A Place of Third Chances

With his long, white flowing hair pulled back in a ponytail, Simon walked into our drop-in and back into our lives, eager to “give back” as he put it. As Simon explained, he had been released from prison and was getting his life back together. Estranged from his ex-wife and with a 14-year-old daughter to raise, Simon did not want alcohol or his past troubles to hold him down…again.

That’s because this was his third time around.

Having taken the next steps to go through an alcohol treatment program and transition into a community living facility with employment-readiness training, Simon was finally looking forward to the future. “My graduation from the treatment program is tomorrow,” he beamed. “I was up at 5:30 this morning writing my graduation speech – seven pages so far!”

Simon’s sense of accomplishment was evident.

But so was his desire to move forward. “I need to stay busy. I want to get a part-time job and to start volunteering at OIM.” We were happy to welcome him, to come alongside him in his journey back to health and stability. “You guys were there for me when I needed it,” he told us, “and now I want to give back.”

It was gratifying to know that Simon felt welcomed at our drop-in (not an easy thing for ex-offenders to find in any community, as you can imagine). But, there he was, helping us set up, serve lunch, and tear down at the end of the day.

He was in a place where he felt welcome to start over (again).  And while the road to stability is not easy, often paved with setbacks and disappointments, giving ourselves – and others – permission to make some mistakes along the way can make all the difference.

 

Jelica, Staff

 

 

A Humbling Experience

Recently, a few of us were talking about people we had met through the drop in and where they were. I talked about John, a man that I had met over 15 years ago when we ran our drop in out of another location downtown. John was a homeless man who had his challenges being homeless with mental illness issues. He was a flamboyant individual, colourful, always had an opinion and was willing to discuss any current topic and extremely political. (If he could have found a way to control his mental illness, I do believe he would have made an attempt to become a politician. But that is another story.)

John’s colourful dress reflected his mood and his outlook. I had once told him he reminded me of a peacock because he always had feathers in his hat and he was brightly dressed. I didn’t mean it as an insult and he didn’t take it that way. It sparked a friendship that has lasted many years…

During Christmas of 2005 my father died, predeceased by mother in 1994 and both in the month of December which makes the period of Christmas hard for me.

In May 2006 I am outside the drop in and in a real depressed mood. We had just put dad in the ground and I am dealing with a lot of emotions; guilt, everything associated with the loss of your last parent. With no close family nearby to talk to I am isolated, with my only siblings in British Columbia. John comes up to me pushing his grocery cart filled with his worldly possessions and sees that I am depressed and asks me what is wrong and I tell him. No one else has picked up on this, or if they have they haven’t asked.

He leans over and very quietly says to me, “I have been there brother. I know exactly what you are going through. I am here for you if you need to talk.” He reaches out, squeezes my shoulder, looks me in the eye and something passes between us that can’t be expressed in words. Tears flow and I mumble ‘thanks.’

Every week I give up my time for the homeless, the marginalized, to support them. And, here, it took a homeless man to recognize my pain and hurt and to provide me the one thing I needed: unconditional love. I was humbled, I was loved and I learned a lesson that I have never forgotten.

Love comes in all sizes, shapes and forms. We just need to learn to recognize it and accept it.

 

Ken B, Volunteer

 

 

THE ‘BOB’ SERIES: A Mighty Man Hidden

I trust you are enjoying our little get-togethers. I find myself again wanting to share with you about a friend named Bob. (As I will always share, for the sake of anonymity, everyone in this series of posts will be named Bob. This will be my standard opening, so I trust you will be patient with me.)

Back to “Bob.”

Bob is a wonderful guy. He’s articulate, engaging in conversation. He presents that air of an intellectual, but not stuffy or arrogant; just genuinely interested in conversation that goes deeper than the weather. I have sat and talked with Bob several times, and enjoy our conversations very much.

In honesty, I am still waiting for the opportunity for our conversations to get personal. Not just theological about Faith and Christ, but where trust and opportunity will present themselves in time. The reason I am mentioning Bob here is that I truly wonder what set of circumstances has brought him to the place where access to a self-sustaining life is limited and the need for support is high.

We are so fortunate at OIM to be able to support and come alongside our friends like Bob.

