Archives for posts with tag: Community

I arrive at Parkdale Queen West Community Health Centre at 9:30 am, carrying a bag of groceries: an extra-large carton of eggs, a mound of oranges, a box of pancake mix, and a small bottle of real maple syrup that was donated by a community member. I briefly struggle to balance the food and my backpack so that I can open the door to the room we use for our Thursday drop-in.

Moments later another member of The Dale arrives. He is originally from Syria, having sought refuge here in Canada. He greets me with broken (yet rapidly improving) English and a light kiss on both cheeks. We busy ourselves in the kitchen, as he is our bi-weekly cook. I put the coffee on while he organizes the food.

Meagan, Joanna and I gather around a set of three tables, pushed together like a big rectangle. We are slowly joined by others. Some decide to colour, as we have a number of colouring books to choose from. Others share stories about their day. Collectively we laugh and listen, occasionally sitting in quiet.

I leave the drop-in mid-way through because another community member needs a pastoral visit. He is very sick and likely close to death. I walk into his darkened room and together with another friend, pray. It is a short, sacred visit. We both say, “I love you” before I leave to return to the drop-in.

Upon my return I hear that someone at the table is having a particularly rough day. Sometimes this means our space becomes not safe for others, and so deliberate intervention is needed. This can be one of the most challenging parts of this work: having to explain to someone why their behaviour is inappropriate, and that the consequence is having to leave. Today it is done tenderly and carefully by Joanna and Kim, a long-time community member and outreach team worker.

Throughout the remainder of the drop-in I talk with people: conversation, followed by conversation. Some need to discuss very difficult life circumstances and ask what kind of support is available, others just need to vent, a few want to share some good news, including how they believe God is taking care of them in surprising ways. I get repeatedly asked how I am too, often with eyes full of concern and care.

Eventually dishes get done, art supplies get packed up and returned to a storage room, our coffee and other pantry items get placed in a bin that lives in one corner of the fridge, and we slowly make our way to the front lobby to say goodbye. Only on this day a group of us are going to celebrate a community member’s birthday by going out for Chinese food, a gathering that provokes joy and is a lot of fun.

I rush away to a conference call about an upcoming conference where I will sit on a panel to discuss mental health challenges, something all people are touched by in one way or another. As I close my computer after the call finishes, I reflect on my day. I have the opportunity on a near daily basis to touch and see and hear and smell and feel so many different things.

Today I breathed in the aroma of breakfast food being cooked by a friend for a whole room full of people, many he doesn’t know. I touched the close veil of death. I heard people share so transparently and vulnerably that I was challenged to do the same. I was hit with a wave of pride at seeing The Dale team in action. I became excited about the conference in May. And I watched the birthday friend glow as we sang happy birthday, ate chicken balls, and belly laughed about the silliest things.

This is a day in my life at The Dale.


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When I pause to reflect on the last year at The Dale, it’s the seemingly little moments that keep popping into my head. In work like ours, it is easy to want to share the big successes: this person was living outside and now is housed; we served x amount of meals over the course of twelve months, and so on. While such stories are amazing and obvious evidence of the validity of this work, there is much beauty in the everyday grind of being a community. 

“Tom” is one of the quietest people I know. When he speaks it is usually to ask for a coffee, or to say a quick hello. There is something very meek about Tom: he tends to keep his head down, his small stature hidden with a too-large coat. At a recent drop-in, he was sitting at the end of the table listening, but not engaging with the chatter around him, until something struck him as funny. Hearing Tom laugh (for the first time in the many years I have known him) made my heart swell. At the end of the gathering, he followed me, Joanna and Meagan outside. As I hugged my colleagues good-bye, Tom held open his arms and cautiously moved toward me: “Erinn, hug”- another first. 

“Clare” came in to our Monday Drop-In while we were just about finished with clean-up. Newer to The Dale, she was encouraged to come, mostly because everything she owned was drenched and needed something dry to wear before returning to her shelter bed. Our clothing supply fluctuates, but on this particular day someone had dropped off a huge amount of women’s clothing which still lay in a heap. Clare proceeded to fold every piece of clothing, carefully choosing a few things for herself, but not before handing me things that she was sure “would fit and look great on so and so”. She managed to take care of herself, our clothing room AND others in less than twenty-five minutes. 

