Archives for posts with tag: Community

EDIT: The subject of this blog, the broken lift which halted Dion’s mobility, was fixed exactly four weeks after its breakdown. Thank you to everyone who offered us support from near and far during this time.

When my husband Dion went through the most significant crisis of his MS journey a few years ago, we were faced with many decisions, including: did he need to live in a long-term care facility? If not, could our home be adjusted to accommodate his needs? What ensued was a long renovation to our house, one that was made possible through the gifts of many people, and yes, the bank. Along the way, we had a number of meetings with medical teams in order to discern what Dion needed, what I needed, and what we needed as a family. 

We determined that our basement would become Dion’s main living space, an option made possible through the discovery of a through-the-floor lift, aka a residential elevator. My brother/contractor organized the many trades people needed to dig down so that the ceilings would be high, build an accessible bathroom, create a space for a hospital bed and all the necessary mobility devices, make a cozy area for all of us to hang out, and install the elevator. The transformation was remarkable and enabled Dion to move home after living elsewhere for over a year. 

One recent evening, just as Dion, Cate and I sat down to dinner, there was a loud “thump”. At the time, I was the only one who noticed it. We figured it must have been something outside and proceeded to eat. When Dion got in the elevator to get downstairs in preparation for the arrival of his Personal Support Worker, it would not go down and we realized it was the culprit of the “thump”. The lights came on as they should, but nothing. I tried calling two different after-hours repair companies, only to learn that no one at either could service our particular unit. Stumped, we decided that Dion needed to be carried down the stairs (a precarious, but necessary choice) so that he could get to bed. We presumed that by the next day we could get the elevator fixed. That was three weeks ago. 

Since that time Dion has felt trapped, his independence halted. Through the effort of a mechanic, Dion’s wheelchair was able to be moved downstairs. That chair weighs in at over 400 pounds, making it necessary to leave it in the basement. Instead, we have a rental wheelchair that now lives on our main floor. At least three strong people are needed to lift Dion up and down the stairs each day, or at least every other day. 

When Dion is in the basement, Cate and I need to make sure that he has the things he needs. We have Personal Support Workers in twice a day, but only in the morning and evening. That leaves a large gap in Dion’s day. Plus, Cate is in school and I have a job, one that helps support our family. Internally, I battle with needing to be in multiple places at once, sometimes terrified that I am failing at everything. Dion often says that MS is “our” disease. It is one that each of us (including Cate) is required to carry in different ways, some more visible than others. 

Today is Maundy Thursday, the day we recall how Jesus knelt and washed the feet of his friends. Having someone else wash your feet is an intimate and vulnerable thing. These last three weeks have felt a lot like that: intimate and vulnerable. We have felt at a loss, like there is nothing we can DO to fix the issue. We do not understand elevators and are at the mercy of those who do. Dion has needed people to literally pick him up and I can’t be one of them, as I simply lack the strength. We have prayed and begged for a solution, one that as of yet has not come. Honestly, Easter is around the corner and yet right now feels terribly far away. 

I trust that at some point the part will arrive and the elevator will be fixed. Until then we are surrounded by friends and family eager to help. This is something I never want to take for granted. Community is a fundamental part of surviving hard things. My gratitude, mingled with tears, streams through the challenge. 

I have been carrying my “office” in a backpack since 2012. It began because of the decision to extinguish as much expense as possible at what was then Parkdale Neighbourhood Church. At the time we were in financial crisis, uncertain of what lay ahead. I had been tasked by the Board with re-imagining our vision and way of being in the neighbourhood. One of the first things I suggested is that we give up our rented space, purge most of our belongings, and spill into the streets. That was the beginning of The Dale.

Near the beginning of my career I developed a friendship with someone who had spent most of their teenage years and twenties living outdoors. I distinctly remember their shock that I didn’t carry basic necessities at all times: “what do you mean you don’t have what you need in your bag?!” For this person, survival required forethought. The gift of that lesson still resonates with me, and most definitely impacted The Dale’s ability to become a community without walls. Though I admittedly don’t carry everything I could, I do have the following with me at all times: a pencil case, a tiny stapler, post-it notes, paperclips, scissors, a laptop, a USB, a backup drive, two files for active paper work, stamps, envelopes, and screen cleaner. I also have three American dollars tucked away, bills that were a gift from someone when things were especially desperate. I recall making the decision to place them in our petty cash so that should things get even more desperate we would have it to exchange and use as a last hurrah. They remind me to never take for granted what it means to live on the edge AND how far we have come.

