“I brought Christmas”

Reviewing our current ‘Christmas trend,’ I see a big build up leading to Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, celebrating the birth of our Saviour on December 25th, with an almost unbelievable and instantaneous shift to Boxing Day (and week) sales and super deals, and now to what is (this year at least) a very cold and frigid journey with ‘old man Winter’ bringing temperatures (with wind chill) to     -39°celcius. Whatever happened to Jesus? The ‘Twelve Days of Christmas’ (not the partridge and the pear tree version) is actually a season designed to continue the celebration of Jesus’ birth.

In keeping with this, I want to tell you the story, ‘The Christmas Hampers’.  When I was having lunch with Tessa (OIM’s Christmas Story – still in our archives on the blog page) before we went to do our taping at CHRI, she told me their little family of four didn’t have enough money to have a Christmas dinner.  Afterwards I made a call to a partnering church that was going to collect dinners and deliver hampers and asked if there was enough for another hamper delivery. They said yes.

To make a long story shorter, we obtained Christmas dinner hampers for four family ‘units’ made up of street kids from our art group who had capacity to cook, and Moira our youth outreach worker and I delivered them on December 21. It was an amazing day!

We mostly think of giving hampers to families who would have a mediocre Christmas and a meager Christmas dinner. Folks who are well-deserving, maybe having difficulty making ends meet, who can’t afford lavish gifts and so on. It’s like boosting something small to make it better.

This was not that.

This was giving a hamper to folks who have no Christmas at all.  None.  No tinsel. No gifts. No ornaments. Not even a Charlie Brown Christmas tree. One of the places we visited, a bachelor apartment, you could sit on the bed, turn on the stove and run water in the small sink without getting up.  No decorations or anything.  Nothing.

Something happened when those hampers came into those dark, dismal, ill furnished rooms. Everything changed.  Time stood still as kids rampaged through the cardboard hamper box with squeals, shouts and exclamations of joy, appreciation and, well, it was just like Christmas.

It was one of the most heart-warming experiences ever!

At the first home, there were a few guys who were super happy to get the hamper, and invited us in for ‘a tour’ of the place(!). Two ‘families’ invited us in for tea or hot chocolate, but sorry, no marshmallows.

I dropped Moira off and proceeded over to Hull to deliver the final hamper before heading home.

I located the residence and sent a text to the couple with the ten month old infant. I sat in my car and sent this text:

“Hi guys. Ken here. I’m in your driveway.  I brought Christmas.  Come on out.”

I sent the text and then stopped.

I stared in amazement at what I had written: “I brought Christmas”.

A flood of emotion cascaded over me as I recalled the other three hamper deliveries and what that meant to those families.  If we had not done that, there would be no Christmas. They wouldn’t just have a watered down, or ‘small Christmas’, they would have nothing.  No Christmas.  Nada.

In my mind’s eye I saw how these kids were just so like the kids in our lives on Christmas morning: the joy, the surprise, the magic and more – the feeling of being loved, the sense that someone cared about them, they weren’t forgotten.

Thoughts rushed my mind:  ‘No, it’s not me.  It’s the church committee. No.  It’s the many people who bought groceries enough to distribute to 80 families.  No, it’s more than that.  We all had a part in this.  It’s the supporters, the prayer warriors, the volunteers who help make OIM happen, who give and give and give, and maybe never see first-hand, the fruit of their labours.’

This is so much more than me delivering hampers.  It’s about your Christmas contribution.  It’s about your donation, your prayer, your caring and love for the broken, the rejected and the forgotten.

But this Christmas there were a few who weren’t forgotten.  A few who felt the true meaning of Christmas – of giving, of sharing – the message, ‘I love you.’

It’s still the best message ever!  Happy New Year!

“Tessa’s Home” (postcript): The Future

Tessa’s Home is an 8 part series that ran from November 28 to December 27th.  To listen to the audio backgrounders and accompanying blogs, click “Recent Posts” on the right sidebar.  Here is Tessa vision for her future.

