Mandala Workshop

“Mandalas are an ancient artistic technique used in many cultures around the world as an aid to understanding who we are as individuals and as part of the universe around us. The inside of the circle represents our inner world and the outside represents the outer world.” 

This was the perspective that local artist Claudia Salguere from MASC Ottawa brought to Innercity Arts, where she recently led a workshop on mandalas. Claudia led a calming and meditative workshop, giving each participant identical instructions. Two things struck me by the end of the night: the first, was how peaceful the energy in the room was during this exercise as everyone was focused on their mandala. The second, was how different each persons mandala was despite being given identical instructions and materials. We laid out each mandala at the end of the night and were amazed at the diverse approached each artist brought to the exercise. Thank you Claudia! 

 

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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. 

#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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Larissa’s Journey: My Christmas Wish

Larissa’s Journey is a blog series that we hope will offer insight and understanding into the lives of one of the young people in the Innercity Arts program. We hope to raise awareness, challenge misconceptions, and honestly reflect the lives of those who call the streets their home. This blog is the more detailed account of Larissa’s on air presentations on Family Radio CHRI, 99.1 FM, each weekday at 8 am and 5 pm. Thanks for listening.

Larissa’s-Journey

My Christmas Wish is that someone will pay for my driver’s license so I can get my license. I’d also like a gift card to Costco – they have the best cookies ever! When I was a kid, I used to get up in the middle of the night and empty the cookie jar.

I wish that all the youth in the program would have a safe place to go on Christmas night. I wish that someone would donate like $3 million dollars to the organization and you guys could buy this office place for your own.

For the Innercity Arts program, I wish that we get new supplies for the kids to use. Some of our old supplies are a little rickety now.

I wish that youth who are now on the streets could get the help they need. For those listening, if you are at Tim Hortons and you see someone who might be homeless, buy a five dollar gift card and drop it in his hat. Every homeless person needs to eat.

Editor: Please stay tuned to Family Radio CHRI 99.1 weekdays at 8 am and 5 pm as Larissa expresses her thanks to OIM and all those who support this ministry. Then come back to this blog and read the full length episode in Larissa’s own words. Thanks!

 

 

Larissa’s Journey: My Changed Life

Larissa’s Journey is a blog series that we hope will offer insight and understanding into the lives of one of the young people in the Innercity Arts program. We hope to raise awareness, challenge misconceptions, and honestly reflect the lives of those who call the streets their home. This blog is the more detailed account of Larissa’s on air presentations on Family Radio CHRI, 99.1 FM, each weekday at 8 am and 5 pm. Thanks for listening.

Larissa’s-Journey

You know, if it wasn’t for all the organizations who help youth in Ottawa, I would probably be under a bridge, dead.

Without the Innercity Arts program, I would not have the food I needed to survive. When I started at OIM, I only had enough money for one meal a week.

One time my aunt took me to a restaurant, and she bought me a meal. Since I wasn’t used to eating all that much, I took the rest of the meal home, and it was all I had for the last two weeks of the month. Really, I found out that steak doesn’t taste all that good on the second week. But that’s all I had.

OIM would supply me with two meals a week, plus some money to buy more food. Now I had food covered for four or five days.

Since starting in the program…

I have schizophrenia, right. If I don’t have a routine, or schedule that I can follow, I tend to go off my meds, I go buy drugs and drive away nice people out of my life.

I burn bridges.

When I go to the Innercity Arts program, it gives me direction, keeps me stable, and I always have a safe place to go. If there is a delay in my medication, I can always go to OIM and feel safe, comfortable and welcome. It is a safe environment and a very positive one.

OIM gave me hope that no matter what I do, I am going to be OK, as long as I keep at it. OIM taught me that. Before OIM I had no motivation. OIM gave me support, and continues to be a lifeline for my life.

Editor: Please stay tuned to Family Radio CHRI 99.1 weekdays at 8 am and 5 pm as Larissa next shares “My Christmas Wish.” Then come back to this blog and read the full length episode in Larissa’s own words.

