about his drug use.  He has seen it all on the streets, the back alleys and everywhere in between.  The people at the shelter remind him to take his meds, which are working quite well for him at this time.  In fact, he hasn’t taken any pills (street drugs) for four days. 

Red doesn’t stay in any one place for any lengthy period of time.  He was on his fourth coffee, downed it and said it was time to go.  On his way out the door I wished him a good weekend, and hoped that when I saw him the next time he would be able to say he hadn’t taken any pills now for seven days!  He smiled and agreed.

Seven years.  I found out more about Red in the forty minutes we spoke together this day, than I have in seven years.  We can build on this.  We can talk more, and maybe… well, anything could happen.

LIfe on the Streets 3: Panhandling

We see people panhandling for loose change all the time in our cities.  It’s commonplace.  We have come to adopt certain attitudes towards panhandlers and developed our own patterns of giving (or not).

We make assumptions about those who would ask us for a handout, and we have prejudices about the different approaches people take when asking for money.  However we respond, we walk away and the next person on the sidewalk is hit for a donation.

Generally, those who ask, ask unashamedly, without reservation, boldly, maybe even arrogantly.  Some have learned to hit the right buttons and tell one (maybe of several) stories that have brought them success in the past. It looks so easy, like anyone could do it.

That’s what it appears to be right now, but it wasn’t always like this.

What about the first times?

What would it be like to have no other choice but to ask others for help?  When you have exhausted all of your options?  You ask people for money: not your family or friends (that ended long ago), but complete strangers (who generally are opposed to what you are doing). 

All of your resources are gone and you have hit the wall.  You have no other options, so you do what you have to do to survive.  Pride is long gone and the memory tapes of ‘loser’,’ useless piece of ____ ‘, useless bum’ –  that were ingrained into your thinking from childhood come to the resurface, are reinforced and become your reality.

The first few times it would be hard – maybe the first few thousand – but it becomes a part of who you are.   Blame, shame and desperation have become your daily portion.  

There’s  no way out.  It’s your life now, and you get used to it.  You get better at it.  You harden yourself to the shame, and do your ‘work’. You know where to go, what to avoid, work the angles, develop the stories, and push yourself farther and farther away from who you once were.

Panhandling, it’s pretty simple.  Easy.  Straightforward.  Right?

 “Hey mister, any spare change?”

Life on the Streets I: Walking

I arrived back in Ottawa late last night and drove through the downtown area on the way home. I saw a man walking with a garbage bag over his shoulder and as I approached, I wondered if this was someone I knew.  It was.

Eddie is somewhere around forty years old and has been habitually homeless.  He doesn’t use alcohol or drugs but he does have some mental health issues, and a major story that has brought him to where he is tonight.  He is friendly, can carry on a conversation most of the time, and is one of our friends. 

I want to take you to just one part of Eddie’s life:  Eddie is a walker.  He walks.  And walks.  And walks some more.

He is constantly on the move, from one styrofoam cup of coffee to the next, from one doorway or abandoned building to another when he is ‘moved along’.  He is allowed to most of the social service agencies in our city, but really does not access them.  He has trouble, as I mentioned earlier, with mental illness.

OK, so I want you to imagine for a brief moment what it would be like to be Eddie. Not the voices inside his head, or the trauma that has formed his life, but something simple, that we can all ‘get’.  The walking piece.

People who are experiencing poverty and homelessness are always on the move.  Police, business owners and citizens all say, ‘Move along.  Go Somewhere Else.’ (I have not ever located this place called ‘Somewhere Else’, but I have a suspicion that it must be pretty full by now).

Walking.  No where to go, just walking.  Heat from the concrete, frostbitten toes, soles from the donated runners separating from the tops and flopping, wet, damp, wet and even frozen. Not sure of your welcome anywhere, but a basic understanding that you are welcome nowhere (many good citizens tell you this, but the voices in your head confirm repeatedly). Some degree of danger, because when you are alone and on your own you are an easy target.

We might imagine some discomfort in our own walking experiences perhaps, but realize there is no reprieve here.  No let up.  No stopping. You can’t get another pair of shoes and dry socks.  There are no boots available, just used donated runners – when you can find a size close to your own.

Where would you go?  Can’t go for coffee, ‘cause you have no money.  Restaurants are out.  Drop in programs, maybe, if you are safe.

You just keep on walking, walking, walking.  Endless walking.  Keep on moving, one foot in front of the other. One step at a time, but there is no end.

Welcome to one part of Eddie’s world.

Any ideas?

