A North Carolina Thanksgiving

Oh blessed be … spending a day of Thanksgiving providing service to those in need. It’s in giving that we most receive. Okay, that sounds like a verse from my Catholic bible days, but in truth, there is much validity in the statement about volunteering.

slaDE and I spent the day with our Frontier Skydiving friends who formerly lived in Buffalo 5 years ago, but now live just north of Raleigh.

It was a fabulous day of Thanksgiving, serving hot meals to the workers, the homeless and the needy who were patrons of the Durham Rescue Mission. Nothing could dampen my spirits, not even the cold and the rain. My wish for today was to be as helpful, caring, respectful and considerate as possible, to give my all, 110%. The volunteers turned up in droves … so good to see others offering their time, skills and service. Once the event had wound down, we made our way back to celebrate in sharing a traditional Thanksgiving dinner at Triangle Skydiving Center with a bunch of great and new skydiving friends. What an incredible and awe-inspiring day!

Connecting with the Homeless

It was my 3rd Friday off this past weekend and I relished knowing that this was ME time. A time to relax, feel inspired and expressive. A time to catch up on items longstanding through the week and a time to potentially catch up on sleep. But what made this weekend so exciting and special was the time that I set aside for an incredibly worthwhile project … Homeless Connect (HC2) at the City Hall, downtown Calgary. HC is a city initiative at attempting to end homelessness by the year 2010. Noble and lofty goals indeed. Having lived here for the past 2 years, witnessing the dire circumstances of many people (50% of whom have jobs) who just can’t afford to house themselves, I see the mass difficulties that the city faces. The occupancy rate in Calgary is extremely high, and with the price of accommodation through the roof, trying to come up with first & last months rent + a security deposit is an impossible task for many, considering that the Landlords here in Alberta seem to have all the rights over tenants; it seems like the proverbial 1-way street in the way of rights and legalities favouring the home owners. But that’s another story ….

sKYflowerSI have always enjoyed volunteering, giving of myself to another without anything expected in return. And in every circumstance that I’ve donated to such causes, I often get back more than I actually give. This however is not about who comes out ahead. Rather it’s about giving of myself and offering a hand up (rather than a handout) to those in need. Feeling so blessed in my life with the world falling into place in every sense of the word, I have everything plus my love and time to give. One could say that I am ‘overflowing’. To this extent, I jumped at the chance at helping out with this quarterly event (the 2nd of its kind – I was unable to make the first, last Spring).

So early Saturday morning, I followed the same schedule of readiness, as if it were a normal workday, and made my way downtown, with a smile on my face and a skip in my step. I didn’t really know what to expect, beyond the unexpected. So to arrive and discover that I was offering my cre8tive services to the Arts and Culture (‘This Is My City’ initiative) booth left me giddy and happy at the possibilities that would unveil themselves. Basically “This Is My City” offered an enticing artist trading card workshop where anyone who was interested could cre8te their own powerful piece of art, on 2 x 3 inch cardstock. This initiative was sponsored by the Arts and Culture Department of the City of Calgary.

I discovered that, at first, most people were leery and skeptical of particpating, saying that they lacked experience and / or any artistic skill … the desire really didn’t hit them that day, nor did they often feel inspired in the harsh world they exist in, every single day. This doesn’t lend itself to invoking a sudden yearning to paint / sketch / cre8te. The homeless people who came to this event were in search of help, resources and connection, rather than offering to participate on this type of ‘frivolous’ level. Art seemed to be the last thing on their minds. Trying to convince people that a spontaneous artist existed within each of us, regardless of the experience, was a difficult, awkward and hard sell.

