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The old couch in the art room

In the art room there was an old couch that we were going to throw away. It was stained and falling apart and we didn’t really need it anymore.

But we never got around to throwing it away so it just sat in the corner of the art room.

No one ever used the old couch, unless they were really upset and needed to speak privately with someone. Unintentionally, it became the place where youth would sit with volunteers and, sometimes, cry and pour their hearts out.

I can remember many conversations on that couch. Comforting many young people as they cried about something that was going on in their lives. Something that would often happen as I sat on the couch comforting a youth is that the other youth in the program, one by one, would come by the couch and offer a kind word, hug or smile to the youth who was upset. Sometimes they would say “I’ve been there man” or “I’m here for you” or they would offer the loving gesture of a cigarette.

That old couch, as dilapidated as it was, became a safe space where tears were shed, trust was built and people were loved.

-Moira, Staff

 

30 Days of Prayer, 30 Seconds Each Day, In Honour of Our 30th Anniversary

This story is part of A Special Series this month in honour of OIM’s 30th Anniversary. We hope to raise awareness, challenge misconceptions, and honestly reflect the lives of those who call the streets their home. As you reflect on these stories, please take a moment to PRAY EACH DAY – just 30 seconds – for our ministry’s needs.

Thanks and God Bless.

 

 

He Came To Us

Jason was invited to Innercity Arts by a friend. He liked the opportunity to have a good meal and hang out with friends, but he had no interest in the staff and volunteers. It was very clear from the beginning that Jason did not trust us. He was very blunt with me, and said he wasn’t interested in speaking with the volunteers at all. I told him mutual respect was all that was required – no opening up and sharing was necessary.

We soon learned that Jason has a tumultuous home life, which led to a series of foster homes and group homes. He said that most adults reminded him of the staff he had to deal with growing up. So, we took it slow. We did not push Jason to open up, and mostly we just let him be.

One day, Jason arrived at the art group in crisis. He was crying over something that had happened and he said “I didn’t know what to do…I didn’t know who to talk to.” He came to us – and we sat with him and listened as he cried. He thanked us before leaving, and gave us a hug.

-Moira, Staff

 

30 Days of Prayer, 30 Seconds Each Day, In Honour of Our 30th Anniversary

This story is part of A Special Series this month in honour of OIM’s 30th Anniversary. We hope to raise awareness, challenge misconceptions, and honestly reflect the lives of those who call the streets their home. As you reflect on these stories, please take a moment to PRAY EACH DAY – just 30 seconds – for our ministry’s needs.

Thanks and God Bless You.

 

 

Thank you 9th Hour Theatre!

I met Jonathan Harris back in 2011, when I was looking for someone to come to the art group to do a theatre workshop. He told me all about his theatre company, 9th Hour Theatre, which used the performing arts to explore faith. I was immediately stuck by how warm and open he was, and how passionate he was about theatre. Soon after, he came to Innercity Arts and did a theatre workshop. He taught the youth about storytelling, and encouraged them all to ‘tell their story’. It was a powerful workshop.

Almost immediately, Jonathan could tell there was something special about Innercity Arts. He did not need to be convinced, he could see the value in what we were doing. He eventually became a mentor in our program and began attending each week. The youth were immediately drawn to the same openness and warmth I had seen in him.

This year, Jonathan told me that we wanted to do more for the art program. He said, “I don’t have a lot of money, but I do have a theatre company.” He decided to use what he had to do as much good as possible.

He told me his plan to raise funds for OIM after each performance of Godspell, the musical 9th Hour would be performing at Centrepointe Theatre. He set a goal to raise $5000, which truthfully I thought was a little ambitious! Well, they surpassed their goal and raised $6,718.29!

All of us here at OIM were blown away by both the talent we saw at Godspell, and the generosity of 9th Hour Theatre.

On a personal note, I feel inspired by Jonathan Harris. Sometimes, it’s easy for me to think that I do not have the resources to make a difference. But Jonathan is proof that if you use what you have, you can do so much good.   

We want to thank Jonathan Harris, for his continued support of OIM. We also want to thank the board of 9th Hour Theatre, the talented cast and crew  of Godspell and for everyone who came out to attend the show.  

I encourage you all to keep your eyes open for 9th Hour’s next production. You can follow them here.

 

 

Coming Full Circle @ The Innercity Arts Giveaway

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.

