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 !

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.

Even The ‘Unlovable’

Serving those experiencing poverty and homelessness comes with rewards and challenges.If anyone has spent enough time serving those experiencing poverty and homelessness, you will know it is not for the faint of heart.

I’m not talking about the stories of trauma, tragedy or loss which I have – sadly – come to expect.  No, I’m talking about something a little more delicate.  It’s the experience of not having everyone you help respond in quite the way you’d expect.

On the one side are those individuals who are just so easy to serve. Humble, courteous and kind, they are a joy to be around and I am grateful to know them.  Just a few weeks ago, after praying with one young lady, she blessed me by praying over me and asking God’s favour in my life. A wonderful and unexpected act of kindness.

And then there are those who are not so easy to serve.  

Some individuals can be disruptive, pushy and rude. While others can be downright aggressive. Just a few months ago, not long after welcoming a young man to our drop-in and directing him to our breakfast buffet, I had to ask him to leave for the day because of his aggressive behaviour towards others. Unapologetic, he left while yelling profanities into the crowd. While we always extend grace, we also recognize when a ‘time out’ is essential. 

Not the picture of loving, compassionate service that some may envision.

There is always a tension that’s felt between serving the ‘lovable’ and so-called ‘unlovable.’ It’s inevitable, regardless of the kind of service or mission field one finds oneself in.

But it is often in these moments that I am reminded of my own ‘unlovability.’ Me, whose life is ‘charmed’ by comparison to my street-engaged friends. I am reminded of the times I’ve been unkind, rude and downright mean towards others, family and strangers alike. I can be selfish, impatient, disagreeable, unpleasant, ill-natured, and hurtful towards those who care for me.

These are all true of me:  a professing Christian.

And yet, Jesus chose to love me anyway. Even me, who is unlovable, is loved.  

Go figure.

So in these moments when the difficulties of service are most acute, I am reminded of the unmerited favour I receive daily, and thank God for his example of how to love even the unlovable.  

 

-Jelica, Staff

 

 

Taking Time To Notice

homelessnes in Ottawa | street outreachA walk through a mall or along a busy street looking into store fronts of book covers, clothes, food displays;  along with a few obscure individuals crouched, laying, or partially sitting along the sidewalk with an outstretched hand, cup or ball cap anxiously anticipating a few coins, can quickly become a blur of disinterest.

And yet, they are all there with the same message: “I want your attention.” 

The reward in the discovery of a “blur” is like a box waiting to be opened.

Jake was one such potential “blur” when I stopped for a moment just to say hello and ask how the day was going. Jake wasn’t very responsive and not much in the mood for conversation.

Some boxes are harder to open than others; glued, taped and wrapped in string make them difficult to see what’s inside.

I had ongoing opportunities (God’s anonymous intervention) to interact with Jake and gradually the wrappings (distrust, previous disappointments, addictions and low self esteem) came off. Jake and I have a wonderful relationship today through telephone and, as he has time, at my house to talk about life.

Jake is now a follower of Christ, paying attention to his health and addiction-free because he was more than just a “blur” to a few people who took time to notice.

Lloyd, 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.

 

 

 

An Unexpected Encounter

I want to share a short, but quite wonderful, blessing I received from my street-engaged friend named ‘Bob.’

When you are on the streets, you are surrounded by many difficult stories and so much pain, so when a blessing erupts in your ministry it’s an amazing thing. The feeling you get is that of God just dropping a wonderful nugget in your lap to bless you.

Bob is a friend I first met at out drop-in and we also had a few connections at our stop-in. We had talked and shared during these times and things unfolded as many connections do. We at OIM, as always, helped where we could with Bob’s needs. I eventually lost contact with him for several months, so I just had to be content with the fact that I was able to plant or water by being a supportive connection point in his life.

Now, several months later, I am sitting in a coffee shop and who comes over, but Bob! Out of the blue he tells me how his life has changed and he thanked us for being there for him. He then proceeds to pray over me, declaring a blessing and favour, as powerful as any prophetic word received.