 

 

Larissa’s Journey: I Met OIM – Choir & Innercity Arts

Larissa’s Journey is a blog series that we hope will offer insight and understanding into the lives of one of the young people in the Innercity Arts program. We hope to raise awareness, challenge misconceptions, and honestly reflect the lives of those who call the streets their home. This blog is the more detailed account of Larissa’s on air presentations on Family Radio CHRI, 99.1 FM, each weekday at 8 am and 5 pm. Thanks for listening.

Larissa’s-Journey

How I first met OIM?

Well, there was this girl that used to go to choir, Alisha, and I asked her to come over. In my kitchen, I could only find macaroni and cheese. I didn’t have any money. None.

She said, “I go to this place where they pay me to sing. They also have an art group. If you like, I could call Moira and see if you could go.”

I was like, “Ohh… maybe I could get some free food.” I was so happy, and thought, “Maybe there is a chance for me.” I was on my last straw and did not know what to do. At the same time, I was also nervous, thinking it was not going to be what I thought it would be. Honestly, it was better. It was very organized.”

When I first went to choir, I was really excited, because I thought: “I could become famous.” I was so excited to become famous. Once I tried it out, I thought, “This is awesome.”

That was the beginning.

I got into the choir, and had to go on a waiting list to get into the art group.

I begged Moira to go to the art group, begged for weeks on end.  When an opening came up in the younger “Innercity Arts” program, Moira told me. I asked her about all the details

I was worried that if I came to the art group that I would be judged, thinking they would think I would be in the same place as they were. The youth made me feel like I was a part of everything. They involved me in just about everything. When I come to the Innercity Arts program, it’s like, “Hey everyone! Larissa’s here!”

When I got to the art group, I couldn’t believe how good it was. I loved it. I enjoyed myself. I did really good with fabric art.  Really good! I sell all my fabric art at the art shows we have each spring.

I never felt unwelcome, and though sometimes I got teased, it’s been going well.

Editor: Please stay tuned to Family Radio CHRI 99.1 weekdays at 8 am and 5 pm as Larissa next shares “My Changed Life.” Then come back to this blog and read the full length episode in Larissa’s own words.

 

 

Larissa’s Journey: Off The Streets

Larissa’s Journey is a blog series that we hope will offer insight and understanding into the lives of one of the young people in the Innercity Arts program. We hope to raise awareness, challenge misconceptions, and honestly reflect the lives of those who call the streets their home. This blog is the more detailed account of Larissa’s on air presentations on Family Radio CHRI, 99.1 fm, each weekday at 8 am and 5 pm. Thanks for listening.

Larissa’s-Journey

I got off the streets, because I got pregnant.

I stayed at a male rooming house when I was pregnant. Then my partner went off to jail, and I went to Windsor to see my mom. It didn’t go well. She was on crack and kicked me out. She kept her crack pipe behind the garbage pail in the kitchen. Her crack dealer was coming over all the time, and she kicked me out because she was too nervous to deal with things in the right way.

Eventually I got back to Ottawa, and stayed at the family shelter motel. I had my daughter while I was living there. Children’s Aid deemed my place unlivable, so I went to another shelter and my daughter was placed in care. It was hard to give my daughter up, but I couldn’t look after her properly.

Later on I put her up for adoption, but it’s an open adoption, and I can visit her. I don’t visit her, because I think it would be too hard for her. Maybe some day I will. I get letters twice a year with pictures of my daughter.  She is five years old.

I stayed at the shelter until I got Ottawa housing, probably about six months.  I’m still in Ottawa Housing in a one bedroom apartment. They sprayed my apartment for bed bugs and cockroaches some months ago, but yesterday they showed up again. The exterminators don’t know why the problem continues, and they are investigating.

In my first apartment I hit my head on the bathtub – real bad. It was like someone grabbed me and smashed my head against the tub. I fell. I woke up the next day in the tub. I never went to the hospital.

Editor: Please stay tuned to Family Radio CHRI 99.1 weekdays at 8 am and 5 pm as Larissa next shares how she first connected with OIM’s Innercity Arts and Choir programs. Then come back to this blog and read the full length episode in Larissa’s own words.