Please help us tell Tessa’s story through your social media connections, Facebook and Twitter. Comments welcome! #TessasHome

 

Tessa talks about the future…

Now, I’m starting to transition.  I’ve taken the Urban Intervention Training and I’m starting to transition and be more than just one of the youth.  I want to be the one that helps. I want to try and do what they (OIM) did for me, to somebody else. There’s nothing that I would rather do.

More often than not, when a youth goes up to someone in leadership and tells them their problems, they (the youth) will say, ‘You don’t know what it’s like.  You have no idea what it’s like (ie. to live on the streets)’.  More often than not, the response is, ‘Yea, you’re right. I really don’t know what it’s like.’

I want to be the one to say, ‘I do know what its like. I’ve been exactly where you’ve been and if I didn’t get help from places like this, I wouldn’t be where I am trying to help you now.’  I want to do that.

What a journey! Thanks to all who have made a donation of any size!  Every dollar counts, and every dollar goes to help us continue outreach on the streets of our Nation’s Capital.  If you have appreciated Tessa’s story and want to help us continue reaching out to street engaged youth, please click ‘Donate Now’.   Thanks for your support!

“Tessa’s Home” Episode 8: Merry Christmas and Thank you

Tessa’s Home is an 8 part series running until December 27th.  To listen to the audio backgrounder from CHRI, click below. Miss previous episodes? Click “Recent Posts” on the right sidebar.

Please help us tell Tessa’s story through your social media connections, Facebook and Twitter. Comments welcome! #TessasHome

 

Tessa tells her story…

What I wish for Christmas is that people would come together and realize how much we need each other.

I want to thank OIM for being there when I needed them; for listening when nobody else would; for being exactly what I needed when I needed it – whether it like it was freezing cold and they had hot chocolate, sandwiches or socks; or when I was upset, taking the time to talk to me, and eventually helping shape me into somebody I want to be more, and to give me the opportunity to work alongside them; even seeing where I came from. Not a lot of people would let me do that. 

A lot of people, when they learn what happened to me and where I came from, just walk away.  I’ve had people completely cut ties with me over that.  They (OIM) don’t judge and they brought me back to God and I feel like if they weren’t there, I’d still be in a pretty dark place.  They brought life into my life and I’m thankful for that.

When I think of OIM, everything comes into my head: Moira, Jay, you, the office, the art group, the outreach – everything – especially the people.  They were there.

To the donors: no matter what you give, everything has been so helpful because without everybody’s efforts as a whole, we would not have what we have.

At art group we’re at 20 youth capacity. Even we are over capacity with 23.  I asked Moira, ‘Where does the money come from?’ She goes, ‘Jesus’.  What that translated into my mind, was it came from the people God motivated to donate, and so are doing the work of Jesus. When I thought about it, all these people coming together… without them, we probably wouldn’t be there.

I just wanna close in saying, ‘A great big thanks for all you do’.  Merry Christmas.

From Tessa’s Home in her little apartment/condo, from her home with the kids in the art group (and on their behalf), and from the Staff and Volunteers at OIM, from our home to yours,

Have a blessed and Merry Christmas!

Donate a special Christmas gift today to help us continue to reach out to young people, just like Tessa! Click ‘Donate Now’.

“Tessa’s Home” Episode 6: Passion 4 Youth Art Program – OIM is Home

Tessa’s Home is an 8 part series running until December 27th.  To listen to the audio backgrounder from CHRI, click below. Miss previous episodes? Click “Recent Posts” on the right sidebar.

Please help us tell Tessa’s story through your social media connections, Facebook and Twitter. Comments welcome! #TessasHome

 

Tessa continues…

When I started going to OIM’s art group, I was hooked. Their mentors, and goal focused environment helped me to gain a home, get my children back, and most-importantly, my self confidence. They’ve been more of a family to me, than my own blood, and I never felt anyone take more interest, or show me more support than them. They’ve motivated, and supported me enough to want to start working at a new shelter, and also to complete OIMs urban intervention training course and to start volunteering with their street outreach team.