Today I set up a printer in our new-to-us office. Yes, our OFFICE. The space became available to us in the building that has housed us since the beginning of the pandemic. It might not be a long-term thing, but it is a thing right now. Even as I write this, it all feels surreal. It is a surprisingly bright, basement room that we are able to make our own. We have even been gifted WIFI access by other tenants in the building. Grace upon grace.

I often share that the decision to become a nomadic community, a choice born out of crisis, has become one of our greatest gifts. Our people, who in large part understand what it means to be transient, gave us the courage to step out in faith and have taught us so much along the way. With their help, The Dale has come to more fully inhabit the neighbourhood of Parkdale. We have partnerships with a wonderful variety of organizations. By keeping our overhead costs extremely low, we can pour our resources into our programming and directly impact our community. Over the years we have slowly yet steadily grown, not unlike a phoenix rising from the ashes. When I step back and try to take it all in, I am filled with gratitude and awe.

I don’t think I will ever stop carrying my office in a backpack. I used all of the familiar contents today at the new desk, but I didn’t leave them there- I put them back in my bag, thinking again of my friend’s counsel to stay prepared. The Dale needs to remain nimble. If anything, having an office hopefully just increases our agility. Now we have a place to stash our backpacks while we stay spilled out in the neighbourhood. As one person once said about where to find The Dale, “just look for them on the street, natch.” May that continue to be the expectation.

As I try to process the events of this year, I find myself thinking of the turn of phrase, “gold in the shadows”. In some of the darkest of circumstances and conversations, I have caught glimpses of light. I do not want to negate the fullness of the challenges; I also do not want to dismiss the good as though it is fool’s gold. This is a strange tension.

At The Dale, we have experienced a shocking amount of provision, everything from a hand washing station to Personal Protective Equipment to fresh food to grocery cards to an Outreach Vehicle. It is amazing, beautiful and admittedly sometimes overwhelming. When faced with such outpouring, I cannot help but think of how many people do not experience such generosity. And then, as a community we get to re-distribute the abundance, and light penetrates the darkness.

Encampments, while not new, have grown exponentially over the pandemic. The residents of one encampment that we are especially connected to, have reminded me repeatedly of how “making home” can happen in the most unexpected of places. Have these friends been denied affordable housing? Yes. Have they also created a space of welcome, belonging and fierce comradery? Yes. Gold in the shadows.

Having people line up to get a meal for take-away is not our style. We much prefer sitting around a table and passing a platter of food, loving the way relationships are built when you regularly eat together. I find it startling that there are a number of people now connected to The Dale who have never been in one of our drop-ins because they have met us during the pandemic. It has been helpful to hear from these same people that they can tell something unique is happening, even in the snaking queue down the street. I nodded in agreement as one person told me they feel “seen”, sharing that I feel the same way. “I think we are learning to have one another’s backs”.

We have friends who, during the lockdown, have no access to a bathroom. There are few places to sit and warm up. There is deep loneliness. I can’t make sense of any of it. What continues to move me is the way people rally in times of trial. I have witnessed people sharing their only meal for the day. Someone sent us a box of plastic bags in the mail from way out of town because they knew we needed them to give out food. A core member of The Dale gave us a Tim Hortons card that they had received as a birthday gift, so that we could give it to someone who might need it more. Others have fund-raised, or mobilized people to gather food and supplies. Even though we can’t touch, we have taken time to stop, really look one another in the eye, and offer peace.

When our friend Jahn died, we feared not being able to have a proper goodbye. Then The Dale, along with the Health Centre planned an outdoor opportunity to honour him and share our grief. More recently there have been multiple people who have passed away. The combination of winter and the impending lockdown has made it more difficult to come up with a plan, but there is one in the works: distributing memorial cards of each person along with a candle, a rose, and a journal. While we might not be together, there is something comforting about having access to the same supplies to collectively honour our people. Some of the shadows get chased away.

There have been some very difficult days this year. For me, there was one day in particular when the tap got turned on and I could not stop crying. It was as though this tender reed was about to snap. Then a few people calmly listened, my daughter bought me a Bubble Tea, I listened to a voicemail of encouragement from someone at The Dale, and I fell to my knees in prayer. Not everything was fixed the next day. I still cried. By day three or four the tears came with less frequency until I suddenly realized that part of what I desperately needed was the space to let all the emotions out, and safe people to be with me along the way. In that moment of recognition I felt the warm glow of gold.

