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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. 

“Tessa’s Home” Episode 6: Passion 4 Youth Art Program – OIM is Home

Tessa’s Home is an 8 part series running until December 27th.  To listen to the audio backgrounder from CHRI, click below. Miss previous episodes? Click “Recent Posts” on the right sidebar.

Please help us tell Tessa’s story through your social media connections, Facebook and Twitter. Comments welcome! #TessasHome

 

Tessa continues…

When I started going to OIM’s art group, I was hooked. Their mentors, and goal focused environment helped me to gain a home, get my children back, and most-importantly, my self confidence. They’ve been more of a family to me, than my own blood, and I never felt anyone take more interest, or show me more support than them. They’ve motivated, and supported me enough to want to start working at a new shelter, and also to complete OIMs urban intervention training course and to start volunteering with their street outreach team.

The people at OIM would never have a bad word to say about any of us youth in the art group, and for that, I owe them the state of my life today. That’s what home is all about I think: no judgment, only acceptance, forgiveness, love and understanding…when I go there, it’s like what going home should be – not like the last time I went ‘home’… 

Knowing they’re privately funded, each day, I thank God, for the people who helped not only me, but many of my companions, make a better life for themselves. For the rest of my life, I will be truly grateful to these people for their help and confidence in me. To quote Mahatma Ghandi, “Be the change you want to see in the world”. I’ve never believed that more deeply, or more truly, than when I met these people, who took an interest in my life, and my goals, and my art, and then they showed me how amazing it feels, to do it for others.

This Christmas, please make a donation to help us continue our Passion 4 Youth Street Outreach program.  Together, we are making a difference! Any donation amount appreciated!  Click ‘Donate Now’

heARTfelt Thursdays: A Portrait of a Man

 Drawing - Street Outreach
A new volunteer, Sara, with OIM did this drawing recently. It was her first time on Street Outreach, and she was worried she would be nervous. Street Outreach can be unsettling at first, with all the anxieties and expectations swirling inside of you.

Her first stop was to see Clark, who is pictured above. He was sitting outside a store, soggy from the rain. He was happy to see the bright red vest coming.

Sara crouched right next to him–no hesitation–and they talked like old friends. She was kind and gentle with Clark; she listened to him attentively.

The following week Sara showed me this portrait she had drawn of him. It really looks like him, a man seen with eyes of love instead of prejudice. I believe Sara has a gift, the ability to see people the way God sees them: wonderful and loved.

OIM is so thankful for the kind of volunteers we have, like Sara so many of our volunteers see our street-friends as people–valued and loved, wonderfully made. By taking the time to get to know each street-friend Sara was able to see those wonderful parts of them, and look past the soggy street clothes and guarded posture.

I hope when people look at Sara’s portrait they will see Clark as she does, both in this drawing and on the street.

~Moira

OIM Staff

I lost a piece of my heart…

Today I lost another piece of my heart.  That’s what I feel when I meet someone who just makes me want to weep.

Today I met Constantine….a proud man with a proud name.  He tells me he is seventy years young.  He tells me he is a descendant of Constantine the Great.  He is Romanian he says and has been here for many years, fleeing persecution in his native land.  He says his family left behind is better off without him, he must leave so they can be safe.  He tells me he has been here for many years but has only been on the streets a few months.  He says that mold was discovered in his apartment, that it was making him sick but no one did anything about it.  He tells me he suffered a small stroke and that scared him.  He left his apartment, for good.  Now he’s on the streets.  He has trouble finding food that he can eat because he can’t cook on the streets and his doctor has told him to not eat salt as it’s making him sick.  His legs are swollen from water retention.  He prays.  He thanks God he says every morning when he wakes up.  Thanks Him that he made it through another night.  He’s cold.  He’s wearing three jackets and three scarves today but he is still cold.  He says he has lost about fifty pounds since September, since he’s been on the streets.  He says he has hope though.  He’s pretty sure he’ll be getting another place in a couple of weeks.  He prays it is mold free.  I pray it is too Constantine.

There is something wrong with this world when we allow a seventy year old man with multiple health issues to sleep on the street.

Today I lost another piece of my heart.  I think maybe God did too……

God’s hands on a cold night…

This past Wednesday, Ottawa experienced what I hope was the last winter storm of the year (fingers crossed!). It was windy, snowy and wet. Buses were cancelled and everyone was warned to stay off the messy roads.

But that night, I was scheduled to do outreach from 9-midnight. I would love to tell you that I am a really tough/super-amazing outreach worker who is always motivated to walk the streets to do God’s work.-but that’s just not true. Last Wednesday I was exhausted, and the last thing I wanted to do was walk around the empty streets of Ottawa in a storm. In fact, I was secretly hoping that Jeff, my outreach partner, would cancel so I could stay in my nice warm apartment. But he didn’t, so I dragged myself to the office to do outreach.

We did our normal outreach route down Elgin and throughout the market. The streets were mostly empty and quiet. (When the weather is really bad our street friends are much harder to find. Not because they are in a safe, warm place, but because they are anywhere that is an escape from the elements)

On our way back to the office, I was dreaming about the hot shower I would have when I got home, when we heard “Hey outreach!” It was Laura and Kelsey, two youth who I have met a few times on outreach.

Neither had jackets. Neither had boots. Both were soaking wet. “Do you guys have any sleeping bags?” they asked.

We didn’t have any with us, but we told them they could come back to the office with us to get some. They walked back with us to the office, and we learned that they had both been kicked out of their places so they had nowhere to go. There was no space in the youth shelter and both refused to go to the adult shelter, saying they were too scared. Instead, they were going to sleep outside.

