Above and Beyond

wednesday team

Wednesday night team on the first snowy night of the season.

When OIM staff pack up for the day and lock the doors at 4pm, we know that OIM’s day is not over. Each evening, a team of volunteers will come in and pack up the outreach wagons, and then venture out onto the streets to connect with people and provide much needed supplies. 

I’m in the office several evenings each week for our youth programs – so I’m lucky enough to cross paths with many of outreach volunteers. What I’ve noticed is that many of our volunteers do special and thoughtful things as they pack up their outreach wagons.

I get to see Rose, as she packs a small zip lock bag full of tea bags for Larry, who appreciates this gesture each week.

And Jess, who made sure to buy Halloween candy when it was on sale so she will have treats to hand out.

And Doug, who brings a thermos full of hot chocolate on the really cold nights so he can offer a warm drink to our friends.

And Laura, who writes down the name of every person she connects with on the street, and prays for them by name when she returns to the office.

I feel honoured to witness these acts of love. We are so lucky to have such kind and dedicated volunteers who go above and beyond each night. As the winter approaches, pray for our teams who go out no matter the weather. And pray for the folks they meet on the street, that they may feel the love the outreach volunteers have in their hearts, and they may find safety this winter.

A Tough Night

It was a particularly rough start to the night at Innercity Arts. One of the youth had arrived in distress, suffering from a mental health crisis and inebriation. His behaviour was out of control and his health was in danger – so we made the decision to call paramedics.

Like so many other young people on the streets, this young man became afraid and agitated when he saw the flashing lights of police and ambulance. We tried our best to keep him calm and reassure him that he was safe. It was so difficult to watch as he yelled and struggled with the paramedics who were trying so hard to help him.

From the corner of my eye, I could see several peers from Innercity Arts watching quietly. I sensed that they were guarding their young friend, making sure he was not being mistreated.

When the ambulance left with the young man, I approached the group to make sure they were okay.

“I know that must have been hard to see your friend like that”, I said.

“Actually, we wanted to make sure YOU were okay,” one replied.

Surprised, I questioned “Me?”

“Yeah, you looked to sad. We just wanted to make sure you were okay,” one said.

“When I saw how upset you looked, I thought wow, you guys must really care about us,” another said.

It is amazing how one moment my heart was aching, seeing a young person in such distress. And in the next moment, I was being comforted by the very youth I was there to comfort! I am constantly amazed by the capacity young people on the streets have to show compassion and caring for others, even when they have so much going on in their lives. I am so thankful for this community.  

The greatness of a community is most accurately measured by the compassionate actions of its members (1)

Resilient Heroes

Resiliency is the ability to recovery readily after being bent or stretched from adversity. I have about 50 heroes in my life; all of which come from the Ottawa Innercity Arts program. A hero is a person noted for courageous acts and that’s exactly what the street-engaged youth at our art program are.

IMG_1953These young people have been through seasons in their lives that would have brought down the strongest of men and yet they continue to soldier on with hope. They are brave warriors that refuse to give up, give in and stop fighting. They are all brave little David’s standing up against the giant while the rest of the world around them stands in fear.  1 Samuel 17

Our youth see life and run after it in which ever form it is handed to them; an amazing lesson we can all take down and apply to ourselves. Day after day and week after week we see youth who have nothing except what is in their back packs or in a rooming house, yet on their faces there are sparks of light, thankfulness, hope and a smile.

On my longest of days I’m quickly reminded of my 50 angels born without wings and my attitude changes and goes to a place of gratitude for all that they daily teach me and bring to my life.

It is now officially spring; the time of year which brings new growth, color,  wildlife and people seem happier.

Did you know that a simple smile can change the entire day of a person? If you see a youth who might seem like a resilient hero…could you please send a friendly smile their way, because you never know what chapter of someone’s life you just walked in on. 

 

  • Bonnie – Front Line Care Worker 

We invite you to support these resilient young people as they show off their artistic skills at our 10th Anniversary Art Show, taking place on May 9th at the Ottawa Art Gallery.  

10 Years of Innercity Arts

As we near the 10th anniversary of Innercity Arts, I wanted to look back on how the program came about. I recently spoke with Jason Pino, the Youth Outreach Worker who started the program 10 years ago.

Jason told me that back in 2009 he was doing regular street outreach – engaging with youth on the streets, under bridges and in parking garages. As he got to know the youth on the streets, he witnessed the social isolation and negative self-esteem that often accompanies street life. He wanted to create a positive program that challenged this negative self-perception and helped youth feel valued.  Around the same time, he got to know a youth named Kerry. Kerry would often sketch and work on art while she was on the street. Jason saw the calm and peace that would come over Kerry as she worked on her art – it was truly transformative. This is where the idea for Innercity Arts was born. Jason’s vision was to create a supportive space where youth could engage in the arts, build supportive relationships and build on their strengths. 