The people at OIM would never have a bad word to say about any of us youth in the art group, and for that, I owe them the state of my life today. That’s what home is all about I think: no judgment, only acceptance, forgiveness, love and understanding…when I go there, it’s like what going home should be – not like the last time I went ‘home’… 

Knowing they’re privately funded, each day, I thank God, for the people who helped not only me, but many of my companions, make a better life for themselves. For the rest of my life, I will be truly grateful to these people for their help and confidence in me. To quote Mahatma Ghandi, “Be the change you want to see in the world”. I’ve never believed that more deeply, or more truly, than when I met these people, who took an interest in my life, and my goals, and my art, and then they showed me how amazing it feels, to do it for others.

This Christmas, please make a donation to help us continue our Passion 4 Youth Street Outreach program.  Together, we are making a difference! Any donation amount appreciated!  Click ‘Donate Now’

“Tessa’s Home” Episode 5: The Birth of Hope

Tessa’s Home is an 8 part series running until December 27th.  To listen to the audio backgrounder on CHRI radio, click below. Miss previous episodes? Click “Recent Posts” on the right sidebar.

Please help us tell Tessa’s story through your social media connections, Facebook and Twitter. Comments welcome! #TessasHome

 

Tessa continues her story…

I got into housing right after, but my place wasn’t that great. It was my ‘place’, but it wasn’t my home – I’d been in and out of ‘places’ of several kinds, but it was never home.   It was between two drug dealers; one sold cocaine and guns, and the other marijuana and cocaine.  That wasn’t the place I wanted my kid, and I didn’t feel like I wanted to be there, so I gave up my son to CAS and I went back to the streets. It was the hardest thing I ever did.

I remember being really distraught, and I was downtown in front of McDonalds on Rideau, and Outreach was there.  Two outreach workers from OIM came by and I was drawing in a little sketch book.  “You like to do art?” “Yea, I love to do art.” “We just started up an art group two weeks ago.” “Oh really?”

In the weeks to come, the same outreach worker was always bugging me about coming, but I never did. I guess when somebody tells you about something, you get this picture inside your head of what it’s like, and it wasn’t like that at all. 

So one day he came by ( and I don’t even think it was an outreach night) and said, “You coming? It’s tonight.”  I said, “OK, fine! I’ll come.” And he came and met me and I went.

I loved it.

After they introduced me to what it was, and told me about the mentoring and said they could help me with goals that I had, I thought maybe this could be helpful (and in my mind, thinking, ‘for now’). 

So like, I’ve been going there for three years, and I have missed like, four nights.

Getting this positive reaction for something I did, was not something I often got… Going through school, I had this art teacher that told me that I just didn’t have it (to be an artist). 

In the Passion 4 Youth art group I made goals to do stuff, and it eventually led me to getting my son back.  I set goals with Malley (my mentor) and she would ask me, ‘What are we working on this week?’ and ‘How’s the fight for your son going?’ and ‘What are your goals towards that?’  After working on that for a pretty long time, I got my son back, and brought him to the art room.  Everyone was really happy about that.

As Christmas approaches, please consider making a donation to help us with our Street Outreach Program.  Please click ‘Donate Now’.  Merry Christmas and thank you.

 

“Tessa’s Home” Episode 4: Disappointments on the Way Home

Tessa’s Home is an 8 part series running until December 27th.  To listen to the audio backgrounder from CHRI, click below.

Miss previous episodes? Click “Recent Posts” on the right sidebar.

Please help us tell Tessa’s story through your social media connections, Facebook and Twitter. Comments welcome! #TessasHome

 

Tessa’s continues her story….

After my dad died, my head was really messed up because of it and I ended up hitchhiking across Canada. 