“Earthquakes make gold veins in an instant” is the title of an article I recently read. The earthquake that is the pandemic has wreaked havoc in such a variety of ways. Like all of us, I just want it to go away. And somehow, in the most unexpected of ways, that same earthquake has created some gold. It might be hard to spot. A good place to look though is in the shadows.

Since March The Dale has been serving meals to-go, all outside. We set up outside of 201 Cowan Avenue. Every six feet along the sidewalk is a strip of bright yellow tape, a visual reminder that a line is now necessary. Sometimes the number of people snakes all the way to Queen Street, around the corner and down the block.

We miss not being able to share a meal around a table. The Dale is motivated to build and nurture participatory community, and we lament how the pandemic has impacted this. Having said that, there are no shortage of important and oftentimes beautiful moments that happen as we interact in line and around the neighbourhood on the street.

We can always hear this person coming, because their wheelchair has a loose shock and a missing wheel. Though in obvious need, it took some time for this person to feel safe to ask for or receive help. It was a long series of fairly short interactions that led to a significant conversation, one that has led to putting a plan in action for repairs to be completed on their mobility device.

Laid out on the sidewalk, we stopped to make sure this person was breathing. Fortunately, we were able to have a bit of a conversation and provide some water. It was clear that the day had been a very difficult one so far. At one point he reached out to grab a hand, so hungry for a brief, healthy touch. In that moment of connection, he spoke words of encouragement to each of us. We left feeling like everyone involved had just received a gift.

Some people in the line are very new to The Dale and have no context for how life in this community looked pre-COVID. It is fun to tell stories of drop-ins and open mic nights, of cooking together and playing board games, of making music and sharing prayer requests. It is encouraging to hear the new folks telling their own stories of The Dale: of how good a certain meal was, of making new friends, of eating freezies together in the heat of the summer, of discovering that we meet for church in a parking lot, and of how the bad weather doesn’t stop us from being “open”.

One day a person brought us two bags full of plastic bags, having noticed that we need them to hold all the things we are giving away. Someone else painted us a picture. Another gifted me a used tripod for my daughter, knowing that she is studying photography. These presents remind us that everyone is built to both give and receive, a value that cannot even be quashed by our current circumstances.

The poet John O’Donahue says that, “A life that wishes to honour its own possibility has to learn too how to integrate the suffering of dark and bleak times into a dignity of presence. Letting go of old forms of life, a tree practises hospitality towards new forms. It balances perennial energies of winter and spring within its own living bark. The tree can reach towards the light, endure wind, rain and storm, precisely because it is rooted.”

The Dale wants to be such a tree. Our roots are deep. We know who we are. We believe in what we do. We will be in the neighbourhood rain, snow, or shine. While the line is not our preference, we will seek to make it as Dale-ish as possible. There is grief, yes AND God is making a way through the sadness. For all of this we are grateful.

It is hard to believe that we are nearing the end of another year. As I reflect on all that has transpired during 2020, I am filled with a variety of emotions, ranging from sadness to joy, anxiety to peace, and everything in between. Overwhelmingly though, I feel a sense of gratitude. As a community we have remained intact despite the distance. We have leaned in to the opportunity to creatively address the limitations of COVID-19. There have been tears shed and laughs shared, our refrain often being, “we’re making it work!” or “we’re doing it!”

One constant has been change. We have needed to pivot more than once. Our set-up for giving out meals has been tweaked and then tweaked some more. Meagan has returned from her mat leave. Olivia got married. And most recently, Pete completed his contract with The Dale- we are grateful for and wish the best of things for Pete and his family during this time of transition.

As much as I love finding the words to describe the journey The Dale has and continues to be on, I think pictures can really help bring it to life. This is a vibrant place, one that is nurtured through the support of a very broad network of people. These pictures might be familiar to you, or maybe this is a first glimpse into the neighbourhood. Either way, I invite you to take a look.

Monday Lunch
Prepping meals and groceries for the community
Sunday
Ross and Sheila (not pictured) getting ready to help with deliveries
A community member’s first garden since being recently housed
Friends
Thursday Breakfast
The Dale Devotional- The Beatitudes
Jahn’s Memorial
Let’s do it
Rose
Where many friends are currently living
Pete, Meagan, Erinn, Joanna, Olivia

I had to drive somewhere today. I turned on the radio, just in time to hear a favourite Vinyl Cafe story about the fictional character, Morley. In it, Morley is described as a lover of fall. But, says the narrator, fall can be a “perilous partner”- for if winter is the warm hearth, summer sweet sorrow, spring the eternal optimist, then autumn is the season of wistfulness. It holds on until winter’s arrival, producing a kind of melancholy in the process.

