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.






Innercity Arts Christmas Party

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.


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Larissa’s Journey: Thank You! (Part 1)

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.

Merry Christmas!


Showing Love Through Food


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 Each month, Terri drops off a home cooked meal for the youth of Innercity Arts. She always puts such love and care into her meals, making sure there are lots of fresh fruit and vegetables, delicious desserts, and plenty of food for seconds and thirds! 

Terri has a heart for youth on the streets, partly because her own son struggles with mental health issues. This was particularly difficult during his teen years. So Terri really understand that youth on the streets need special love and care. 


Thank you Terri, for showing love through your delicious cooking!

If you are interested in cooking for the art program, please contact Bonnie at, or visit 


New Home for Innercity Arts

You may remember that back in January, Innercity Arts had to leave our much loved art space. The room that had been our home for 3 years had to undergo a major renovation, so we packed up all of our art supplies in search of a new space.

We kept the program going by packing supplies into 4 Rubbermaid containers and running the program at various locations, such as the Ottawa School of Art, Centre 454 and St. Albans Anglican Church. We are so grateful for these partners who opened their doors for us. As always, the youth in the program showed their resilience and flexibility. They continued to attend the program at various locations and never complained.

We were so excited to tell the youth (after 8 months!) that we had found a new home for the art program at 391 Gladstone. Not only that, we were thrilled to show them a beautiful building where they can do all the art they have been missing – spray painting, carving, sewing, and all the messy art we have not been able to do in our temporary spaces. We also have space for a music room, where our musicians can jam and record music together!

It has been incredible to be in this space and already it feels like home. We are so excited to see what the coming years hold of the art program.

We invite you to come see the space at our open house – drop-in on October 16th from 6pm-8pm at 391 Gladstone Ave.


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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.

Restoring Hope

Restoring hope to those experiencing poverty and homelessness.One of the highlights of my week is to head out into downtown Ottawa on Thursday evenings. The anticipation of meeting up with old friends and the eager expectation of new encounters and relationships is truly an experience like no other.

No, I’m not referring to stopping into a “Cheers” like pub where everyone knows your name.

Rather what I’m talking about is being part of the OIM Outreach Team, dropping in to visit a demographic of our city commonly, though inaccurately, referred to as “homeless street people.”

You see, the friends and acquaintances I meet up with on outreach may not have a house or an apartment, but they do have a home; the streets of Ottawa and by the grace of God they have found family at OIM.

I am so thankful for God’s provision for my friends through OIM. Because of the “behind the scenes” planning and logistics and the generosity of OIM partners, each night we can go out onto the highways and by-ways and bring a blessing to our friends; whether it be a sandwich, a cold drink, toiletries or clean underwear. 

Through these initial contacts I have had the opportunity to take some time and listen to their stories, who they are, where they came from, their hopes, their dreams and even their fears. You see, once you establish the trust that comes through sharing the love of Christ in a tangible way eventually there are opportunities to share the truth of what a relationship with Christ really means and, in due course, begin to restore their hope.

-Ric, Volunteer

Home is where your backpack is

home is where your backpack isI left home when I was young to flee from the life I experienced behind closed doors. I’ve  temporarily called “home” other people’s places, done some couch surfing and attic apartment living… you know, the kind where you have to walk with your neck bent to one side. I’ve called “home” staying near biker gangs and ate raw dollar store noodles and opened “mystery cans” that didn’t have labels on them to call it dinner on the inside; I’ve referred to myself as blessed when gifted a box of cereal.

The friends we meet on the streets call the doorways of businesses, behind dumpsters, and indoor parking garages HOME. Youth call park benches, nooks under bridges and bushes safe and cozy places to sleep.

We call walking the streets with a wagon filled with sandwiches, socks, granola bars, juice or water and a gentle smile Outreach. Going out in teams of two or more on a path to find friends; some we know intimately and few we hadn’t had the  privilege of meeting until then, with a wagon filled full of hope and temporary comfort.

When we as a society go visiting friends and loved ones, we approach their front doors with excitement, anticipation and a jolly knock at the door, eager to see the faces on the other side.

Approaching our street friends’ homes is done with permission to enter, giving them the same respect that we want to be shown in our homes. We enter with a smile and a wagon filled with hostess gifts.

Ever seen someone that doesn’t necessarily look or smell like us walk around with tattered shoes, dirty hands and a less than new bag?

Ever wonder what’s inside them?

Every prized possession lays just beneath the zippers of their backpack. For some it might be a hotel sized bar of soap, a pair of socks, a water bottle…perhaps even a coveted picture of a loved one, longing to be seen. The very basics…not enough to get through the day, but valued nonetheless.

Our sandwiches, given from a gentle hand to a weathered outstretched arm goes directly into a worn backpack to be saved for later; received with a soft “thank you” and a grateful heart.

I’m overly blessed that my over-sized bag is now filled with more than a box of cereal. I now have the ability with a giving heart to pay it forward to those I’m overjoyed to call my friends. The absolute pleasure and blessing is mine to visit them in the doorways with their bags…because home is where your backpack is.

-Bonnie, Staff