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Volunteer Perspective: Why I Love Outreach

I love street outreach. I don’t go out because of a sense of obligation, or because it’s what ‘good Christians’ do to get on God’s nice list. I really love going out on the streets every week with a bag or two stuffed with things that I can bless our street friends with.

Before I began street outreach I hated the feeling I got in my stomach whenever I saw somebody on the street asking for change. I never knew what to do. I thought, “what if I give them change and they spend it on drugs or booze?”  I felt terrible, mumbling excuses about not having change, just walking by not making eye contact.

One freezing day while downtown during Winterlude (a big winter festival in Ottawa) with my family, God showed me a better way. As we were passing by a young man asking for change below the underpass, I remembered the granola bars and hand warmers we had tucked under my toddler’s stroller. When we offered them to our new street friend he gratefully accepted. A light went on in my head! It was so easy to be a blessing, and each of us received something out of it.

I contacted Ottawa Innercity Ministries and started their Urban Intervention Training, and I couldn’t wait to get out on the streets and start outreach. Shortly after I started going out on outreach our family had taken some major blows. It has been emotionally exhausting at times, but as Joyce Meyers says “When you’re feeling down, go out and do something good for someone else! Be a blessing and you will feel better.” She is so right. It’s impossible to stay in the ‘sorry for myself rut’ when I’m focused on someone else rather than on myself.

Last night our street outreach team met a street friend who asked for prayers for his dad who is dying of cancer. We took turns praying for his dad right there with him on the street. I was shocked and humbled by our street friend’s words when he started to pray. Instead of asking for housing for himself, and provisions of any kind, instead of asking for food, or even healing for his dying dad, he just thanked God over and over for so many things. He thanked God for the privilege of having known so great a man as his father, for friends, for the blessing of knowing what it is to be homeless and to be able to reach out in kindness to his fellow street friends. Wow. How many times have I come to God with a list of requests as long as my arm and tacked on a quick ‘thank you’ at end? I was deeply humbled by this beautiful prayer by such a sweet man.

I love outreach, because since I started I have begun to look at the world differently. I see people in my city differently, I see myself differently, and I see God differently. Thanks be to Him.

Blessings,

Jen

 

If you are interested in learning more about Street Outreach or our Urban Intervention Training (winter program starting Jan. 30th) contact our office at 613-237-6031, or email us at ottawainnercity@rogers.com. 

“I brought Christmas”

Reviewing our current ‘Christmas trend,’ I see a big build up leading to Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, celebrating the birth of our Saviour on December 25th, with an almost unbelievable and instantaneous shift to Boxing Day (and week) sales and super deals, and now to what is (this year at least) a very cold and frigid journey with ‘old man Winter’ bringing temperatures (with wind chill) to     -39°celcius. Whatever happened to Jesus? The ‘Twelve Days of Christmas’ (not the partridge and the pear tree version) is actually a season designed to continue the celebration of Jesus’ birth.

In keeping with this, I want to tell you the story, ‘The Christmas Hampers’.  When I was having lunch with Tessa (OIM’s Christmas Story – still in our archives on the blog page) before we went to do our taping at CHRI, she told me their little family of four didn’t have enough money to have a Christmas dinner.  Afterwards I made a call to a partnering church that was going to collect dinners and deliver hampers and asked if there was enough for another hamper delivery. They said yes.

To make a long story shorter, we obtained Christmas dinner hampers for four family ‘units’ made up of street kids from our art group who had capacity to cook, and Moira our youth outreach worker and I delivered them on December 21. It was an amazing day!

We mostly think of giving hampers to families who would have a mediocre Christmas and a meager Christmas dinner. Folks who are well-deserving, maybe having difficulty making ends meet, who can’t afford lavish gifts and so on. It’s like boosting something small to make it better.

This was not that.

This was giving a hamper to folks who have no Christmas at all.  None.  No tinsel. No gifts. No ornaments. Not even a Charlie Brown Christmas tree. One of the places we visited, a bachelor apartment, you could sit on the bed, turn on the stove and run water in the small sink without getting up.  No decorations or anything.  Nothing.

Something happened when those hampers came into those dark, dismal, ill furnished rooms. Everything changed.  Time stood still as kids rampaged through the cardboard hamper box with squeals, shouts and exclamations of joy, appreciation and, well, it was just like Christmas.

It was one of the most heart-warming experiences ever!

At the first home, there were a few guys who were super happy to get the hamper, and invited us in for ‘a tour’ of the place(!). Two ‘families’ invited us in for tea or hot chocolate, but sorry, no marshmallows.

I dropped Moira off and proceeded over to Hull to deliver the final hamper before heading home.

I located the residence and sent a text to the couple with the ten month old infant. I sat in my car and sent this text:

“Hi guys. Ken here. I’m in your driveway.  I brought Christmas.  Come on out.”

I sent the text and then stopped.

I stared in amazement at what I had written: “I brought Christmas”.

A flood of emotion cascaded over me as I recalled the other three hamper deliveries and what that meant to those families.  If we had not done that, there would be no Christmas. They wouldn’t just have a watered down, or ‘small Christmas’, they would have nothing.  No Christmas.  Nada.

In my mind’s eye I saw how these kids were just so like the kids in our lives on Christmas morning: the joy, the surprise, the magic and more – the feeling of being loved, the sense that someone cared about them, they weren’t forgotten.

