It is hard to get the volunteers of the Emergency Food Hamper Program to slow down and take a break. Nonetheless, once a year we manage to convince about 80 or so of them to sit down together long enough to enjoy a meal and to be recognized for the distance that they go for the people of our community. (more…)
Little Libraries And Big Communities
If you walk through many neighbourhoods in Kitchener and Waterloo, you may have started to notice something out of the ordinary.
Little boxes on posts, that look like a strange combination of a mail box and a little bird house. Sometimes they have a little window on the door that lets you peek inside. What you find on closer examination, are books. Lots of books!
Little Libraries, as they are called, are a simple idea. In the words of the online hub that evangelises them they are:
[A] “take a book, return a book” gathering place where neighbors share their favorite literature and stories. In its most basic form, a Little Free Library is a box full of books where anyone may stop by and pick up a book (or two) and bring back another book to share. You can, too!
Locally you can go to Little Libraries of KW (here) to find out a few of the other little libraries. They have a great map that will help you locate one close to where you live as well as tips, plans and encouragement if you want to make your own!
Community Connections at Sunnydale
On October 16, a Little Library was officially opened in the Sunnydale community in Waterloo. Sunnydale’s Little Library is situated in a Waterloo Region Housing complex in which House of Friendship, Sunnydale Community Association and Waterloo Region Housing partner to operate the Sunnydale Community Centre.
Built by Jane Mitchell, Waterloo resident and Region of Waterloo Councillor, the Little Library has already seen many books come and go. In the picture shared above, a young girl is seen choosing a book, with Jane’s encouragement. Linda K, Program Supervisor of the Sunnydale Community Centre, shared that “located next to a busy community side walk, many area residents will pass and enjoy it each day. On behalf of the Sunnydale community, thank you Jane!”
The Library on Charles Street
The little library in front of the Men’s Hostel had a really strange/great beginning and reason for creating, says Brandon S. of Supportive Housing.
“There was a unique group of people that I had gotten to know that seemed to be intercepting at the same time. There was a woman from one of the shelters that had seen one and wanted one near her area where she moved to. Then there was a few guys who were (in the past) looking for ways of using their painting/construction skills that were asked to help alongside Scott (of the maintenance department). There was also some men at the shelter that had been having some informal conversations with me about missing the times in their life where they would discuss ideas and literature and they wanted to do something to move towards that in some way.”
“I think for me my initial reason for wanting to do it was twofold. I’d been thinking about literacy and literature in low income populations, specifically how sparse these were and yet how meaningful they are when cultivated a bit. I’d also been thinking through some ideas around ‘fear of the other’ and how people can often pass by the shelter with heads down, scared of perceived things and assumptions around the men. I was hoping to be part of creating something that the men could use, could cause community members to stop/ maybe have conversation with people they normally wouldn’t interact with, and for these community members to also have access to books in a different way.”
“I don’t really have any interesting stories besides being surprised by how the guys take care of it, no vandalism, books tend to flow in and out well. It’s been neat to see the occasional passer-by stop and read the box, sometimes chatting with someone there, often just taking a millisecond break from a busy walk to work or school. Sometimes little things would catch me off guard like one of the guys repairing the bird house on top or another man closing the door of the box so that snow wouldn’t go in.”
Cynthia, a front line worker at the Hostel, adds that, “we all think the idea of sharing with anyone and everyone in the community is a really interesting concept. You never know who took a book or who dropped a new one off. I find that the men like to share a book with each other and I try and encourage them to put them in the box after they are done to share with others in the community as well. We have also worked on creating a larger library here at the hostel, and the men seem to enjoy it. Its a nice quiet and comfortable space with a couch that men respect as the quiet space at the hostel.”
The Power of Ideas
Little Libraries are a great example of the impact of a simple action that one person can do, to spur creativity, encourage sharing and get people reading! Do you have a little library experience that you would like to share? Let us know in the comments!
Fall is in the air and our summer students have by now started their classes and gotten settled into their new routines. Today I would like to share a retrospective post that Jessica drafted about her time here at the House of Friendship Emergency Food Hamper Program.
What were your first impressions and expectations?
One of my first impressions walking into the Emergency Food Hamper Program was that the staff and volunteers were so friendly and everyone was very welcoming. All the staff and volunteers seemed to really enjoy being there which was great to see, since that isn’t always the case in a work environment. On my first day the Monday order was just arriving and was introduced to sorting and putting away items. Although I was a little lost on how things worked everyone was so helpful and patient with me. Staff and Volunteers worked seamlessly to put the order away as a well-functioning team. The volunteers, like the staff, were extremely knowledgeable about what needed to be done. An organization such as this relies heavily on great volunteers and we’re lucky to have so many of those. After the first morning at the Emergency Food Hamper Program I knew I was going to have a great summer working here. (more…)
Today, I would like to share something written by our two new summer students, who are with us, thanks to a grant from Service Canada. Their first official day of work, I asked them to do a short exercise and share their thoughts in writing. In a week or two, they will do the same exercise and they can compare and contrast their experiences. I hope that in the process you will gain some insight into the difficult choices that our program participants face each day, and the hard decisions we have to make when deciding on how to distribute the many food items we receive as a donation.