They warmed up in the office and changed into dry socks. We gave them food and sleeping bags, and they thanked us over and over before leaving to go find a dry place to sleep.

It was easy for me to give myself a pat on the back that night. “Good job Moira! It’s a good thing you braved the elements so you could help those girls.” Then it occurred to me that I was giving myself a whole lot of credit. When really, God has these two girls in his hands and He will take care of them. He may have used me and Jeff that night, but if we had not done outreach God would have taken care of those girls. And this does not make me feel like I am not needed, but rather reassured God will take care of his children.

 

OIM goes to the Oscars!

Ok…OIM didn’t actually GO to the Oscars…but the film that won ‘Best Documentary Short’ is the story of Inocente Izucar, a street-artist who was living on the streets of San Deigo at the age of 15.  This documentary features a young woman who uses brilliant colours and unique art pieces to rise out of the challenging life on the streets to pursue her dreams of becoming a professional painter.  After watching the trailer, I am anxious to watch the full feature….a story of hope and redemption.  Perhaps you will add it to your movie list too.

Our Passion 4 Youth Fine Arts Program has many talented young people who are experiencing this story of hope and redemption.  It is a place for street-engaged youth to experience their true value…to feel the power that comes from knowing that you have a part to play in this world.  If you aren’t familiar with this exciting program, look on our website in the lower right-hand corner.  Some of these amazing youth are featured in our Faces Of  OIM.  See what hope looks like…

-Kim

Feeling Human

 

I met Ashley last summer. She had just left her parents house and was staying at a downtown shelter. Like many other youth who first come to the streets, she seemed nervous but excited about being out on her own for the first time. She spoke about her life like she was starting a new adventure. But just like other youth, this excitement began to fade as the harsh realities of the street began to set in. Ashley’s hope for the future seemed to fade too….Ashley showed up at the office recently. She was looking thin and exhausted and she had two fresh black eyes. We talked for awhile and she said she was feeling unhealthy, dirty and exhausted. She talked about how badly people were treating her when they passed by her panhandling on the street. Then she looked at me and said “I just don’t feel human anymore.”

It broke my heart to see Ashley losing herself. I spoke with her about the art group and encouraged her to come out to be among people who have experienced similar feelings. Ashley seemed hesitant but she showed up to art group the next week. I showed her around the art room and introduced her to the other youth but she was still looking depressed and exhausted and she sat down to sketch. As the night went on, a beautiful thing happened. Some of the youth sat with Ashley and got to know her. They complimented her art work and helped her find supplies. I was happy to see her making friends. Part way through the night, I noticed that Ashley was gone so I checked the music room. There were some youth and volunteers jamming together on the guitar, piano and drums. To my surprise, Ashley was playing the djembe. She had a huge smile on her face and was completely engaged in the music. At the end of the night, she told me what a great time she had and that she couldn’t wait to come back the following week.

To see the change in Ashley over the course of two hours was amazing. The youth in the art group are so kind and accepting that they make everyone feel welcome. That night, they made Ashley feel human again.

You Take Donations Don’t You?

We came in this morning to find a note from one of the outreach teams that was out last night.  The team had come across a friend in need and they gave him a bottle of water.  He wanted to pay for it, but the team assured him that it wasn’t necessary.  He then asked ‘you take donations don’t you?’  He then passed a loonie to our team as a donation.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen this among our community.  So many times, people will come into drop-in and need some item of clothing…a new coat for example to replace one that has grown too big or small.  They don’t simply take a new one, but they leave their coat because they know that someone else could use it.  They give back.  One of our friends came in a couple of weeks ago with a kettle to donate because they had been given another and they didn’t need two.  She said ‘your ministry has been good to me when I’ve needed things…I can give back this way.’

Time and time again…those with the least give the most…

-Kim

Hard to believe, but 2013 marks our 25th Anniversary!

So much has transpired since Susan Brandt and Katrine Coward filled  a couple of knapsacks with peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and drinking boxes, and walked the streets seeking to come alongside those who were neglected, abused and in need.  Now, after 25 years we affirm  the faithfulness of God and His care and concern for people experiencing poverty and homelessness!

Here’s what happened last year: 5,000+ visits to our drop in program; 7,600+ connections on the streets; 2,700+ contacts with street-engaged youth; and with five full-time and two part-time staff we leverage our resources with over 100 current, active volunteers on the streets, at our day programs, and behind the scenes.  PLUS an additional 50 volunteers that help on us on an ad hock basis.  What an amazing God – that He would enable us to accomplish so much for His Kingdom!

From humble beginnings we now lead the City in the number of street outreach teams and are well-known for being the people that ‘touch the homeless’ with care and compassion: foot care, chiropractic care, touch care and volunteers caring and interacting with sincerity and love.  Amazing!

STAY TUNED for upcoming events to celebrate our 25th year!!

More beautiful for having been broken…

Recently Moira sent me something that she knew would intrigue me.  It is a picture of a piece of pottery that was broken and then repaired with gold or silver laquer.  It is an art called Kintsukuroi .  When a piece of pottery is broken, what is our first impulse?  To throw it out of course!  To us it’s a useless piece of hard clay now, no longer good for its intended use.  But this art is about taking something broken and making it repairing it ‘understanding that is more beautiful for being broken’.

We are all broken people and then God puts His gold repair on us and makes us more beautiful in our brokenness.  No need to pontificate…the picture says it all…