 At this time, I was 17 years old. Me and a friend made it all the way to Calgary Alberta in 5 days. I spent a few months out there, and eventually made my way back home to Ottawa.

From Calgary, I had had a pen-pal, who I was corresponding with regularly, who lived in Ottawa, and when I arrived back, we decided to meet. When I did, we were inseparable, and I had found, who I thought was my soul mate.

For about a year we were inseparable, (so I was 18 here) and when I found out I was expecting I went to his work (he worked at a coffee shop).  I waited my turn in the line, went up and said, “I would like to a medium ice cap and a side of ‘I am expecting your baby’”.  He looked at me in disbelief and we arranged to meet.

After that weekend I went to see him at his place, and he was gone.  He decided to move somewhere far away and cut off all contact with me.

Being very young and headstrong, my fear was soon overcome by excitement, and joy, but I remained homeless and sleeping outside until I was 8 months pregnant, and to this day, I haven’t heard from my first son’s father.

My beautiful little boy is now four years old, and I also have a one year old, both boys, and anyone with children knows how wonderful and amazing and life changing they truly are.

Please consider a Special Christmas Donation to help us continue our outreach program to people on the streets.  Your donation will help us help others, giving hope and a future where there is none today. Click “Donate Now”.   Thanks for your support!

“Tessa’s Home” Episode 3: Life on the Streets, Shelters and Drugs

Tessa’s Home is an 8 part series running until December 27th.  To listen to the audio backgrounder from CHRI, click below.

 

Miss previous episodes? Click “Recent Posts” on the right sidebar.

Please help us tell Tessa’s story through your social media, Facebook and Twitter. Comments welcome! #TessasHome

 

Here is Tessa’s story in her own words….

One guy took me in (and also molested me), let me stay at his house actually burned my hair with Axe hair spray and a lighter.  That’s when I first started wearing a Mohawk.

From there I went to a shelter and then I got a ride to Ottawa.  I stayed at one shelter for maybe a month before I learned that if you lived outside, you didn’t have to listen to anybody. I didn’t like the rules they had there (at the shelter).

Soon after I started living outside, I was smoking and using marijuana.  After living on the streets for about a month, someone asked me if I had ever tried Ecstasy. I lied and said, “Yea, totally.” I started doing hard drugs more and more.  I was addicted to ‘uppers’ or Ecstasy (most of the time) or anything that made me feel happy. It took away the pain.

I was abused all my life. From the outside we lived like a happy family, but behind closed doors it was really bad.  I could never remember a time when I was as happy as I was when I was on that drug: it was like all of your bad feelings go away, and I was doing it every single day for a while.

After about 3 years of sleeping outside, couch surfing, and staying at shelters, but mostly on the street, I went for a visit to my “family”. I’d like to say ‘home’ but it never really was – not at all.  The reason I say it like this, “Family”, is because to this day, I consider the bonds I made with other youth who experienced the pain and heartache as I did, to be stronger, than those of my own blood. While visiting, I ended up seeing my lifelong abuser for the last time, and it was not a happy memory. I remember the very last words he said to me, were “take those stupid things out of your face, and grow some hair, then I’ll respect ya you freak!” I simply replied, “Love you too Dad,” and he drove away. Two days later, at around 3 a.m., the police came to my mother’s door to tell us my father had been in an accident, and did not survive.

I didn’t feel sad that he was gone. I tried to act sad, like everybody, but I didn’t.  I went in and finally was able to say everything that I wanted to say to him. The only thing I’m sad about today, is that I never had a chance to confront him to let him know how I felt as an adult.

OIM does not receive on-going government funding to operate any of our programs, but instead we rely on the goodwill donations of concerned citizens and business owners in the National Capital Region and beyond.  We need your help to continue our outreach program on the streets.  Please make a donation today. Click “Donate Now”.  Thanks for your support!

