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.  

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Whistle While You Work

Mop_and_bucketWhen the Seven Dwarfs from the classic movie Snow White went off to their day jobs in the diamond mines – as they blew a kiss to their favourite princess – they did so with a joy in their hearts while singing to a very distinct and catchy tune called “Hi-Ho Hi-Ho it’s off to work we go.” Then, as the jovial dwarfs dug away they sang “whistle while you work,” again another catchy little tune you find yourself humming to.
 
Some sing in the shower (well, let’s face it, the acoustics are pretty darn good in there). Some hum away as they focus on a hobby or while out for some exercise.
 
At Ottawa Innercity Ministries, we have 5 youth in our Work Skills program. Here they learn the basics of responsibilities and skills needed to prepare them for the work force. Under supervision and one-on-one mentorship, they strive to work towards the goals they’ve set for themselves.
 
Derrick is an active member of the program. Like clockwork he comes at his set time each and every week. He grabs his ‘to-do’ list waiting for him and just quietly begins what has been asked of him.
 
As the staff focus on our own daily expectations and responsibilities, the quietness of the building is quickly broken as Derrick puts on his headphones. He starts up his playlist and while he is working serenades us with his favourite tunes. The part I love the most about this is that Derrick doesn’t even realize he’s singing out loud. He’s just focused, relaxed and content in his surroundings.
 
Being in an old church with high ceilings, the acoustics in our building are very impressive. Beautiful melodies carry through the whole place regardless of where you are.
 
I may not always know the words to every song that Derrick sings, but I do often find myself tapping my pen or bouncing my knee to his voice.
 
I speak for the whole staff when I say that we wouldn’t trade Derrick’s “whistle while you work” energy during the week for anything, because adding music and finding joy in the simple things just seems to make the world, and work place a much better place to be in.
 
~Bonnie, Staff
 
 
 
 

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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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. 

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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 !

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.