He walked in to the Sunday service already upset, nearly poised for a fight. The first person to greet him unwittingly managed to trigger the anger further. I felt a lump in my throat at the prospect of a service that might feel on edge. I encouraged the two to honour each other’s space and proceeded to busy myself with set-up. After a few opening songs I invited everyone to stand for the passing of the peace, an opportunity to greet one another with either a handshake, a wave, a hug or even an elbow-bump (whatever is best for each person). I watched in amazement as the two people, so angry and sad at the beginning, apologized to one another and embraced. The tension that had been so thick suddenly dissipated and we continued with another song. 

There are so many stories I want to tell you about, like: the two street-weary men who call themselves uncles to my Cate and love to give her gifts, especially chocolate bars; the look of glee on our friend’s face when we managed to find a mobility scooter for him, replacing a terribly unsafe, wobbly walker; the woman who comes and shares her tears generously with us, and the man who quietly notices and finds Kleenex to dry them; the friend who is discovering that no matter how many times he falls off the wagon, he is loved by us, not shunned; the privilege we feel when someone allows us into their home to help ready it for an inspection by the landlord; what it feels like to have a community that allows me to share my own struggles. 

In 2018 at The Dale we have said goodbye to friends and grieved their absence, protested injustice and advocated for our community, walked Queen Street West countless times, partnered with numerous organizations, fought with and forgiven one another (or are working on it), made and eaten a LOT of meals together, and sought to create spaces that are safe and respectful. We are slowly, bit by bit, learning what it means to love God and love our neighbor. It is hard, messy, and wonderful. 

There is joy in this journey. 

Breakfast and Art Drop-In at Parkdale Queen West Community Health Centre


Service of Ordination at ESM 


Second Harvest Agency Cookbook, featuring Souad Sharabani’s recipe and The Dale

 
Part of The Dale’s Ride for Refuge Team

 
Baptism in Lake Ontario


Monday Drop-In at BPC


Our summer interns, Ahmeda (centre) and Olivia (right)


The Dale Fall Retreat, Camp Koinonia


Carolling in Parkdale


The “Dale Girls”


New freedom!



In my world, and maybe yours too, burn-out is a hot topic of conversation. What does burnout look like and how does one avoid it? If it does come, what is the way through? Can burnout ever be viewed as a gift?

At its most basic, my vocation is about being a care-giver. I have spent twenty plus years (I keep wondering how that is possible!) being present to people who have lived experience of poverty, substance addiction and mental health challenges. I know there are many who wonder how I can keep it up. There is no denying this work is difficult: I see, hear, touch and taste the effects of this fallen world on a daily basis. The truth is though, I can’t imagine doing anything else.

My faith and a deep sense of call propels me forward. I’m certain that on days when I would rather hide in a cave, I am given strength not my own to be present. At the same time, it would be unfair to claim I have never dangled dangerously close to the burn-out edge.

As I understand it, there are a wide range of symptoms associated with burnout, including: exhaustion, an inability to cope, cynicism toward work, apathy, and loss of creativity. As a demonstrably emotional person, I know to flag feeling numb as a precursor to burnout. I often say to my closest friends, “If you see me not reacting to a death in The Dale community, be worried. Please come and talk to me.”

I don’t know what it looks like for everyone, but for me avoiding/returning from burnout has involved knowing that I am no one’s saviour; recognizing the importance of  receiving help from my community; saying no; establishing healthy boundaries; re-evaluating priorities, and committing to a day of rest. It is a gift to work in a context where my own wounds are allowed to rise to the surface and are then met with a great deal of grace and mercy.

I think that no matter what you do (paid or unpaid), having a community around you is a way to protect against burnout. So often we are instructed to start looking out exclusively for ourselves, as though that is the way to recover. It might seem counterintuitive to become MORE dependent on others, but as Henri Nouwen once wrote: “When we become aware that our stuttering, failing, vulnerable selves are loved even when we hardly progress, we can let go of our compulsion to prove ourselves and be free to live with others in a fellowship of the weak.”

If there is a gift to be found in burnout, maybe it is that we can simultaneously lose AND find ourselves while experiencing it. We are invited to be aware that God is present in the valley and on the mountaintop. In a strange way, burnout can help reorient us, directing us toward community, a place where we can learn to love, have empathy and compassion for one another, and discover the healing and hope of the one who created us.

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It’s not hard to describe the regular schedule of The Dale. On Mondays we have a lunch drop-in, on Tuesdays we meet in the park, etc. What maybe is more difficult, unless you’ve spent time with us, is describing how things feel.

