Mural Reflections

The Passion 4 Youth Fine Arts Program spent the summer painting a mural on the wall of Trinity Anglican Church. It was an amazing experience.

Below are two reflections on the project:

On the right in a drawing by one of the P4Y artists, which depicts herself painting the mural.

On the left is a poem written for the mural unveiling by Jamaal Jackson Rogers.

Thank you both for sharing with us.

BRIDGE OF FAITH– by Jamaal Jackson Rogers 20140917_150339

From the moment that we realize
That our pens, pages, voices, stages
And a little bit of spray from an aerosol can
Creates art
It’s like magic
Manifesting in even the most unsuspecting of places
It’s as if our eyes have turned on a silent inner light
Of faith
And beauty
A bridge for which our hearts can find comfort in community and a place to call our own
In a second
The landscape of a forgotten brick wall can become the vibrant canvas of which youth can call home
An abandoned language
Spoken in splashes of camaraderie
Between the sinews of streets and shops and churches
Whispered in wisps of concrete sermons
To bring life back to the seemingly bleak and obsolete
Giving birth to purpose and legacy
You see
It was never about how we find refuge when the world seems so dark
And dull
For the lovers of life
And the crafters of art
Can take just one thought and turn it into actions of love and brilliance and truth
For truth can be seen
And has been said can set you free
So if we agree
Then I ask us to look
With our hearts wide open at the scene that has come together
Built through movements of giving, selflessness, dedication, respect, understanding, activism
And discover how faith and beauty intersect by a little bit of spray from an aresol can
Look at how life is a like a journey on the longest bridge we will ever have to cross
And with the blessings of art
It won’t be so hard
We will rediscover what puts the passion in compassion
Marvel at the wonder and awe of the subtle lines and wavy curves of the human condition
Revel at the power of the robust colours that hold the secrets to our universal connection
But I ask you to not stand still
Eventually I want nothing more than all of us to travel in succession
From our alienated lives of dust, wood and concrete
Into a congregate existence of unity, harmony and positivity
There is hope
In the eyes of the young who know what it’s like to be found but once was lost
There is hope
In the elders who have much to give from the experiences they carry in their palms
There is hope
And the miracle of it all is that you don’t have to search very far
You don’t have to be a scholar graduated from Harvard or own a Bank account that holds plenty of dollars
Because hope lies right here
In this moment
At the feet of life’s bridge that joins abstract and simplicity
Fantasy and reality
Stories and history
Self-expression and self-reflection
So today let us honour the citizens of our society
Who have strived to make a mural that represents a philosophy of mutual solidarity
Those who have called our minds eye to look again
To find meaning in these streets
A renewed belief composed in a house of paint where we can set the burdens of our differences free
That faith, beauty, hope, art
Can spark change
Inside and out.



Sam’s Story



Sam is a street artist who I met several years ago. He created the beautiful work of art above.

I asked him  to do a wood burning workshop with the youth from the art group. Sam shared his story with the youth, and we were all blown away by what he had to say. Sam gave my permission to share his story here, but he asked that I use his real name. He wants people to know his story and what he has learned. 


Sam grew up in the Land of Nanabijou (Sleeping Giant), Fort William First Nation. His childhood was abruptly disrupted at a young age when he was taken from his mother and his Ojibway community and placed in St. Josephs School for Boys. He spent 5 ½ years in this residential school, where he was subjected to physical, sexual and emotional abuse.

The trauma he experienced at this school was unthinkable, and as a result, he suffered from horrific nightmares during his adulthood. These nightmares could only be silenced by alcohol, which led to 45 years of addiction. He spent time in prison and then ended up on the streets of Ottawa. He said that during these years on the streets he harbored anger towards his abusers that was slowly destroying him.

He thought that by bringing his abusers to justice his anger would vanish. But even after testifying in court and seeing his abusers sentenced, the anger persisted and the nightmares continued.  There were many events that transpired that led to Sam’s sobriety…hitting rock bottom and nearly dying, losing friends to addiction, building a relationship with an Elder, re-embracing his spirituality and Ojibway culture…

But Sam stressed that the most important thing was letting go of the anger he was harboring and offering it up to the Creator.

When he made the decision to quit drinking, he prayed to the Creator for protection. He asked the Creator to keep negative people away from him while he was withdrawing and most vulnerable. He said that during these few days of heavy withdrawal, he was shaking uncontrollably. He held a pencil in his hand and with every shake he would draw a stroke on the paper. He said that focusing on the pencil marks helped him forget about the withdrawal.