 

 

Larissa’s Journey: Life On My Own – Homeless On The Streets

Larissa’s Journey is a blog series that we hope will offer insight and understanding into the lives of one of the young people in the Innercity Arts program. We hope to raise awareness, challenge misconceptions, and honestly reflect the lives of those who call the streets their home. This blog is the more detailed account of Larissa’s on air presentations on Family Radio CHRI, 99.1 fm, each weekday at 8 am and 5 pm. Thanks for listening.

homeless on the streets

I don’t remember when I left the shelter. It just was not working for me. I got a boyfriend, and we slept outside together. We were on the streets for about a year.

The pattern was that I would sleep outside in the spring, summer and fall, and go to a shelter for the winter (usually, although there were some winter nights I would be outside). Each time I went outside I’d be sure to have a new boyfriend. It was not safe to be alone.

Life on the streets is different. Everything you knew before, all your survival skills are not enough to survive. You have to hope that someone will have pity on you and give you money, or one of the drop in centers you go to during the day will have everything ready for you. For example, if the showers are not available, you are not showering.

To be able to have food, water, and safety – which can mean being around the right people – that’s the survival skill, along with camping skills. You have to be able to camp to survive outside or on the streets. How to start a fire, what to do on a snowy night when you’re outside (you can die in your sleep from hypothermia), how to find shelter (I’ve slept under a bridge where it’s the most freezing cold place ever) or just sleep along the side of the road. Freezing to death was one constant worry. In the summer, I’d worry about sleeping somewhere and maybe someone with a knife would find you and there is such danger.

I was homeless for four years, and on the streets for three.

We went to drop ins during the day: we made the rounds to all the drop ins, ‘Out of the Cold’ programs, and any place warm wherever we could  stay for a while. Free food was very important.

I got jumped once, and got beat up badly. I did not call the police because the girl that beat me up sometimes let me sleep at her place.

Editor: Please stay tuned to Family Radio CHRI 99.1 weekdays at 8 am and 5 pm as Larissa next shares her experiences first coming “Off The Streets.” Then come back to this blog and read the full length episode in Larissa’s own words. 

 

Larissa’s Journey: Teen Years

Larissa’s Journey is a blog series that we hope will offer insight and understanding into the lives of one of the young people in the Innercity Arts program. We hope to raise awareness, challenge misconceptions, and honestly reflect the lives of those who call the streets their home. This blog is the more detailed account of Larissa’s on-air presentations on Family Radio CHRI, 99.1 FM, each weekday at 8 am and 5 pm. Thanks for listening.

Larissa’s JourneyNo more foster homes would take me. No more group homes. I had aged out. They asked me where I wanted to live. Since I had always wanted to live in Ottawa, I chose there. They dropped me off at the young women’s shelter, and left me on my own.

I didn’t feel ready to be on my own, but it was a rush – at least at first.  I was so new to everything. At the shelter I could go out whenever I wanted (in group homes you weren’t allowed to do this), and I felt like a free bird. After three weeks though, things were very different.

I had freedom yes, but there were also responsibilities. Before the shelter, anything I did, I got a slap on the wrist, and told not to do that again. Consequences came at the shelter. Anything you did wrong, you had to answer for it and deal with it. It was terrible to be an adult. At sixteen I was forced to be an adult, and I wasn’t ready.

My clothes were always stolen by other girls. I was a bit smaller than everyone else, so tighter clothes on the other girls was very popular. I watched them in my clothes, and I felt like crying. Some of those clothes had memories.

At the shelter, for example, I learned that you couldn’t share a toothbrush. Hygiene was different for me too. I really didn’t know how to look after myself. I still don’t know some things. I don’t do dishes. I used to fill the tub with hot water, soak the dishes in the tub with ½ tub of bleach, and you let them soak. When you can pull them out and there’s no food stuff on it they were ready.

When I was about 16, I went to see my mom, and found her Percoset and OxyContin pills and my mom was doing crack. I used those drugs for about one month before they almost killed me. Every step was like almost floating on clouds. I felt like I was on a big marshmallow. I couldn’t feel the ground under me

I went home to the kitchen and dropped.  I went to the hospital for a couple of weeks. I almost lost one of my kidneys. That was the end of drugs for me. 

I was at the shelter until I was seventeen. I left when I was banned and was homeless.

Editor: Please stay tuned to Family Radio CHRI 99.1 weekdays at 8 am and 5 pm as Larissa next shares what it was like to be living on her own, homeless on the streets. Then come back to this blog and read the full length episode in Larissa’s own words.