Social Structures and the Up-coming Passion 4 Youth Art Show

For the past three months I have had the absolute pleasure of working with the young artists involved in OIM’s Passion 4 Youth art program.  They have been collaborating with me on a research project addressing the role of structural violence in their lives, that is to say, the lives of young street engaged people.  This means that we have been talking about the experiences they have had where parts of society create suffering and cause them harm.  Examples of the aspects of society that can create problems for them include the transit system, the police, and the stigma and judgement they face because of how they look and their presence in public spaces. They have also been representing their reflections on these experiences through their art.

This Thursday (Nov 28th) we are inviting the public to come out and see their art, and to engage in art-inspired dialogue about the role that social structures play in the lives of these youth, as well as in all of our lives, and to think critically about how sometimes these structures can be harmful, and to start thinking about how we can change them.  Look forward to seeing everyone Thursday night! (For more information about the up-coming show click here.)

 

Susannah Taylor

PhD Candidate

University of Ottawa

School of Social Work

A Special heARTfelt Thursday: Sneak Peek!

P4Y Art Show Collage 2013-11-191

Texture, colour, pattern, meaning…

OIM is excited to extend an invitation to friends and community members for the up-coming Passion 4 Youth art show.

The Passion 4 Youth artists have been hard at work this Fall to create pieces that explore the idea of violence and social structures. Each artist has created an art piece that represents a major structure in our city that has had a positive or negative influence on their lives. From the perspective of a street-engaged youth, we will be looking at the Children’s Aid Society, the criminal justice system, financial institutions, immigration, the media, health facilities, and many more.

We encourage you to come out. Doors will be open 7:00pm-9:00pm, and there will be a suggested $5 donation at the door. Light refreshments provided.

Tabaret Hall, Room 112, uOttawa–550 Cumberland St. 

There is a Chill in the Air

 “If the world seems cold to you, kindle fires to warm it.” –Lucy Larcom

After Day Light Savings it feels as though the weather is just teetering between mild and cold. The mornings are chilly, with a crispness that is refreshing and awakes sleepy commuters bustling to and from work. Afternoons are pleasant enough, though you can’t get away without bundling yourself up.

Nights are different, as the concrete and darkness lend themselves to chilliness. Around this time of year the OIM office finds itself passing out more and more winter grade sleeping bags. As I type this our Office Manager is preparing to give out another one, a grey nylon bag she is marking with our acronym: OIM. Someone else is calling out, asking where the mittens are, and putting together a packet to hand-out.

One street-friend, when commenting on the cooling weather, explained he had a system to fight off the chill.

“I have layers. See, I have on three sweaters (hoodies) right now. But this will definitely help,” he said, holding up a new winter sleeping bag.

Winter is a hard time of year for our friends, even for those who may have a place to stay at night, as panhandling on the streets during the day can be frigid. It is interesting to hear street-friends share the ways that they keep warm, from using emergency blankets (the reflective aluminium ones), to layering socks on top of gloves, to the places they find to stay cozy. It is obvious to any listener that these men and women are survivors, and they appreciate help when it is given.

Last year our Street Outreach Teams gave out over 300 pairs of winter socks each month during the cold season, as well as 236 pairs of gloves/mitts (with the potential to give away over 300). As a whole, last year we gave out 110 sleeping bags to street-friends in need.

Keeping warm is a major concern for those sleeping outdoors and there is a high demand for coats, winter boots, hats and gloves. Items such as sleeping bags are essential to our ministry and are very valuable to our street friends.  (It is not unusual for us to hear about a sleeping bag getting stolen.) Recently we received a donation of winter jackets, and it is exciting for OIM staff to be able to provide these much needed items.

This year OIM is Warming the Streets with Winter Survival Kits. Friends, families, churches and youth groups are putting together backpacks filled with much needed items for street-friends. These backpacks are filled with everything from hats to toiletries to socks and more! For more information about how to can help our street-friends keep warm this winter visit our Winter Survival Kit page.