As for Bob’s life, with many trauma survivors their ability to guard and protect themselves is highly developed, so he has only shared small bits of that part of his life with me so far. In appearance and conversation though, Bob would fit very comfortably within any social environment. He also applies action to words: whenever he sees that I need help with drop-in duties I don’t need to ask. He just steps in and lends a hand. Bob’s heart and desire to contribute and make a difference in life is evident, even though we run into the big “BUT” that drowns his potential. Bob is quite a paradox and I am genuinely blessed to have met him. I pray also that God brings a revelation of Christ into his life because Bob has so much potential to give and impact the life of others.

Rick O, Staff

What if it was you?

Valentines Day Week – just passed. Kudos to all of our volunteer outreach workers in all capacities: street outreach, drop in, office drop in, prayer partners, donors, those who cook for our event dinners, the ones that donate sleeping bags and all kinds of other goodies that we use as tools to make connections with those who live and breathe on the streets of our city.

Sometimes, just sometimes, our street outreach volunteers might walk their routes in minus 30 degrees, and come back feeling somewhat disappointed because on this cold night, they only saw a couple of street friends. Then the thoughts come, “I wonder if I am making all that much difference anyhow. It doesn’t feel like it tonight at least.”

Stop. Pause.

What if it was you?

You on the streets, maybe even on that one cold night when no one much pays you any attention really, and you feel invisible, forgotten, neglected, and abandoned. Then the recurring thoughts from your past come: thoughts of ‘no good’, you’ll never amount to anything, you are not really worth the effort…

Then an outreach worker shows up with a sandwich, a juice box, but more importantly, a smile, an inquiry about your week, a reminder of something that you said last week or time when you last connected, and some random (or planned) word of encouragement that really lifted your spirits…

How would that make you feel?

For the one’s and two’s and groups on the streets, and the teams of two or three volunteers walking and watching-  add these together and you have two: one, a great deal of difference in someone(s) life; and two, ‘everything’ (and all that entails) to our those who call the streets their home.

A small thing for us maybe, but what if it was ‘you?’ I know it would mean a lot to me.

Ken MacLaren

Danielle’s Story: Episode 5 – I found OIM (or OIM found me)

“Danielle’s Story” is a series running throughout December.
To listen to the audio backgrounder from Family Radio CHRI, click the play button below. Follow along all month to hear this amazing story!

 

 

It was about this time I met up with an Ottawa Innercity Ministries street outreach team. It was rainy and cold and they gave me food and I was one of the first people at the art program that just started up. I was treated with respect, and it felt like I was stepping out of the community of drugs, violence and gangs. OIM gave me food, friendship and all the things I had ever longed for.
I began to volunteer with them, and soon started in the Work Skills program. I moved out of the shelter, and finally left the street community.
I found Christians like me, who knew forgiveness, love and patience, and who accepted me for who I am. This was a profound experience for me. It wasn’t too long after that I became a barista at a coffee shop and then enrolled at Algonquin college for animation.

 

Stay tuned to Family Radio CHRI as two episodes unfold each week following the 8 o’clock morning and 5 o’clock evening news. As you prepare for Christmas with your family remember there are kids who are all alone.

Why not let them know that they are NOT alone?

Please give consideration with your family to adding just one more person to your Christmas list and sponsoring one of the youth in our program for only $30 /month?

Click “Donate Now” and make a lasting difference in the life of someone who just never had a chance before, just like Danielle.

He fought like a soldier

Every Tuesday for the last several years, you could always count on Marcel to greet you at the drop-in. Walking in first thing in the morning (with a Tim Horton’s cup in hand, of course), he would make his way to his regular table, but not without first greeting each staff member and volunteer.

He had a special connection with two of our volunteers: Ken and Kirk, who are both veterans. You see, Marcel was a proud veteran himself – having served in the Canadian military for several years. But like so many other veterans, after leaving the military he felt lost. He struggled with alcoholism for years, which eventually led him to the streets. But Marcel was a strong man, who persevered. He fought to get off the alcohol and to reclaim his life. He got sober and got a small apartment. But even after surviving homelessness, his life was not easy. He struggled daily with depression and PTSD. But he fought. He fought like a soldier.

This Tuesday at the drop-in, Marcel did not show up to greet us. One of his friends brought us the news that he had died over the weekend due to a heart condition. There were tears shed, as friends comforted each other.

So this Remembrance Day, the OIM community is remembering Marcel. We remember his courage and his resilience.

We thank him for his service.

And we will miss him dearly.

Marcel 3

Marcel at the drop-in.

 

Kindness

A few months ago, a new person walked through the doors of the drop-in.