So I just want to honour God for dropping such a wonderful blessing in seeing the fruit of the increase he has brought to someone’s life and in knowing the small part I played in that. These are part of the moments that regenerate your tanks and strengthen your resolve. I pray that God continues to grow and stretch my friend Bob, and that the fruit of his boldness to pray for and share what the Lord has done for him, only increases in his life. 

 

Rick, Staff

 

 

Conversation at the Drop-In

 

“I’ve been on my own a long time. I left home when I was 10. Been on my own ever since.”

Edward told me this as we sat together in the drop-in.  He is about 65, with tired but kind eyes. He is a quiet, gentle man who can be easily missed in the large drop-in crowd.But he always nods his head hello with a smile.  

I can only imagine the kind of childhood home that would make a 10 year old run away. He said recently he tried to reach out to his remaining family members, but they wanted nothing to do with him. He had tears in his eyes as he told me is all alone in this world.

I couldn’t help but think of the youth I work with, and how many of them have recently left home and are just starting out on their own. I told Edward that it was amazing that, despite what he’s been through, and despite not having a family, he has maintained a gentle and loving spirit. There doesn’t seem to be an ounce of bitterness in him.  I told him that he gives me hope for the young people I know who have just left their families.  

“It’s God. God gives me hope.” 

He said, “I know that God loves me and wants me here. I can’t read the Bible, but I know God loves me.”

“Why can’t you read the Bible?” I asked – foolishly thinking maybe he didn’t have a Bible.  

“I can’t read. But I can feel God around me. I know He’s here.”

It was a beautiful moment, listening to Edward talk about his faith.

A faith that trusts in the presence of God,

even in times of loneliness.

A faith that believes in a loving Father,

even in times of abandonment.

The Bob Series: Marginalized survivors

Note:  To protect the identity of the people I write about, I have chosen to use the name ‘Bob’ in the following piece…

All of the people I share with you are real men and women. Friends with hopes and dreams and all the same desires shared by us all. As a result of some extreme circumstances or mental health issues, their lives have been marginalized to that of outcast in our society.

When we look at those experiencing poverty and homelessness we tend to fit them into a framework and think they have earned the place they have in our culture. It helps us to justify the favour and blessings in our lives.

Yet  God does not see anybody that way. He sees all people through the eyes of the cross.

Namely, who they can be, at their fullest potential, the bride of Christ, clean pure and amazing. We should look at all people through those same eyes of love and then apply action to support them with our time, our prayers, and our resources. I have up to now and will continue to share with you stories about “Bob,” attempting to paint a picture of the incredible resilience and ability there is in the human spirit to survive.

I started this blog with, these are true stories about real lives, of men and women and youth with all the same feelings, desires and dreams that we all have. So remember, as we look at our street-engaged community we need to engage, and also remember that the cliche saying “there but by the grace of God go I”. This may be more of a reality than we care to admit.

Rick Ojala, Staff

 

*To see more from the series, click here to see part 1, part 2, and part 3.

 

 

 

THE ‘BOB’ SERIES: Somebody see me

Welcome today to my third blog. I find myself again wanting to continue our “Bob series” (part 2, part 1). Next month I think I will interrupt this adventure, and connect some dots. It is of critical importance that we see Bob’s tremendous value that equals our own.

I wanted to share today about a gentle soul that I have been blessed to serve on several occasions. Bob has never responded to me except to speak with the eyes or a nod of the head. I don’t know what mental health issues or traumas are at play here but when I see Bob, I pray for the wisdom to look in Bob’s eyes and know what treasures are hidden there. I always feel an emotional tug when engaging Bob. I feel I have the opportunity to carry a very fragile and expensive piece of China for a brief moment and I want to do its value justice. I never want to dismiss or take for granted that here is a child of the King and there is no limit of the time and resources that should be shared regardless of the return that I might receive. It is humbling for me to be around Bob because I can so easily be in the business of serving people and forget to see the one. Jesus talked about leaving the 99 to search for the one lost sheep and “carry” it home.

Those who serve and those who support OIM are the ones who allow for these precious and valuable moments.

I pray that God will use me to show his overwhelming love for Bob that comes with no strings attached. I also pray that God will soften Bob’s heart enough to let someone inside and represent that overwhelming love that comes with no strings attached.

Rick O, Staff