With the mindset that inspiration is a far better leader than coercion or bribery (why can’t politicians grasp this concept?), I sat down for 4 hours and literally explored, divulging my soul through many a mixed media, and played! Given every sort of cre8tive material imaginable, I painted with acrylics, and drew with chalk, oil pastels, markers, pencil crayons and glitter. I collaged with magazine photos and art paper. I wrote poetry and weaved it into a colourful song on paper. There was no end to my non-digital cre8tivity! And oh how I loved the freedom to express, on such a pure, non-demanding level. Who knew that I would find such joy and gratitude in today’s event? I haven’t been this free to cre8te (with such a plethora of materials) since I was probably in kindergarten. And with my earnest attempts to be as colourful and flamboyant as I could be with no holds barred in my art, people started to enquire, inquisitive about this young girl focused so intently on having fun. I felt like a child given the permission to run rampant with my imagination. And all the tools were provided to express my outlet. And slowly, slowly, people came to sit down and speak with me. Opening up about their childhood dreams, their cre8tive pasts, their addictions which often hampered any possibility of cre8tive expression. And with a little coaxing, I managed to inspire the uninspired into weaving their story on to paper. The art and colour which emerged was incredibly beautiful. The stories, the music, the cre8tivity inspired was an artistic masterpiece which burned itself deep into my soul. The images below are some of the art that was inspired and produced.

words of the homeless

words of the homeless

The impact made on me can be expressed with a few sentences:
“Every Man, Woman or Child, regardless of race, religion, colour or financial status has a heart bursting to be explored, expressed and admired. Art is the pathway and mirror to the soul. And we are all beautiful, with our own story to tell. The possibilities and variability’s are endless, boundless. We are all unique, in need of the freedom of expression, and we are all worthy.”

  • Live artfully.
  • DreAm beautifully.
  • Live blissfully.

Explore, find joy, breathe deeply and savour. Now go cre8te and explore your heart in the vast expanse of life’s colour.

Voices from the Street 2008

Last night was an eye-opening experience. One that I will never forget (I pray that I will always remember). ‘Voices from the Street’ … the volunteer opportunity of my lifetime.

What started out as a noble gesture to reach out and provide an opportunity to serve, turned into a life-changing experience, recounted through the eyes of 7 different narrators. Homeless souls on the ’empty’ streets of Calgary.

The Calgary Drop-In & Rehab Centre has a blog {I highly recommend this as a notable read} which is updated by individuals who work there and this entry sums up last night very well ….

Last night I was part of Voices from the Street 2008. A group of social service agencies and volunteers conducting a homeless street count in Calgary on the night of May 14th. Over the course of two to three hours, one hundred volunteers wandered the city streets identifying how many people were without shelter, sleeping rough. Each group had a specific geographic area to walk, a clipboard with census sheet to mark off how many people were ‘visibly homeless’ and a shopping bag full of ‘goodies’ to give away to those willing to engage in conversation.

The purpose of the count is to identify trends — the count has been conducted by the City every second year since 1992. Homelessness has risen by 32% every two years since the first count. Is that continuing? Are more people sleeping out? Are more people drifting into homelessness? The count helps project forward what facilities will be needed. And, helps identify what’s working. What’s not? Where are the gaps?

One thing that this entry didn’t note was this year was the first time the City of Calgary has taken a homelessness census by talllying numbers at the shelters only. Hence, the need for volunteers to go out into the community last night and hear the voices from the street.

copyright of http://www.citynews.caFrom my volunteer experience with the homeless, there are few voices from the street that have the resources and resilience to overcome their addictions, loneliness, mental illness and turmoil that many experience on a daily basis. Thank God for the help of outside institutions who support those living on the street (such as the sponsors of last night’s event: The Salvation Army, The Seed, CDIRC, Alpha House, CUPS Housing Registry Network and the Calgary Homeless Foundation); homelessness is an incredibly dire urgent social human dilemma that goes beyond the tallying of numbers and the rallying of voices.

All of the stories from our conversations with the homeless stick out poignantly in my mind. However, what really burns a vibrant image of remembrance was the sentiment which resoundingly came through with each and every person …. fortitude, honesty, integrity and friendliness. Of course, these are all judgements based on my perspective of what I saw / heard or perhaps wanted to see or hear. But with the fading of the sun and the warm night bearing down on us like a thick fog blanket, I saw light gleam in a few people’s eyes …. pride in strength and resilience seemed to shine through.