He was friendly but seemed very cautious. He asked a lot of questions….as if he wasn’t sure if he could trust what we were up to. So I showed him around and tried to give him some answers. I offered him coffee and invited him to sit with some others who were playing cards.

About an hour later, he came to find me again. His demeanor had completely changed – he looked happy and excited.

“Did you see those women washing feet? I can’t believe that!” (He was referring to our foot care volunteers, who wash and care for the feet of our street friends.)

He said he wasn’t used to seeing this level of kindness –just a few days before he had been released after spending several years in jail. Jail was rough, and kindness was rare. He said he couldn’t believe the kindness of the volunteers at the drop-in.

The very next week, my new friend brought in 3 handmade dream catchers – one for me and one for each of the foot care volunteers. He said he wanted to extend kindness back to us.

Since then, my new friend has attended drop-in every week. He always arrives with a smile and offers to lend a helping hand.

dreamcatcher

Here is a photo of the dream catcher he made me. A reminder to me of how meaningful kindness can be.

 

A Volunteer’s Reflection

Lots of people tell me that they think I’m doing so much when they hear that I do street outreach with OIM. I go out each week to hand out sandwiches, socks and a kind word hoping to share the love of God and encourage people.

bicycle-against-wall-1563544But yesterday I ran into Sue who OIM has been helping for many years. Many people dismiss Sue without knowing how sweet she really is.  Sue knows that I ride my bike all winter and the first thing she asked me was whether I had ridden my bike yesterday.  When I said “Yes”, she immediately took my hand and began to pray for me:

“Dear heavenly Father, please protect Rick with your love and mercy and keep him safe”.

In that moment, Sue gave me more than I had ever given her and she changed ME.

 

By Rick – Rick is an OIM outreach and drop-in volunteer who has been volunteering for several years. 

 

Volunteering at Art Group

12122885_1630094003945180_4003826971558415581_n (1)

Pillowcase dress

After almost two years doing foot-care at OIM’s Tuesday drop in, I recently switched to Monday evenings with the Passion 4 Youth Fine Arts Program. As difficult as it was to leave my Tuesday friends, I soon came to know the young people who attend art group Monday nights.  Not only do I have the privilege to get to know these young men and women, but as volunteers, we are responsible for mentoring, encouraging,  and helping them set goals in life.  Being witness to such raw, original, artistic talent is awe inspiring.  An added bonus for me is that I get my “baby fix” with two beautiful baby boys who come with their parents!

IMG_20151030_141153

Batman mask

Since discovering a sewing machine, several young people have come forward with sewing ideas and designs of their own.  The very first sewers were several of the young men who transformed long pants into board shorts.  Now there is a line-up for the machine with more people, sewing projects such as rock collecting bags, coat alterations, little girls dresses, fur hats, baby clothes, etc.

The biggest project to date has been a leather Batman mask, which started out as a $5 leather skirt from Value Village.   It was labour intensive but it was completed in time to be worn for Halloween.  To work alongside these young people, is an experience I cherish.  To see the smiles and sense their feeling of accomplishment in creating and completing these projects makes my heart smile so big it hurts.

I LOVE what I get to do with OIM 🙂 <3

– By Debby, Passion 4 Youth Fine Arts Program volunteer 

 

An Offering

 

RoseI met Rose about 3 years ago when I was doing outreach. What I noticed about her right away (and what I think everyone notices about her) was her energetic and bubbly personality. Her big smile and loud laugh are contagious!

But her life hasn’t been all smiles….she had a rough life that led her to homelessness and addiction. But despite this, she has never lost her optimism for life.

She started coming to our drop-in out of a need for community and support. Over the years, she has made positive changes in her life, including securing a safe apartment and becoming sober. But the more you get to know Rose, the more you see that helping people is central to her life. Even though she is on social assistance and does not have much money, she will always give to those in need. She has a heart for helping youth and often befriends them on the street and refers them to resources that can help them.

When she heard about out Passion 4 Youth Fine Art Program, she wanted to help. We mentioned that we could use help preparing food, so she offered her baking skills. Twice each week, Rose bakes homemade desserts and brings them to our art program. She loves to make sweets that she knows will be a treat for the youth.

We feel blessed to know Rose and we are so thankful for her offering.

 

 

If you want to help cook for the art program, please contact Moira at moira_oim@rogers.com or Dana at dana_oim@rogers.com