January 6, 2018: the day of the Innercity Arts Program giveaway to reduce inventory, find good homes for unused art supplies, save landfill space – and all for FREE. We had just over 100 people come to our ‘Give Away’ and I had the task of standing outside and directing people to the correct door to access the space.
Minus 27 degrees Celsius – windchill made it to minus 30s.
Apart from the emotional weight of moving Innercity Arts to donated Dymon Storage and no prospect of a permanent space, it was a good day. I was dressed appropriately for the weather (mostly – although the thought of clients spending their time outside in this weather was incomprehensible, and these thoughts were recurring), people were happy and friendly, expecting to ‘score’ some free art supplies and go back home to warmth and comfort.
A young lady, maybe 16 or 17 approaches, no hat or gloves, her coat buttons almost popping apart but still holding together (I’m guessing she is pregnant).
I ask her name and she responds, Shelley (not her real name). I tell her mine, and she says, “I know you,” and with a certain amount of pride, continues, “I’m in the Art program.”
We chat for a while: she enjoys the Innercity Arts program and is currently on ODSP (Ontario Disability Support Program). She loves to attend the program because, well, she doesn’t get out very much and it is very positive, and yes, she is pregnant.
Just then a car drives up and Rachel (not her real name) from our older group of the Innercity Arts program arrives to collect some of her art. She doesn’t stay visiting long (what is it, minus 35 Celsius?), goes inside to get her stuff, back to the car and leaves.
Then Shelley goes inside, and I continue my watch for folks trying wrong doors to get to the art give away. All good.
Later that day, I have a déjà vu moment and connect the dots.
Shelley is Rachel seven years ago.
Seven years ago, Rachel was homeless or shacked up in cheap hotels either for one night or just a few hours at a time, on drugs and selling drugs, had pock marks all over her face from drug use, was prostituting herself on craigslist and was either pregnant or very close to becoming pregnant (chronologically).
Fast forward seven years in our program, and now she is healthy and well, not using drugs at all, is an amazing mother to her young boy, and volunteers as a mentor to the kids in the younger program.
In that moment of illumination, I had a refreshed platform from which to pray, “Father God, these are your little ones. Provide us all we need so that we may continue to serve you, and serve others.”
We continue to pray and search for space for our Innercity Arts program, so that we can help more kids and change lives.
Ken MacLaren, Executive Director
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