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.

The 52-Hertz Whale

Have you ever met someone who is just amazing at remembering names?

That person who you met once 3 years ago, who remembers your name as soon as they see your face. And you feel bad as you frantically skim your internal Rolodex trying to remember their name.

the-whale-2464799_1920That’s Ash.  Ash remembers everyone’s name. Even people she briefly meets. She often remembers details about them too. “Yeah we met that one time last year. You were wearing a red sweater and we talked about the election.”

“How do you do that?” I asked her once.

She shrugged. But in the next breath she said “No one ever remembers me. So I just want to make sure I always remember other people.”

Ash only shares snippets from her childhood. But these snippets show a lot of trauma.  She told me once “I grew up feeling like a consequence…the result of my mom’s bad decision. I was bounced around between relatives. And they always made sure I knew what I was – a consequence.”

She did not have loving, supportive people in her life. In fact, she had a lot of people in her life who actively hurt her. 

Yet she makes an effort to treat people with respect and love.  She greets people by name, with a smile and usually a hug.

“I don’t think anyone would blame you for completely giving up on people. But you haven’t – that’s pretty incredible.” I said. 

“Have you ever heard of the 52 hertz whale?” She asked me – I shook my head no.

“You know how whales communicate with each other using sounds frequencies? Well there is this one whale that has a frequency of 52 hertz. It’s the only whale in the ocean with this sound. So no other whales can hear it. It’s called the loneliest whale because it swims around all alone because no other whales  can hear it.

Sometimes I feel like that whale, like I’m destined to be alone. But then I watched a documentary on it. And even though it’s been alone all its life, it keeps calling out as it swims around the ocean. It keeps looking for other whales who can hear it. It doesn’t give up. So I guess I’m like that. I haven’t given up.” she said.

Sometimes when I meet with a youth I feel like I am meeting with a wise elder who is teaching me valuable life lessons. The resilience in Ash is astounding, and her willingness to connect with people despite what she’s been through brings so much hope in a world that is often so disconnected.

 

 

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)

Learning to Carve

Larissa volunteering at the 2017 festival

Every year, the Canadian Stone Carving Festival raises funds for Innercity Arts. Many young people from the program help out at the festival, including Larissa, who has volunteered her time the past two years. Whether it is shoveling stones, sweeping up dust, or making sure the carvers have enough water – she is always eager to help. She loves talking to the carvers about their creations.

“I wish I could do that!” she told me last year.

Learning to carve with Danny Barber

 

 

 

 

For the first time this year, we used some of the funds raised at the festival to create a bursary, called Freya’s Bursary, which gives youth an opportunity to learn how to carve. Larissa immediately applied for the bursary and put a lot of thought into her application. When I told her she had been chosen as a bursary recipient, she was ecstatic. “I can’t believe it!” she said with a huge smile.  She spent the next 8 weeks attending an Introduction to Stone Carving course at Barber Carving and Sculpture Inc. I visited Larissa at her carving course one night. It was amazing to see her focus, and how comfortable she was using the tools. She was truly in her element and looked so proud of herself. 

We are thrilled that Larissa will be back again at the festival, but not as a volunteer….as a carver! Larissa will be showing off her new skills by carving alongside amateur and professional carvers. Her carving will be up for auction on Sunday July 21st at 2pm at 190 Sparks Street. 

Please come out and show your support! 

Click here for more details! 

 

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Larissa’s first carving!

 

 

A Glimpse into Mental Illness

Damon was downtown one afternoon, when he began to sense the ever too familiar feelings of anxiety and depression taking over: quickening heart beat, pain in stomach, and the overwhelming feeling of dread and despair. Negative thoughts started to race through his mind. He had a few hours before art group and worried these feelings may overwhelm him completely before then. He sat down with his sketch book, and started sketching how he was feeling. He probably sketched more than 10 drawings in one sitting. When he arrived at art group, he told me about his day and what he had been feeling. We flipped though the sketchbook together. His drawings told a story of someone feeling empty, incomplete, and unaccepted.

The sketches were heartbreaking. But the moment was full of hope. Damon has learned over time that his art can be a valuable coping mechanism – a way to express feelings that seem inexpressible. And he has learned that art group is a community that accepts him and values him. He says he looks forward to it each week and that it is one of the only communities he belongs too.

It is an incredibly hopeful moment when someone is vulnerable enough to give a glimpse into their own experience – not because you can fix how they are feeling, but because they just need someone to see it and acknowledge it.

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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. 

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“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 !

Showing Love Through Food

 

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 Each month, Terri drops off a home cooked meal for the youth of Innercity Arts. She always puts such love and care into her meals, making sure there are lots of fresh fruit and vegetables, delicious desserts, and plenty of food for seconds and thirds! 

Terri has a heart for youth on the streets, partly because her own son struggles with mental health issues. This was particularly difficult during his teen years. So Terri really understand that youth on the streets need special love and care. 

 

Thank you Terri, for showing love through your delicious cooking!

If you are interested in cooking for the art program, please contact Bonnie at bonnie_oim@rogers.com, or visit  https://www.mealtrain.com/trains/3ly7z8 

 

Community BBQ

Our Administrative Assistant, Gaby, is normally busy working at the office.  But recently, she had the opportunity to visit our drop-in on BBQ Day!

It was a fun day with plenty of hamburgers, hot dogs, sides, dessert and beverages to go around. Everyone was so appreciative of the community donations that came in so that we could organize this special event for our street community.

Blog post – Gaby

 

Gaby was happy to be there, helping serve, visiting with people, and seeing some of our street friends who visit the office.

I recently asked her about her experience at the drop-in that day, and this is what she said:

“What I sensed was a real community: People know each other, clients, volunteers and staff alike, and genuinely enjoy each other’s company. For some of the ladies there, they told me it’s their only outing. It gives them an opportunity to see their friends and be a part of a caring community.”

I couldn’t have said it better myself.

– Jelica, 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.