Life on the Streets I – Walk

I arrived back in Ottawa late last night and drove through the downtown area on the way home. I saw a man walking with a garbage bag over his shoulder and as I approached, I wondered if this was someone I knew.  It was.

Eddie is somewhere around forty years old and has been habitually homeless.  He doesn’t use alcohol or drugs but he does have some mental health issues, and a major story that has brought him to where he is tonight.  He is friendly, can carry on a conversation most of the time, and is one of our friends. 

I want to take you to just one part of Eddie’s life:  Eddie is a walker.  He walks.  And walks.  And walks some more.

He is constantly on the move, from one styrofoam cup of coffee to the next, from one doorway or abandoned building to another when he is ‘moved along’.  He is allowed to most of the social service agencies in our city, but really does not access them.  He has trouble, as I mentioned earlier, with mental illness.

OK, so I want you to imagine for a brief moment what it would be like to be Eddie. Not the voices inside his head, or the trauma that has formed his life, but something simple, that we can all ‘get’.  The walking piece.

People who are experiencing poverty and homelessness are always on the move.  Police, business owners and citizens all say, ‘Move along.  Go Somewhere Else.’ (I have not ever located this place called ‘Somewhere Else’, but I have a suspicion that it must be pretty full by now).

Walking.  No where to go, just walking.  Heat from the concrete, frostbitten toes, soles from the donated runners separating from the tops and flopping, wet, damp, wet and even frozen. Not sure of your welcome anywhere, but a basic understanding that you are welcome nowhere (many good citizens tell you this, but the voices in your head confirm repeatedly). Some degree of danger, because when you are alone and on your own you are an easy target.

We might imagine some discomfort in our own walking experiences perhaps, but realize there is no reprieve here.  No let up.  No stopping. You can’t get another pair of shoes and dry socks.  There are no boots available, just used donated runners – when you can find a size close to your own.

Where would you go?  Can’t go for coffee, ‘cause you have no money.  Restaurants are out.  Drop in programs, maybe, if you are safe.

You just keep on walking, walking, walking.  Endless walking.  Keep on moving, one foot in front of the other. One step at a time, but there is no end.

Welcome to one part of Eddie’s world.

Any ideas?

Restoring the cities, walls and people

At our drop in staff and volunteers meet early for some words of encouragement and a time of prayer.  The brief passage of Scripture was found in Isaiah 58:10-12.  From those verses came the focus question of the day: “ Is there a way we can ease someone’s troubles today?”  We decided to look for opportunities to do this.

When we opened the doors at ten o’clock, Cleary came in, sobbing.  She told us how one of her closest friends had died of a heart attack at the age of 48.  We consoled her as best we could and she was glad to receive such support. One of the staff sat beside her, held her hands and listened to the stories of her friend’s life.

As the day progressed Cleary went upstairs to the clothing section for a visit. In a few minutes we heard angry loud voices and saw that another of our ladies, Laura, was very agitated.

She told the story of how once again, that nasty lady Cleary, had grievously wronged her.  Cleary had apparently yelled at Laura in the clothing section, telling her to get out of her way!

We took Laura aside and tried to help her understand Cleary was having a bad day.  We explained about the loss of her best friend and how this was such a difficult time.  As the conversation continued, there was a softening in Laura, an understanding that was not there a few minutes ago.

Laura supposed that perhaps she had not heard Cleary properly – even admitted some loss of hearing in one ear! 

Just then, Laura’s eyes locked on someone or something immediately behind us.

Seemingly from out of nowhere, Cleary appeared.  We wondered if we would now have to break up a fight between the two women. 

What a surprise to see what happened next.  In that moment of time there was birthed a miracle.  Two ladies, whose hearts were once hardened in anger and resentment towards each other, caught up in their own worlds of pain and misunderstanding, suddenly saw and understood the pain and trouble the other woman was experiencing.

In a moment, Cleary tearfully apologized for her inappropriate tone of voice and demeanour.  She was surprised and saddened to hear that Laura had a hearing problem.  So that was why she had not moved earlier. She was so sorry. 

Laura apologized for her words and bitterness that she had earlier directed at Claudette.

The two women folded into each other’s arms in tears, forgiveness and a new  friendship.  All the anger and anxiety and hostility was washed away as two souls embraced. 

You might be interested in the verse that was shared at the beginning of the day.  “Some of you will rebuild the deserted ruins of your cities.  Then you will be known as a rebuilder of walls and a restorer of homes.” Isaiah 58:12

Amazing or what?  It’s a powerful reminder that there is a God who is deeply concerned with all of the needs, sorrows and troubles of all of His children.