Crisis And Community Connection: Two Conversations


Children at the Sunnydale Community Centre can teach us all a lot

As a society, how can we follow the example of these children?

Last week, a young mother who is Syrian and Muslim, arrived at the Sunnydale Community Centre with her 3 year old daughter, visibly shaken.  On her drive here, she had stopped at a red light.  It was a beautiful day and so she had her car window open, as did other drivers.  She looked into the car next to her and was stunned when the man locked eyes with her and shouted “You terrorist!”  She quickly turned the corner and drove to the community centre.  We talked a long time, sharing her sadness and understanding her fear.

These are some words that were shared by Linda, who works at House of Friendship’s  Sunnydale Community Centre program.  Sunnydale is made up of people from all over our country, and from many places across the world.  Recently, many of us at House of Friendship were gathered together and the topic of conversation shifted to global events that are unfolding before all of us in the media each day.

We live in a connected world.  Decisions made by individuals or groups in distant corners of the earth can change our day to day lives in profound, unexpected ways.  They change our understanding of our place in the world, they stir our emotions, they inspire, frustrate and they terrify us in ways we cannot always fully comprehend.

How do we come to terms with our fear?  How do we stop spreading the hate and violence that occurs elsewhere and how do we open ourselves to helping those who have nowhere to turn?

Linda continued her story…

“A couple of days later, a dear Sunnydale resident who is also Muslim, called the centre in tears.  She had heard about the woman in Toronto who had had her hijab pulled from her head before being attacked and called a terrorist.  The resident was terrified to leave her home, fearing for her safety.

In the discussion with Linda, John Neufeld, House of Friendship’s Executive Director shared what it was like for him to grow up during the Cold War as a newcomer to Canada.

I was incredibly grateful that Canada allowed [my] family in, considering we were from a country that was hated by the rest of the world in 1981.  I’m not sure we used the language of “terrorists” back in the 80’s but I was definitely associated with those ‘terrible Russians’ who shot down a Boeing 747 in 1983.  If it wasn’t for Canada welcoming us in, I wouldn’t be here doing what I’m doing.

He shared a recent conversation he had with a concerned community member who was trying to balance media reports of Canada reaching out to assist people fleeing the violence in Syria with his understanding of homelessness in our community.  He asked John, can we really afford to help everyone?

John continued,

I agreed with him that we have to look after the vulnerable in our community, but in today’s world we are a part of the global village as well and cannot turn a blind eye to what is happening in other parts of the world.  I believe our community is capable of doing both and has a rich track record of doing so.”

I shared with him that local services provide a warm meal at lunch and supper.  House of Friendship’s Charles Street Men’s Hostel provides shelter for every man who comes to the door and if we’re full we have the ability to put them up in a motel.  Although our community hasn’t found housing solutions for everyone in the community, collectively, we have identified 15-20 individuals who are the most vulnerable; we know them by name and are trying to work with them.  We are not living in a community where we have thousands of anonymous “homeless people.”  We don’t have it all figured out and we can always do better but there’s a lot of work put in daily by services and this community to ensure people have shelter and food.

This seemed to comfort our friend.”

Linda, continued her story

During the same time period, a colleague shared that she was embarrassed to admit that she had recently felt fearful when seated beside a Muslim man on a flight.  She said that she did the only thing should could do to dissipate her fear.  She struck up a conversation with him, which immediately assured her that she had no reason to be afraid…I recently shared these experiences in church and encouraged each of us to make an effort to reach out to and strike up conversations with people we pass on the street or stand next to in the grocery line, who may feel unwelcome, unsafe and fearful; it will most certainly benefit all of us.  The response was heart-warming; people had not been aware that this was happening in our community, were genuinely concerned for their neighbours and committed to doing their part to make a difference.

Fear, anger and simple ignorance of what is happening around us, is never permanent, but it requires people to speak up and to act.  We can all play a role in breaking down walls, comforting, and helping people process the trauma of implied or actual violence.

John finished his side of the story with the call to action he shared with the concerned community member:

Volunteer at the Food Bank or get involved somewhere.  As soon as you do that you will surround yourself with people who can’t change everything but they can do something and you’ll feel better about yourself and the condition of the world.

You know how House of Friendship got started?  With a few women who looked around and saw the ravages of the economic Depression of the 30’s.  They asked the simple question of what can we do?

They couldn’t change everything but they could provide a meal for the men who had nowhere to go after the Depression.  That one simple act has led to us providing and serving over 42,000 people annually with 150 team members and 1,000 volunteers.

Yes, I too could get immobilized by everything going on in the world and what I read in the paper.  There’s not much I can do, but there is something I can do and so that’s what I focus on.  You would think that being involved in this work, I would lose hope, but my friend, I have never felt more hopeful than I do today because of the people I serve with and the acts of compassion that I see on a daily basis.  So please put away the newspaper and get involved.  It will change everything for you!


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4 Responses to “Crisis And Community Connection: Two Conversations”

  1. Elna Robertson Says:

    Thank you so much for this post! I was present at the meeting where these incidents were shared and was deeply moved by them. What a privilege to now have them in print where I am able to share them with others. We are blessed by the dedicated staff and volunteers at the House of Friendship. Remember, we can each do something!

  2. Wendy Says:

    I dream of a world where we are kind to one another regardless of our culture, or colour of our skin. I think we should not just go out of our way to accommodate the newcomers to this great country and show them respect and kindness; we need to play this forward to everyone in our community. As a single white mother, I have been abused and bullied numerous times in my community yet no-one rushed to my defence or stood by my side. In fact the complete opposite occurred, it was brushed off and ignored. Just be a decent human being and treat EVERYONE you meet with respect and kindness. And thank you House of Friendship for all that you do; you are truly a godsend.


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