Hi! My name is Sarah and I am currently studying Biochemistry at the University of Waterloo. For the past three years I have been volunteering with the House of Friendship Emergency Food Hamper Program as a food hamper packer as well as doing a variety of things in the warehouse. However, this summer I will be working as a summer student. With my prior volunteering experience I have regularly handed out food for many individuals; never to contemplate how they will be using and managing the perishable and canned goods they receive.
Hi my name is Jessica and I will be one of the Summer Special Project Assistants this year. I have recently graduated from the Social Service Worker Program at Sheridan College and have a passion for helping others. This fall I will be attending the University of Waterloo in the Therapeutic Recreation program. I look forward to my time at the Emergency Food Hamper Program this summer and being able to take part in this important and meaningful agency. (more…)
The Ontario election occurred on June 12th. As you may remember from that week, we made a post (here) about our efforts to collect input from the people who come to us each day about what they hoped for after the election ended, and what they thought the candidates should know about their experiences each day.
Elections are busy times, and we did our best to reach out to all the candidates. Two of them go back to us close to the end of their campaigns and I would like to share their responses with you now.
First was Kitchener – Waterloo candidate Jamie Burton who wanted to share:
“Thank you for the inspiration to stay focused on what I know matters. Your words will be in a frame on my wall, wherever I go. They will encourage my commitment to honour my word, and to work towards a better community for everyone. Together with the strengths of our differences and unique perspectives, by inclusion and diversity, we will achieve a greater opportunity for all.”
Second was Daiene Vernile, wrote the following on the day before the election ended:
I appreciate you sharing with me the concerns expressed by individuals and families who rely on your services to supplement their dietary and other needs.
Please be assured that I have reviewed these materials and have taken note of the specific concerns raised by program participants. [...] I look forward to the opportunity for further collaboration on how the provincial government can best support your work in the community.
Our short survey of people provided a good range of input and highlighted some common problems and sentiments that reflected everyone’s experience with different government programs. If we receive any further responses from candidates, we will provide further updates here on the blog.
“Your representative owes you, not his industry only, but his judgment; and he betrays instead of serving you if he sacrifices it to your opinion.” – Edmond Burke
Ontario residents vote for their provincial representatives tomorrow, June 12th. (Here’s how, by the way!) The idea of representing another person’s (or group’s) interests is tricky at the best of times, and it’s easy to be cynical: do our leaders really want to act in our best interests? Could they, even if they wanted to? Aren’t there just too many interests in the first place?
We could throw in the towel and leave politics to the politicians. This seems to be what Edmond Burke was getting at (see above quotation), arguing that his role as a politician was to do his job without accountability to the wealthy landowning men who elected him. However, many of the hardworking men and women who make up our government today would tell you that Mr. Burke was dead wrong.
Yes, we live in an incredibly diverse community, and no, we don’t all see eye to eye, sometimes on very basic questions. (And yes, it’s probably also true that there are some politicians with questionable intentions.) But today’s politicians are people who have decided to dedicate a huge part of their life to public service. They have a genuine interest and passion for listening to people and trying to plot a course to a better future for all of us. That is to say, they try to respond to their constituents and to public opinion.
Who Will Listen?
The problem is not that politicians never listen, but maybe, rather, that they are most likely to listen to the loudest voices. The loudest (and, relatedly, most persuasive) voices typically belong to the most privileged members of our community. We cannot buy full page ads in the Globe and Mail, or commercial time during the Stanley Cup, but my experience is that we should not discount the power of an email, phone call or letter as a means to shape political debate. By putting our views out there in letters to the editor, radio call in shows, impromptu debates around the kitchen table over dinner, letters and calls to your local politician, newspaper articles, things we post to our Facebook pages and other social media (if you are so inclined) we all get a bigger piece of the picture and take one step closer to a better community for all of us.
Filling in the Blanks
One way we have been trying to engage with people at the Food Hamper Program for the upcoming election is to provide a platform for them to share their experiences and discuss how they overlap with government services and programs. We supplied our patrons with cards with four sentences on them, encouraged them to fill them out and committed to sharing the results with all of the candidates in the two electoral districts we serve hampers to: Kitchener-Centre and Kitchener-Waterloo (which we have already done).