The Creator answered his prayers: he has been sober now for 5 years.



Caution: P4Y Poetry

The Passion 4 Youth Fine Arts Program was fortunate enough to have Bruce Narbaitz come in and do a slam poetry workshop with the youth. Many of the youth had never tried poetry, and some were nervous to share their poetry with their peers. To be completely honest, I was nervous to give slam poetry a shot too! It’s an intimidating thing to get up in front of people and share poetry.

But Bruce made everyone feel very comfortable. He placed some objects on a table: a sleep mask, a toy Chewbacca, a piece of police caution tape, and a pirate flag.

He encouraged everyone to take 5 minutes and to write anything about one of the objects.

The results were absolutely amazing.

Check out one of the youth’s poem that was inspired by the police caution tape. This youth is commenting on how she feels about her interactions with the police while panhandling.




The Light – P4Y Poetry

There is a new youth who has been coming to art group recently.

I met him on outreach a few years ago and I discovered that from a young age he has been dealing with addiction and homelessness. Despite this, he possesses a great sense of humour, a strong connection to spirituality and to the world around him, and a deep rooted inner strength.

A few weeks ago he was in the music room writing on the chalk board.

This is what he wrote:

Madness looms overhead
Like and eagle searching for prey
Slow as a turtle, sure as death
The path from darkness
is long and painful
twisting and turning to
it’s hearts content.



Above and Beyond


Last year, a woman named Debra contacted me about helping out with the art group. Debra is a busy mother of 2 with a gift of cooking and a passion for helping people. She offered to start cooking once a month for the art group, as we provide dinner for the youth every Thursday night.

Before she started cooking, Debra asked me what types of food the youth like. I told her that unlike many people, the youth in the art group LOVE fruits and vegetables. In fact, many youth tell me that art group is the only time they eat fruits and veggies because they cant afford it. I suggested that Debra keep the meals simple, like a big pot of soup or chili (after all, there are usually 20 hungry youth to feed!

What I didn’t realize about Debra is that she is an ‘above and beyond’ type of person.

Each month, she prepares a delicious and healthy meal for the youth. She always makes sure that it is packed full of vegetables and fruits. She also makes sure there is a yummy dessert for them to enjoy.

Check out the meal she made for us last night!

Grilled chicken, pasta salad, garden salad, watermelon, grapes and brownies!

meal photo

The youth are always blown away by the food. They find it hard to believe that a woman they have never even met puts so much love and effort into a meal for them.

We are so incredibly blessed to have Debra, and others, who serve our ministry behind the scenes in such a loving and selfless way.


The Problem with Focusing on Problems

Meet Nicky: homeless,  alcoholic, mentally ill.

Nicky joined the art group last year.

She told me that most of her childhood had been spent in the offices of mental health workers, who were trying to “fix” her.

When asked “What’s wrong with you?” Nicky could answer with a lengthy list.

Nicky was used to this familiar approach that her workers would use:

Identify the problem 1) Analyze the causes 2) Decide on goals to fix these causes 3) Make plans that will achieve the goals 4) Implement the plan.

Sounds like a good plan, right?

But every time, this plan led to Nicky feeling two things:

1) Powerless to solve her own problems (a reliance of professionals), and

2) Hopeless… like there was something inherently wrong with her.

That’s the problem with focusing the problem: it doesn’t get rid of the problem.

At P4Y, we use a Strength-Based Approach. Rather than focusing on the deficits of youth, we focus on their strengths (and believe me, they have TONS of strengths!) , and build on them. We and others have found that big changes occur when you focus on strengths. Rather than feeling powerless and hopeless, the youth feel empowered and hopeful.

After working with Nicky to identify the strengths she saw in herself, as well as the strengths staff and volunteers see in her, we made her a small card (pictured) for her to carry around in her wallet. The words represent her personal strengths. The idea is for Nicky to remember that she has numerous strengths that she can use when she is faced with a problem.

Nicky is now feeling motivated and empowered.

Let me reintroduce Nicky:  high school grad,  compassionate, empathetic, insightful, resilient.


Nicky SAI pic

The Hidden Homeless

 hidden homeless

Hidden Homeless: People who are temporarily crashing with friends, relatives or others because they have no where else to go.