(Click to read our blog series about Rachel’s journey from Homelessness to Hope: “Rachel’s Gift” – episode: One, Two, Three, Four, Five, Six, Seven, Eight)

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

 

Click for the full story covered by CTV News:

  At-risk youth arts program looking for new space 

WATCH TV Spot

 

Click for the full story covered by CBC News:

Arts program for homeless youth forced to find new space

 

 

One evening, while on street outreach…

Earlier in the day at church I prayed for increased spiritual closeness to our street friends. Wow, was I rewarded!

Later that evening, my young street outreach partner and I met 52 street friends. They represented all facets of this diverse culture; those just trying to get by, those seeking secure and comfortable housing, those on disability and those suffering with addictions.

A former “hooker” hugged me while we were ministering to someone and told us both how OIM has positively influenced her life.

Later, a middle aged unmarried couple asked for prayers for themselves and also for the man’s son who was also present. The couple expressed their love for one another and inquired as to how they could be married by a minister.

We had several open and friendly lifestyle conversations with young adults living on the edge and the fringes of society. One young woman confided the food we provided her that night would preclude her from shoplifting and its inherent dangers!

We prayed with others and were both inspired by the rewards of our work for The Kingdom that night as never before. In fact, I believe my outreach partner, who is new to the city and looking for meaningful ways to help the under privileged, felt the Holy Spirit’s presence that night and was re-invigorated by the experience.

 

Peter T, Volunteer

 

 

 

What if it was you?

Valentines Day Week – just passed. Kudos to all of our volunteer outreach workers in all capacities: street outreach, drop in, office drop in, prayer partners, donors, those who cook for our event dinners, the ones that donate sleeping bags and all kinds of other goodies that we use as tools to make connections with those who live and breathe on the streets of our city.

Sometimes, just sometimes, our street outreach volunteers might walk their routes in minus 30 degrees, and come back feeling somewhat disappointed because on this cold night, they only saw a couple of street friends. Then the thoughts come, “I wonder if I am making all that much difference anyhow. It doesn’t feel like it tonight at least.”

Stop. Pause.

What if it was you?

You on the streets, maybe even on that one cold night when no one much pays you any attention really, and you feel invisible, forgotten, neglected, and abandoned. Then the recurring thoughts from your past come: thoughts of ‘no good’, you’ll never amount to anything, you are not really worth the effort…

Then an outreach worker shows up with a sandwich, a juice box, but more importantly, a smile, an inquiry about your week, a reminder of something that you said last week or time when you last connected, and some random (or planned) word of encouragement that really lifted your spirits…

How would that make you feel?

For the one’s and two’s and groups on the streets, and the teams of two or three volunteers walking and watching-  add these together and you have two: one, a great deal of difference in someone(s) life; and two, ‘everything’ (and all that entails) to our those who call the streets their home.

A small thing for us maybe, but what if it was ‘you?’ I know it would mean a lot to me.

Ken MacLaren

Imagine A World With More HOPE

george frederick watts hope paintings

This is George Frederic Watts 1886 painting, “Hope.” Hope is sitting on a globe, blindfolded, clutching a wooden lyre with only one string left intact. She sits in a hunched position, with her head leaning towards the instrument, perhaps so she can hear the faint music she can make with the sole remaining string.

This painting,  inspired a scene from a (1922 film) of the same name and it is thought by some that it had an influence on Picasso’s early ‘Blue Period’ paintings.

Nelson Mandella reportedly had a print of the painting on the wall of his prison cell on Robben Island..

After Egypt was defeated by Israel during the Six-Day War, the Egyptian government issued copies of this painting to its troops.

The painting was the subject of a lecture by Dr Frederick G. Sampson in Richmond, Virginia, in the late 1980s, who described it as a study in contradictions. The lecture was attended by Jeremiah Wright and inspired him to give a sermon in 1990 on the subject of Hope. He said:

…with her clothes in rags, her body scarred and bruised and bleeding, her harp all but destroyed and with only one string left, she had the audacity to make music and praise God … To take the one string you have left and to have the audacity to hope … that’s the real word God will have us hear from this passage and from Watt’s painting.

Barack Obama attended this sermon, and later adopted the phrase “audacity of hope” as the title for his 2004 Democratic National Convention keynote address as well as the title of his second book. Obama’s speech instantly catapulted him to a national stage, both as a star within the Democratic party and set the stage for the day that he would become president.

Imagine a World with more Hope.

Rom 15:13 May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in your faith, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may overflow with hope.