#innercityartshow #10years

“Kerry”, 2009

Jason secured a small room in a downtown church and purchased some basic art supplies. On the first day, just one youth arrived. In fact, for the first several months, Jason admits that sometimes no youth would show up at all. But he persevered and focused on developing trusting relationships with the youth who showed up. It was a partnership with Kelly Santini Lawyers that helped fuel the program. Kelly Santini Lawyers agreed to sponsor the program by providing meals, as well as organizing an art show where the youth could sell their artwork. Working towards the goal of a show was hugely motivating for the youth, and more and more of them started coming to the program.

The first show, which took place in late 2009, was a huge success. 9 youth participated and every painting sold. From there, the program developed and thrived.

Innercity Arts has grown and changed over the past 10 years. Over 40 youth attend weekly, we have 15 adult volutneers, a music room and we have a youth choir. But the vision remains the same: relationships are central and strengths are the focus.

We are thrilled to be having our 10th Anniversary Art Show at the new Ottawa Art Gallery. Kelly Santini Lawyers will again be our sponsor.

We hope you will join us on May 9th !

New Bursary Program

For the past several years, the Canadian Stone Carving Festival has raised funds for Innercity Arts. The festival founders are passionate about supporting street-involved youth through the arts, and wanted to make a meaningful impact.

We are proud to announce a new initiative in partnership with the Canadian Stone Carving Festival and the Ottawa School of Art, called Freya’s Bursary. This bursary will provide professional level art education to four Innercity Arts participants each year.

Two youth will take a course at the Ottawa School of Art, and two will take an introductory stone carving course at Smith & Barber Atelier.

Several youth applied for the bursary and it was incredibly difficult to decide on just four youth – as all of them are deserving of this opportunity. Some common themes in the applications: a desire to learn a new skill, a need to use art as a therapeutic tool to cope with trauma and mental illness, and a hope that being in a post-secondary institution will help them regain the confidence to return to school.

We are so excited about this bursary and can’t wait to see where it leads!

To learn more about why the bursary is called “Freya’s bursary”, click here.

 

 

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Come As You Are

Art Hand-minMusic playing in the back ground. The rustling of voices. Some laughing, some random chattering. The room is filled with various hues of paint color and textures of fabric. The faint smell of burning wood can be detected in the air. A large plate of home-cooked dinner awaits, with plenty more for seconds and take-home bags.

It’s a safe place where you are accepted exactly as you are. There is no judgment; just unconditional community, support and love.

Welcome to Innercity Arts! It’s an amazing place where our city’s street-engaged youth can sign up to be a part of a community where all different forms of art are used. It’s a way of coming together to offer a few hours of creative expression in a safe environment surrounded by food, friendship, and mentoring with individuals who accept our youth for exactly who they are.

Innercity Arts is a place where youth are seen for their talents – either visible or hidden – and encouraged to be the very best version of themselves. Our youth come from all different backgrounds, and all with a story of their own that is protected and respected.

Every youth is assigned a qualified mentor who walks alongside them with goal-setting or any struggles they wish to share in confidence; without any judgment. For our youth, the art group is a place to grow, to discover who they are and to encourage them to soar through using art as a way to heal and communicate their emotions. All this, while surrounded by a community of staff, volunteers and peers who believe in them and their abilities.

We are all special, unique and amazing exactly as we are. We all just want to be and feel accepted for the way we were made…Here, at Innercity Arts, we try to provide just that because our youth are incredible!

-Bonnie, Staff

 

 

When the Streets are Safer than Affordable Housing

Homelessness andAffordable Housing (2)“Honestly, sometimes it was easier living on the streets”

You may be surprised to learn that I have heard this been said many times. Today, it was said by Sarah – a young person in our art program.

Up until a couple of years ago, Sarah was living on the streets and things were rough. But that all changed when she discovered she was pregnant. She and her partner made the decision to raise their child. They searched for housing and eventually found something affordable with a landlord willing to rent to them.

Since then, both of them have changed their lives dramatically and they put their child first.  They are the thoughtful, dedicated and loving parents to a one year old. They are also working hard to complete their schooling, and both are involved with community advocacy.

But it did not take long for there to be issues with their apartment. Issues like it being unbearably cold in the winter, extremely hot in the summer, serious pest issues and much needed repairs, including water damage, being ignored by both the landlord and bylaw. The apartment does not feel safe and causes the new family endless stress. 

“Things are supposed to be easier when you get housing.” Sarah told me, looking completely worn out.

But the truth is – there may be “affordable” housing in Ottawa – but it is not always safe. So families like Sarah’s, who have no other option but to live in this housing, are victimized by landlords.

Sarah and her partner have been trying for months to find a better apartment. But their limited income, combined with prejudiced landlords who refuse to rent to them make it nearly impossible to find adequate housing. They need a break.

