- Innercity Freedom Group meets Monday mornings from 10-11:30am.
- For more information please email Bonnie at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 613-237-6031
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.
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.
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.
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.
“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!
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.
These 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.
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.
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.
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!
Every year, Innercity Arts holds a Christmas party for all of the youth in the program. It’s a special night, when both the older and younger groups come together, along with the volunteers, to celebrate the special time of year.
We were blessed this year to have some of our behind-the-scenes cooks prepare and serve a hot turkey meal. This included the fire department – who regularly cooks for the art group – and who brought mountains of food and stuck around to serve seconds and thirds.
It’s always a blessing to see these young people, who have so much turmoil and stress in their daily lives, relax and laugh together – exchanging gift, hugs and smiles.
Each youth was given a gift just for them. A gift bag with a gift card, chocolate, and art pens – along with a card made by their mentor with a personal message in it. Each gift bag also included a journal or sketch book chosen just for them.
We tried to choose a different book for each young person that suited their personality. For one young person, who has had a particularly difficult year, we chose a journal with a CS Lewis quote “There are far, far better things ahead than any we leave behind. ” When she opened the journal, I told her I hoped she liked it – and she exclaimed “I love it! CS Lewis is my favourite author!”
For another young person, we chose a journal that had a galaxy on it because she loves painting galaxies. When she opened it, she said “Oh my God! You guys must really love me!”
It was an awesome night, and we are so thankful to everyone who helped make this happen, including all of our amazing cooks, volunteers, the firefighters at Station 12 C and the Christmas Cheer Foundation.
Larissa’s Journey is a blog series featuring one of the young people in the Innercity Arts program that began on November 26, 2018. We hope it offered insight and understanding into the lives of one of the young people in the program. Today’s blog post is a Special Message that comes directly from Larissa’s on-air presentation on Family Radio CHRI, 99.1 FM (airing 8 am and 5 pm). Thanks for listening!
Hi, my name is Larissa.
I just want to say thanks for letting me tell my story here on Family Radio CHRI. Telling my story and having people listen is really a great step. I like that it can help people who really need it right now.
Maybe my story would touch your heart and help you decide to help someone close to you.
Sometimes the person you least expect could use your help.
Thanks to all who help us keep our art program going through your donations. If it wasn’t for that program, I would not have been able to make it. That support helped me get through some hard times, and for that I am very thankful.
We are coming to the end of the year, so please consider giving a gift to help youth, just like me.
Thanks to the staff and volunteers at OIM, they have made a difference in my life. They have touched my soul.