This description of the autumn resonates with me at the moment. I think all weekend I have been feeling a keen sense of nostalgia, one that makes me both smile and weep.

Yesterday was my Dad’s birthday. He has been gone since 2008, but October 12th will always be the day he burst into the world. On this past weekend in 2008 my Mom came to our house for the first time in four and a half years, years spent exclusively in the hospital. She couldn’t eat any food through her mouth anymore, so instead we had what affectionately came to be called an “aroma buffet”. I still expect her to roll up the ramp to our back door, even though she too is gone.

The Dale did not get to go on our annual fall retreat this year. However, we did gather on Sunday for a church service. We met outdoors. It called me back to the days when we first became a church without walls (literally). As I looked around at the community, I was struck by how far we’ve come; how may seasons we have weathered together. Sitting in that parking lot, some of us wrapped in hand knit blankets, a vase-full of sunflowers on the altar, surrounded by the sound of the wind, I pictured a Phoenix rising out of the ashes, an image that I have returned to frequently to describe the journey of The Dale.

I got lost in a box of photos recently. Pictures of big family gatherings for turkey and potatoes, me and my cousins playing, little Cate, family from Newfoundland out for a walk to admire the fall colours. I was reminded of an October weekend spent in Killarney when I must have been 8 or 9. We decided to hike the Chikanishing Trail on a very wet day, except I had no boots. To the rescue: some plastic bags and rubber bands. So many memories of this time of year.

I have much to be grateful for in my past, I also have much to be grateful for right now. My uncle gave me a call over the weekend; we got to see my brother, sister-in-law, nephews and niece; Cate is settling in to university; Dion is doing well; The Dale community is still a phoenix; I have family who are friends and friends who are like family; I get to live and work in a city I love; I am known and loved by the Creator.

Once the story on the radio came to an end, I spent the remainder of my drive lost in remembrances and filled with gratitude. Like autumn, I am holding on. The colours are vibrant and the air is crisp. It’s a perfect time to wear a sweater. And, while the winter may be coming, I keep reminding myself that there is always the promise of spring.

News From The Dale:

Joanna Moon becomes the Lead Community Worker at The Dale.

The Dale staff team is now five people, an all time high! As a flatter organization, we collectively generate ideas, plans and goals. At the same time, we inhabit different roles. In order to celebrate and name the role that Joanna has grown into over the years, we are pleased to announce that she is now “Lead Community Worker”.

Meagan Knight completes her maternity leave and returns to work in October.

Nearly a year ago we announced the arrival of Charlotte, Meagan and Ian’s beloved child. Now Meagan is preparing to reintegrate at The Dale, beginning on October 13th. We are so looking forward to having her back!

Olivia Dower and Grant Scott to marry on October 12.

Though the journey to the wedding has been made challenging due to COVID-19, Olivia and Grant’s day is now right around the corner. While the community cannot be there in person, we are certainly there in spirit. Please join us in showering this couple with love.

The Dale meets on a Sunday afternoon under a blue sky.

One of the most difficult things about this year is how it has impacted our ability to gather. Last Sunday a small group met under sunshine and a blue sky to sit in silence, pray, hear Scripture, pass peace, and take communion. Because we do not have a building of our own, we will continue doing this as long as the weather allows (and then we’ll come up with another plan, because pivoting is our middle name).

Meals continue to be offered for take-away every Monday and Thursday.

Anyone needing a meal is invited to receive one every Monday at 1 pm and Thursday at 10 am from the front of 201 Cowan Avenue. We have frozen meals for people with the means to reheat, and heated meals for those who do not. While the line can be long, we work hard to make it go as quickly as possible. Along the way, we prioritize connecting well with one another, developing new relationships and nurturing those we already have.

Some people called him “Rasta” others, “Dreads”, but to us he was simply Jahn. I first met Jahn when he regularly hung out at the now defunct Coffee Time on Queen St West. He would always shout a greeting, even when I was still a block away. I noticed three things about Jahn right away: his kind smile, his radio worthy voice, and his unbelievable hair- dreadlocks that when released from his tam (hat) were longer than he was tall.