Dennis was a perfect example of the unexpected truth to my evening … he was a surprisingly fit, smartly dressed 54 year old First Nations Aboriginal from Saskatchewan pushing a shopping cart [holding what I deemed to be his worldly belongings, carefully bound up next to a scattering of bottle depot returnables]. Dennis was freshly showered with a beautiful bright smile, clear eyes and a curiosity that left me both inquisitive and breathless. His story of being on the streets for over 12 years (his grown children also somewhere displaced in the night), working occasional to full-time as a construction worker for PCL, was typical of the homeless males we encountered in our walkabout of Fort Calgary and the riverbanks. A common thread … seems that there is plenty of work here in Calgary, with money to be made. However, the housing situation is way out of control and hopelessly beyond the means of someone with addictions and / or mental issues that fuels the inability to maintain a stable and supportive lifestyle. Addictions tend to bring out the tragedy in humankind …. instant gratification is a reality of our society, especially prevalent with those that live moment to moment for their next fix. Stability for those on the street is not a common denominator in the lifestyle which I often take for granted.

Life on the street is a tough, rough, cold environment reflected in the pavement the destitute travel and sleep on. Homelessness is often overlooked, hidden and ignored. But last night, I was proud to be a part of this census, helping to support the often unheard voice of our people, our brothers and sisters.

Volunteering and the Calgary Folk Festival

CFMFIn my experience, I find that volunteering has always been an incredibly rewarding gift of one’s time. Unfailingly, an adventure with unexpected rewards far greater than ever imagined. Such was the case of my weekend on ‘plate recycling’ duty at the Calgary Folk Festival. Although I tweaked my back in lifting and counting the mountain of buckets thrown our way both mornings, I thoroughly enjoyed my weekend of musical delight and celebration on downtown Calgary’s Prince’s Island Park.

So many wonderful musicians were heard, a few of my favourites being: Rufus Wainwright; Neko Case; City And Colour; Crooked Jades; John Boutte; Ollabelle; Oh Susanna; The Sadies; Good Brothers; Jamaica to Toronto (and these were only the artists that I experienced … many more were not heard, unfortunately!).

PS The food was AMAZING!!!!

Volunteering locally is always a pleasure, but sometimes when one is looking for more adventure in distant lands, the opportunities abound, and finding the right organization can be a bit of a challenge. However, having worked, lived and volunteered abroad, I can tell you that with all of the trials and difficulties encountered along my journey came life-changing experiences and memories that will last several lifetimes!

Here’s an article with organizations and volunteer listings from the Green Guide to help get you started in an unforgettable journey of volunteer work beyond the borders of your current reality:

crossculturalsolutions.org: Offers volunteer programs in 12 countries, including Brazil, China, Costa Rica, Ghana, Guatemala, India, Morocco, Peru, Russia, South Africa, Tanzania and Thailand.

i-to-i.com: Work to conserve Madagascar’s lemurs, care for endangered wallabies in Australia or help maintain biodiversity with indigenous peoples in Costa Rica.

idealist.org: An extensive volunteer database with environmental listings, connections to local nonprofits, financial aid information, internships and a kids and teens page. Current opportunities include teaching environmental awareness to Nepalese villagers and developing a fruit-drying program for Ghanan villagers, among many others.

maasaicentre.org: The Maasai Centre for Field Studies still takes volunteers as well as school and university groups. For details, contact Dr. Chris Southgate or Dr. Mark Toogood via the Web site.

volunteerabroad.com: Listings include opportunities to protect Australia’s environment and conservation projects in Costa Rica.

volunteerinternational.org: Conservation programs in Thailand, creating a Holocaust Memorial Park in Poland and making eco-friendly soap with disabled persons in Japan are just three of the unique opportunities you’ll find on this site.

Tip of the day for volunteering overseas:

Handling the Expenses
Costs can be a major drawback to volunteering overseas. Travelers with specific experience or academic expertise may be able to find an organization willing to pay their expenses and even provide a stipend. In most cases, however, volunteers will be responsible for air fare, in-country travel and living expenses. And some popular organizations charge added fees.

Yet there are options for the dedicated. If the main purpose of your visit is to volunteer, airlines may provide free or heavily discounted flights—albeit often on standby. Call the carrier and let them know you’re interested in a sponsorship for volunteer work. They may ask to see your volunteer visa or a letter from your volunteer organization.