Thoughts rushed my mind:  ‘No, it’s not me.  It’s the church committee. No.  It’s the many people who bought groceries enough to distribute to 80 families.  No, it’s more than that.  We all had a part in this.  It’s the supporters, the prayer warriors, the volunteers who help make OIM happen, who give and give and give, and maybe never see first-hand, the fruit of their labours.’

This is so much more than me delivering hampers.  It’s about your Christmas contribution.  It’s about your donation, your prayer, your caring and love for the broken, the rejected and the forgotten.

But this Christmas there were a few who weren’t forgotten.  A few who felt the true meaning of Christmas – of giving, of sharing – the message, ‘I love you.’

It’s still the best message ever!  Happy New Year!

A Special heARTfelt Thursday: Sneak Peek!

P4Y Art Show Collage 2013-11-191

Texture, colour, pattern, meaning…

OIM is excited to extend an invitation to friends and community members for the up-coming Passion 4 Youth art show.

The Passion 4 Youth artists have been hard at work this Fall to create pieces that explore the idea of violence and social structures. Each artist has created an art piece that represents a major structure in our city that has had a positive or negative influence on their lives. From the perspective of a street-engaged youth, we will be looking at the Children’s Aid Society, the criminal justice system, financial institutions, immigration, the media, health facilities, and many more.

We encourage you to come out. Doors will be open 7:00pm-9:00pm, and there will be a suggested $5 donation at the door. Light refreshments provided.

Tabaret Hall, Room 112, uOttawa–550 Cumberland St. 

Everything I Have

vaccuum

“It happened again. I have to leave,” she told me in a panic.

Laura had called me several times that week. She was always in a panic because of the abusive partner she was living with. Things were getting progressively worse for Laura, but she had never before talked about leaving.

This time was different. Laura no longer felt safe.

She knew she would have to leave, yet there was nowhere to go. No family to turn to. No friends to crash with. Laura had been off the streets for over a year, and though she was glad to be indoors she felt like the streets would be safer than staying in her abusive relationship. Laura kept telling me she had to leave.

However, Laura was worried about her stuff – the processions she had collected throughout the year. She knew she couldn’t carry them all with her on the street, and had nowhere to store them. She asked if she could store some of her stuff in the art room. I agreed, and we planned to meet there later.

What I didn’t know, is that Laura did not own luggage, she had nothing to put her possessions in, no bags or boxes. So, she improvised. She fit as much as she could into a small laundry cart. Then, she looked for something else with wheels…..the vacuum cleaner. She attached a laundry hamper full of her stuff to the vacuum cleaner using packing tape. Once everything was packed and secured, she left the apartment and started walking to the art room.

I want you to think about how tired she must have felt dragging these heavy loads with her. How embarrassed she must have felt, as people looked at her drag the vacuum cleaner. Then imagine, walking with this baggage for over 2 hours. That’s how far her apartment is from the art room. And with no bus tickets or car, walking was her only option.

She arrived at the art room completely exhausted. We packed her stuff away and she thanked me. She said it was a relief knowing that her stuff would be safe.

She told me that one of the items was a stone memorial from the grave of her parents – her most precious procession.

It was heartbreaking to see Laura in such a state; still I was happy that if nothing else, she had the art room as a special space where she could store her prized processions. I felt honored she put her most valued possessions in my trust. When you have very little, those few things represent a whole lot; enough to make it worth a trip with vacuum in tow.

~Moira, OIM Staff

How We Manage

“I figured out where all the Food Banks are, so I go there first. Then I can figure out what I need and go get it at the Dollar Store. Then I go to Bulk Barn and get some candy.”

We had been discussing minimum wage, and volunteers and youth alike had bad jobs to talk about. Minimum wage hasn’t always been over $10, so we swapped stories about $7 jobs and under-the-table work we had been paid to do by uncles and friends. As much as it was a discussion about money it was a discussion about priorities and value.

What do I want?

What do I need?

Can I live on this?

One of the youth was sharing their experience as a clerk in a retail store. They explained how they had been taught to balance the books at the end of the night, figure out which cash was short, and count-out the safe before heading home. They were very proud of everything they had learned, and looked forward to eventually becoming a key-holder. Key-holders get paid $0.40 extra, which, as they pointed out, is a lot of money. We did some quick calculations and figured out that they would be able to buy milk more often, and other things like hot dogs.

$0.40 x 25 hours of part time = an extra $10 a week

That’s an extra $40 a month or $480 a year

When I was younger I didn’t think $10 was very much, but now I live on my own I realize just how much you can buy with $10 if you spend it wisely. Now I am always learning ways to make that little bit go just a bit farther, and some of the best teachers I have are my street-friends from OIM.

I am continually impressed with the ingenuity and thriftiness of our street-friends. Many of our street-friends may struggle with delayed gratification and addictions, but each individual is trying their hardest to make their money go its farthest.

More than anything it is a discussion about value. I had a young man explain to me what he needs to do to visit his family—how long he needs to pan-handle, where he needs to do it, and what his average earnings would be. He then explained how long that money would last, where he would need to go next to make more, and exactly what he was using it for. He didn’t need a spread sheet to understand what he had, what he needed and what he could get—he was keenly aware of his financial situation, his priorities and the value of money.

These kinds of interactions make me question my own priorities and values, and my understanding of finances. I pray we can grow a culture of stewardship focused on understanding and questioning these two ideas, living determined to understand our financial situation and not to be overwhelmed. It feels as though ‘managing’ life seems to be less about having much as much as understanding what you have.

 

 

By Selina

OIM Staff