Ken MacLaren

 

 

 

Danielle’s Story: Episode 3 – A repose in the midst of trouble

“Danielle’s Story” is a series running throughout December.
To listen to the audio backgrounder from Family Radio CHRI, click the play button below. Follow along all month to hear this amazing story!

As soon as I turned 16, my friend’s mother invited me to live with them. It was a very emotional experience finally escaping my family once and for all.

It was a highlight of my life.

I remember laying down in the small bedroom that they let me stay in. They painted a nice cloud on the ceiling and they all were so very sweet.

At the same time, I was worried about how they might treat me. I had these panic attacks, with my heart racing and feeling like I was about to die.

I was confused emotionally, and scared, I guess.

My friends mom was very structured. She taught me about doing chores: doing dishes, laundry and all that. She never yelled at me, included me in the trips to the cottage, included me in all their family activities, helping in the garden.

They noticed that I was struggling with my homework, so they sat down with me at the table and helped me focus. I just wanted to write stories, but they helped me get through school.

 Living with my friend proved to be the safest time in my life that I have ever felt. My grades went from D’s to A’s. 

Stay tuned to Family Radio CHRI as two episodes unfold each week following the 8 o’clock morning and 5 o’clock evening news. As you prepare for Christmas with your family remember there are kids who are all alone.

Why not let them know that they are NOT alone?

Please give consideration with your family to adding just one more person to your Christmas list and sponsoring one of the youth in our program for only $30 /month?

Click “Donate Now” and make a lasting difference in the life of someone who just never had a chance before, just like Danielle.

Danielle’s Story: Episode 1 – Early Life

“Danielle’s Story” is a series running throughout December.
To listen to the audio backgrounder from Family Radio CHRI, click the play button below. Follow along all month to hear this amazing story!

Hi my name is Danielle. This Christmas, I’d like to share my story with you- not to make you feel sorry for me, but because, I strongly believe stories help bring communities closer together. They teach us powerful lessons. They help us grow. They teach us to be thankful. I am so very thankful for all that God has given to me through OIM and people in our  community who really want to help others. Stayed tuned to Family Radio CHRI to hear my story after the 8 AM and 5 o’clock evening news. Here is my story as I told Ken.

My father had been disowned by his parents; my mom lived in a group home and suffered from mental health issues. After my mom became pregnant with me while staying at the group home, she left the province and cut all ties with my birth dad. I never met him as a child. He tried to make contact,  but my mom would not allow it. When I asked my mom about my dad, she never told me the truth, she changed the stories all the time. She told me she didn’t know where he was, but I found out later, she knew where he was all the time.  I remember as a young child asking God to please help me find my father. But I never found him.

 My step dad came into the picture when we moved to a different province, and they had a child together. I had friends that wouldn’t talk to me because my mom would tell them untrue things about me.

 It was also around then, I noticed my mother was acting very strange – she and my step dad fought constantly and she’d throw things at my stepfather. He was using drugs and alcohol regularly, and when my sister was born, she had developmental and speech delays that really affected her.  

 When my brother was born, he had even more learning disabilities. They beat him with a belt, threw him down the stairs, yelled in his ear – he can’t hear properly even now.  He hurt his sister with his metal toy car, and my step dad took the metal toy car and hit him with it on the head.

 At the  time, I wished my siblings had never been born. I think my parents stopped loving me.

 

Stay tuned to Family Radio CHRI as two episodes unfold each week following the 8 o’clock morning and 5 o’clock evening news. As you prepare for Christmas with your family remember there are kids who are all alone.

Why not let them know that they are NOT alone?

Please give consideration with your family to adding just one more person to your Christmas list and sponsoring one of the youth in our program for only $30 /month?

Click “Donate Now” and make a lasting difference in the life of someone who just never had a chance before, just like Danielle.

 

Changing the Legacy of Youth Homelessness

How can we change the legacy of youth homelessness in Ottawa?

This is a complicated question with an array of possible answers.

Back in June, we partnered with A Way Home Ottawa and set up a table at Glowfair. We asked people to answer this question in just one sentence, and write it on a piece of cardboard.

Tons of people made signs and pretty soon our table was surrounded by cardboard. People had all sorts of great suggestions: more affordable housing, advocacy, community outreach… But of all the signs, the one that stood out the most was a sign made by a little girl, who was probably around 7 years old.

When asked how to help homeless youth she wrote: Love everyone. Every day. Every night.

love everybody sign

Yeah….I think that if we all took her suggestion the legacy of youth homelessness in this city would drastically change.

 

 

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