I have been doing outreach several times each week for nearly three years. So, I’m familiar with most of the youth downtown. If I don’t know them by name, I at least recognize their faces.

Last week at art group, I saw a new face. His name was Patrick, and he said he was 17 years old. Why haven’t I seen him before? I wondered.

He told me that he’s been homeless for about 6 months now. He grew up in Kanata, in the suburbs, but he can’t go home…he wouldn’t say why. He tried the shelters, but they scared him. So he was “couch hopping”, crashing anywhere he could.

Patrick is considered one of Ottawa’s “hidden homeless”. He is not who most people think of when they think of the homeless: i.e., a man sleeping on a park bench. Instead, he looks like your average teenager who blends in with the crowd.

After just a few years of doing outreach, I have seen a change on the streets of Ottawa: there are less youth sleeping in plain sight on the streets. While this may seem like a positive thing, it’s not. Youth tell me that over the last several years, the city has made it more difficult for them to sleep outside. So, they are forced to “couch hop” (sleep on friends floors or couches). Not only can this be dangerous (many youth are victimized when couch hopping), it also makes it harder for support services and outreach workers to find them.

How do we help these youth if we can’t find them?

When I asked Patrick how he learned about the art group, he told me that he heard about it from other youth. He made the effort to seek out support. I couldn’t help but wonder how many of Ottawa’s hidden homeless youth are out there, hoping that someone will help them.

“We therefore cautiously estimate that there are 3 people who can be considered ‘hidden homeless’ for every one who is in an emergency shelter and/or is unsheltered…..As many as 50,000 Canadians may be ‘hidden homeless’ on any given night”

–          The State of Homelessness in Canada 2013, Canadian Alliance to End Homelessness

Housing in Ottawa: What we don’t see…

When Laura arrived at art group, she was excited to share her good news–she got her own apartment!

After a year or so of couch hopping, she finally had her own space. It was a small room in a rooming house, but she didn’t mind. She was just excited to have a space to call her own.

housing 2This excitement faded quickly the day she moved in when she saw that the repairs the landlord had promised to do before she moved in had not been completed….or even started. In fact, the room had not even been cleaned. She took pictures of her room on the day she moved in, and I was horrified by what I saw: holes in the wall, garbage and dirt on the floor, a hole where there should be a door handle, tape holding the door together….Certainly not a place where anyone would feel SAFE. 


But the worst was yet to come…..bed bugs.

bed bugs

Laura arrived at art group with welts all over her body. She says her room and mattress are completely infested with bed bugs and the constant biting makes it hard to sleep.

This is the reality of housing in Ottawa. There is just simply not enough affordable housing in this city. And youth like Laura are forced to take what they can get.

How do we expect these youth to thrive when they do not even have somewhere safe to sleep?






The beautiful thing about Laura, is that she continues to look at her future optimistically. She is not letting this experience hold her back.

Check out the beautiful painting she was working on last night.


I’m constantly amazed by the strength and the resilience youth like Laura show.



Ottawa Home and Garden Show. Why?

OIM has been given a booth at the Ottawa Home and Garden Show, March 20 to 23 at the Ernst and Young Centre.  Why?

A friend of the ministry donated this 10’ x 20’ exhibitor’s space so that people who are thinking about renovating, redoing and re-fixing their own homes might take a moment and consider people who don’t have any home at all.

Our booth will have an area where visitors can see some of the art work that our Passion 4 Youth artists have created; we will be showing the 7 minute OIM DVD and also another shorter DVD featuring interviews from three of the youth from the program; we will have a visual aid of a home (on Bristol board) where visitors can buy a brick for a donation of any amount, and we can collect funds for new space (which we desperately need).

Then we’ll top it off with not one, but two (and maybe three) surprises that you can only discover if you come by and have a visit with us.

The Ottawa Home and Garden people are expecting over 20,000 visitors to the show this year, and it is a privilege to represent OIM there.  We have scheduled volunteers and staff for the entire weekend, and you will want to see how this works!

Please consider this your special invitation: ‘Come on down’ and visit us!

Outgrowing and Overcoming

Many street-engaged youth struggle with addictions. Below is a work of art by a P4Y artist. This artist has struggled with addiction for years, and has now made some big changes in her life in order to overcome her addiction. This amazing work of art shows the strength of the artist and her ability to overcome any obstacle.



“She’s breaking her bonds and she’s growing up and changing as a being.”

– P4Y Artist