Until then, it is Sarah and her partner’s resilience and resourcefulness that make me confident that they will persevere. But I can’t help but feel angry at the system that keeps them victimized, even in housing.

Small Gestures

When I speak to new volunteers about what they can expect, I often say that even the smallest gestures – a smile, a conversation, a shoulder to cry on – can mean so much to someone in need.

I was reminded of this recently when a former client called us from Toronto.  She and her husband had been struggling with serious housing and health issues and decided to move to Toronto to be closer to family. While still in Ottawa, they turned to us for basic needs: food, gift cards, personal care.

Quite honestly, at times we felt inadequate to address the seriousness of their problems. What  could our support do to address the bigger complexities of their needs?

Apparently – to my surprise – a lot.

 “OIM,” the wife explained “did more for us than anyone else.”  Puzzled, I stammered, “well, we did very little except to give what we had.” “No, no, you don’t understand,” she insisted. “You were the only ones who supported us through our ordeal.  We had no one.  No one.  I was afraid that one day you would say ‘no more.’  But we kept coming and coming, and you never turned your back. We are so thankful for that.”

I’m still unpacking this today  – amazed, perplexed, reflective.  And I am reminded that only in God’s economy can the smallest of gestures have this kind of impact on people’s lives.

-Jelica, Staff

 

30 Days of Prayer, 30 Seconds Each Day, In Honour of Our 30th Anniversary

This story is part of A Special Series this month in honour of OIM’s 30th Anniversary. We hope to raise awareness, challenge misconceptions, and honestly reflect the lives of those who call the streets their home. As you reflect on these stories, please take a moment to PRAY EACH DAY – just 30 seconds – for our ministry’s needs.

Thanks and God Bless.

 

Building Relationships On The Street

Building relationships with those experiencing poverty and homelessness is a cornerstone of our ministry. So when I have the privilege of getting to know someone on a deeper level, I count it a real blessing.

One of those individuals who I have met while on street outreach is “Bob.” Bob has been living on the streets for many years. I count it a blessing that he seeks me out for conversation. I know that Bob lives in difficult circumstances as he carries his entire life on his back with the occasional reprieve when he can find a safe location to hide away his belongings.

We have some very interesting conversations as Bob’s outlook on life is quite unique. Bob, though, never gets angry or refuses to listen when I discuss Jesus and the topic of religion. In fact, we could all take a lesson in manners and upbeat, positive behaviour from him. I know some of the difficulties of Bob’s life and, yet, he still always manages to show a smile, crack a joke and share something encouraging. It warms my heart to see it. Bob has, in our more intimate conversations, told me that he admits to having a dark side, but most of the time he can push it aside and find a glass half full.

I am truly honoured to know my friend Bob and count it a privilege to share the love of Jesus on the streets.

-Rick, Staff

 

This story is part of A Special Series this month in honour of OIM’s 30th Anniversary. We hope to raise awareness, challenge misconceptions, and honestly reflect the lives of those who call the streets their home. As you reflect on these stories, please take a moment to PRAY EACH DAY – just 30 seconds – for our ministry’s needs including a permanent location for our OIM Office as of Aug 1 .

Thanks and God Bless.

God of the Ordinary

“Do you have room for one more?” he asked gently.

It was the end of the day at our drop-in and I was getting ready to clean up the Foot Care Station. I had been there for four hours, cleaning and massaging feet. I was tired. My hands ached. “Of course I have room,” I replied. His eyes sparkled with gratitude. I proceeded to fill the foot basin with water, Epsom salts, and soap. He carefully removed his worn shoes and dirty socks, ashamed as he revealed his soiled feet. I pretended not to notice.

Then he soaked his feet and we began to talk.  

We discussed the weather, his ‘job’ collecting empty bottles, and our mutual love of cats.

 Twenty minutes later, his feet had been cleaned, massaged, and clad with a fresh pair of socks. As he got up to leave, he turned to me and said, “y’know, I wasn’t having a very good day, but I just want you to know that you’ve turned my day right around.” He smiled and walked away.

I never saw him again.

Now, 10 years later, I’ve met hundreds from our street community. Yet this brief interaction touches me still. I don’t fully comprehend its impact, but one thing I know for sure:  it has served as God’s reminder that He delights in using ordinary people, engaged in ordinary acts of service to touch people’s lives each and every day.

– Jelica, Staff

 

30 Days of Prayer, 30 Seconds Each Day, In Honour of Our 30th Anniversary

This story is part of A Special Series this month in honour of OIM’s 30th Anniversary. We hope to raise awareness, challenge misconceptions, and honestly reflect the lives of those who call the streets their home. As you reflect on these stories, please take a moment to PRAY EACH DAY – just 30 seconds – for our ministry’s needs.

Thanks and God Bless You.