Over time, Jahn became a regular at The Dale. I always appreciated his presence at our drop-ins. The place we most often saw him the last few years was the parkette beside Parkdale Queen West Community Health Centre. He became one of the unofficial caretakers of the space, making sure that it was kept as clean as possible. At Christmas he helped decorate one of the trees with a variety of ornaments, saying that it was a good way to spread some cheer. Not long ago he was hired as a Peer Worker for the Health Centre’s Harm Reduction Program, a role that he was keen to fill.

Jahn loved dogs. A week or two ago while we were on outreach, he excitedly showed us pictures of the two puppies he recently got. He lit up talking about them and describing the good tired he was because of their endless energy. The dogs, a new place, and the Peer Worker job all made his big smile even broader.

Over our many years of friendship, even if I was the first to ask, “how are you doing?”, Jahn would wait to answer until I told him what was going on in my own life. No matter how challenging circumstances got, Jahn would express gratitude for life. “It’s a gift just to be walking around, you know?”

This past Monday I had a conversation with Jahn where he again expressed his upbeat outlook on life, though he wasn’t feeling physically great- nothing to worry about he assured me. He even let my daughter Cate and her friend take the pictures included here. Cate has a video of him too, one that is beautiful and now very hard to watch. We don’t know what happened between Monday and today, but this morning we learned of Jahn’s death. I can’t believe it. Many people are reeling from the news.

Jahn: thank you for the gift of your friendship. I am fortunate to have known your gentleness and your smile. Your absence is already felt. You will be missed on the block. You will be missed by The Dale. You will be missed by me.

May you now rest in deep peace. 

I first met Paula through her role as Team Lead for Project Serve, an arm of Youth Unlimited. Since then, Paula has become a dear friend. I know her to have the gift of encouragement, the best laugh, and the desire to build deep and authentic relationships. One of the greatest things is that we now all get to see her every Monday at The Dale. You are loved Paula! Thank you for sharing your thoughts in this space. To read more from Paula check out her own blog at: https://choosetoriseabove.blogspot.com

Picture this with me, will you? 

You approach a full table of people. On one side, you see people you recognize. One wears his addiction on his sleeve. Another does not. One was born in Toronto. Another was not. 

On the other side of the table, however, sit a few people you don’t know. You look them up and down and try to figure them out before considering sitting in the empty chair beside them. Are they safe? Can you trust them? Will you have anything in common?

Before you can answer that, a plentiful platter of deliciousness gets delivered to your table – made with more love than your heart can accept at times – and you realize that you do indeed have something in common: like the person sitting next to you, it’s lunch time and you’re hungry. 

All of a sudden, you feel at home. One of the people you rarely know scoops potatoes onto your plate while another pours you a cold cup of water, and soon, very soon, you start to realize that you have a lot more in common than just being hungry. 

You see, no matter where you were born or where you grew up, what kind of baggage you brought in with you that day or why you ended up there in the first place, at the Dale, there’s a seat at the table for you.

They have a seat at the table. 

You have a seat at the table. I have a seat at the table. 

Only at this table, there is no they, you or I, there is only us. 

It was a Monday. We were gathered in the large room we use each week for The Dale’s drop-in. Just the day before we had occasion for multiple celebrations: a person finding an apartment after eight months of living outside, new housing for our Community Worker Pete, his wife Frances and their four children, someone declaring The Dale to now be their community. We also prayed for the two babies set to make their entrance very soon. I think it is safe to say we collectively needed a taste of joy, and the hope was that it might permeate the week ahead.

Mondays are always a riot of activity, especially between 1 and 2 pm when the meal is being shared and clean-up commences. I was busy grabbing some supplies from the storage room when I noticed what had the potential to be explosive. Just weeks before two people had a very serious conflict. They had not interacted since. I held my breath as they approached one another and embraced, while offering words of regret and forgiveness. My eyes welled up and I started to jump up and down to get Joanna and Pete’s attention, hoping that they too might bear witness to what honestly felt like a miracle. I think I hopped the entire length of the crowded room to the kitchen.

As I often say, living in community is both messy and beautiful. Sometimes it is downright hard, especially when life feels more bleak than bright. There are many more people who still need affordable housing, some of our relationships remain strained, and conflicts continue to erupt. I am grateful though to be a part of a place where we keep trying to work these things out. We fail. I fail. And we try again.

In the midst of it all, there are incredible moments of provision and reconciliation. New life, both literal and figurative is happening. All of this makes me, however silly it might look, jump up and down.