Here are the four sentences:
- Living on Ontario Works (OW) or the Ontario Disability Support Program (ODSP)* is…
- Every day I struggle with…
- If elected, please remember…
- I want to say…
A few people respectfully declined to fill out the card. One woman shared that she doesn’t vote, because she feels ignored and undervalued, and didn’t believe that a project like this made any difference. Following her comments, another woman, relatively new to Canada, took and filled out her card. “It’s small, but who knows, we should do it.” For the most part, patrons responded enthusiastically. Their comments provide a brief glimpse into the struggles that people face every day in our communities. See below for a sample of their responses. (more…)
Politics is a thorny subject but an important one. It consumes the public sphere (and perhaps the not so public sphere of your kitchen table) and love it or hate it, a very important day in politics is fast approaching: the Ontario General Election on Thursday June 12th.
The people I work with, often have strong opinions about politicians, parties and the tone of politics as it plays out in the news media and parliament. Often, those opinions are formed from experience with a lot of government services. They are complex, genuine and often involve the odd cuss word. That’s because the people I meet each day have a lot to lose if someone cuts a few percentage points of funding out of a host of government provided services.
We will always encourage people to exercise their democratic right to vote, or to abstain from voting. But election time is also a great time to talk to people about the role of constituency assistants, how to get things done in your community after the election, how to get help with government services and effective ways to advocate for yourself or others. Not everyone realizes how enthusiastically your average politician embraces the concept of public service and how much pride they take in resolving the issues of the people who live in their riding.
In the coming days we will share a few pieces on this blog from people connected to or working at the House of Friendship on what politics and voting mean to them and the people they work with. We will also share some of the opinions and comments that people who access our services have on the process and what they hope for the future of Ontario politics. Join the conversation by hitting the comment button and remember, on election night, you’re the boss! Use your voice and decide who you want to give a seat to.
To share her perspective on the play Myra’s Story, we are pleased to share the following reflections from Jennifer Cornish,who assumes the role of Myra in the hilarious and heart-breaking one woman play. Myra’s Story chronicles the life of a homeless Irish woman who sardonically describes herself as a “wine connoisseur.”
When House of Friendship (HOF) set out to transform its women’s addiction services facilities, we also wanted to raise awareness about women and addiction as a way of reducing the stigma than can act as a barrier to recovery. Although the Under One Roof capital campaign to create a new recovery centre for women is complete, our commitment to raising awareness continues. Myra’s Story is one way of continuing the important conversation about women and alcohol. Since Under One Roof was launched at HOF’s 2012 Annual Meeting, it seems only fitting to officially mark its end at the 2014 Annual Meeting, and to do so with a play that will provoke and inspire continued discussion.
You can meet Myra, at our upcoming Annual Meeting on Tuesday June 17. RSVP online here, and soon, as space is very limited! But be aware, this play doesn’t gloss over what it’s like to be in Myra’s shoes. The play explores mature themes and contains mature language. (more…)
Yesterday we posted about the upcoming Kindred Spirit BBQ happening today, Thursday at 5:30 at Kitchener City Hall.
Now I am happy to share an interview that Doug Rankin conducted with Clarence, an active community member working and walking beside people experiencing homelessness. Clarence has his own lived experience to share, and a strong focus on the importance of community. He will also be one of the two peopled recognized for their contributions locally.
What did you do as a Peer Health Worker at the Men’s Hostel?
I built relationships with people, and then supported them by listening and helping them solve problems. I would let them know what resources are available in the community so they had some points for accessing health care, housing, employment, food, clothing, and a lot of other resources. I was very positive and supportive of the men and would provide a lot of encouragement to them. And I was there to support them when they were ready move forward and make bigger changes. (more…)
If you have young children (or grandchildren) this time of year can be particularly joyful. It’s an opportunity to start and pass along family traditions, spend time together and have some fun in the snow. It is a time when a lot of workplaces wind down (unless you work retail of course) and, as the last ten days have shown, it is a time when a lot of people make an extra effort to help others and contribute to a better community. What is there not to like about December?
Well, for many people on the receiving end of good will and charity, or those who are largely invisible in our community, like the homeless and those who are struggling with addiction, December is one of the worst times of year. December 25th in particular looms large as a reminder of broken families and relationships.
“We spend a lot of time getting people ready for Christmas,” Rick, a staff person in House of Friendship’s men’s addiction program told a group of us recently. “The guys get themselves mentally prepared for the loneliness and the bad memories and we make ourselves available over the holidays to support them. But, in the new year, is when it hits the hardest.” This is a common experience for the staff in all of our addiction programs for men and women.
What can an individual do to build a sense of hope in people who are feeling like recovery might not be possible and that they may never be able to heal the damage that has shaken their families apart?