On Monday I found myself unable to meet with all of the people who wanted to connect and it admittedly led to some tension. I became a little sad and needed to take a minute to compose myself. I want to listen well, make the calls someone needs (often to a Social or Housing Worker), and generally be a good friend.  In that moment of deflation, there were many community members who did for me, exactly what I hope to do for them: they noticed I was a tad out of sorts, offered encouragement, gave me a hug, and asked how to help.

On Wednesday we held a Memorial Service for Mike. It was somber. He was an important friend to many people. A number of people spoke to me about the difficulty of compounded grief: how there have been too many untimely deaths and that the need to say a proper goodbye is necessary. There is relief that The Dale is present to facilitate memorials and funerals. One person came to me after and in their grief for Mike repeatedly said, “what would we do without The Dale? We need to keep being together”.

Following the Memorial a group of us went to a small stretch of beach along the lake because a community member named Kim had indicated her desire to be baptized. Joanna and Meagan led two readings, one from Scripture, the other something Kim wrote. And then we waded out into Lake Ontario where Kim announced her faith and allowed me the honour of baptizing her. What followed was communion and a tea party on the sand. With her permission I share Kim’s words about The Dale here:

Loving me as I am, in my loner spirit and nomadic ways, I felt drawn to a spirit community that I had not known before. I had always found my “spiritual” needs in nature, among God’s creation of wooded areas and rivers, and away from critical judging eyes. I had become a loner due to difficult circumstances in life, and felt I never quite fit anywhere else. Then I saw an open door, and the light shone on my heart, and a community grew into my family that I had not known before. I felt connected, and my loner spirit changed: I grew from being an “I” single, into a shared “We” community, and that felt good. I found stability, built a foundation, within a church with no walls, yet full of a caring community spirit. I now walk proud, and take risks to move forward, knowing I am part of community, and we walk together spilling out into the streets!

So many different feelings: tension, grace, grief, relief, joy, connection. The thing about The Dale is that we really do want it to be a place of belonging for whoever comes here. It’s not just about me, or other staff/volunteers doing something FOR other people, it’s about all of us doing something together, wherever we come from. We all, including me, need to both give and receive. Choosing to do life together in this way is messy. Sometimes we let each other down. People fight. The challenge of life circumstances, either poverty, or addiction, or mental health, or broken relationships, or death, or [insert your own struggle] can impact the way we interact with one another. And, it is most often in working through the messiness that we experience the joy of redemption.

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Note from Erinn: Saying goodbye to Olivia is hard. We all not-so-secretly wish she could stay. She has eagerly participated in all that we do at The Dale and we deeply value her presence. Olivia: you are a kind, sweet spirit. Thank you for sharing yourself, deliberately building relationships, and offering to help in such a variety of circumstances. I am grateful for your smile, your hugs, and your quiet and thoughtful strength. There is no way this is goodbye, because there will always be a place for you at The Dale. You are loved. 

I have been working with the Dale for almost three months now, and unfortunately it is time for me to say ‘goodbye’. I have learned so many things from this experience. I do not think it is possible for me to have done more for The Dale than what The Dale has done for me.

There is a passage in the Bible that says, “For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well.” (Psalms 139: 13-14) This truth from Scripture is a powerful reminder to me, that I have been designed by God and it is wonderful. This truth also applies to each person I have met, shared a coffee with, or played ukulele alongside.

Each friend that I have made in Parkdale is so unique. So many of them love to create and are willing to share what they have more than most people I meet do. But most importantly, they are “fearfully and wonderfully made” by God. I was always reminded of this when I met someone new and they told me what makes their heart happy, such as poetry, gardening, or singing. Even in times of difficulty, like seeing someone in the hospital or someone frustrated and upset, I was reminded me that we are the body of Christ, we are the church, and each are so loved by God.

One personal struggle that I have dealt with my whole life, is feeling like my weaknesses are so big that I am not qualified enough to do ministry: that my shy personality and nervousness gets in the way of relationship building and speaking in front of large crowds. But, God is constantly trying to teach me that I am wonderfully made and that He is using me in my weakness. Entering a new space can be difficult, but when I came to the Dale I felt like I walked into open arms. I came to give, but instead they embraced me with found gifts and sweet encouragement. Every time I felt like I messed up, we laughed together. When difficult news spread, we cried together. The Dale showed me that doing ministry does not require a specific and perfect personality, but simply someone who will say “yes” to going; someone who will say “yes” to loving others and joining with one another in the messiness of life.

Being at the Dale exposed a new side of this type of work to me, one that goes deeper. I not only met and built relationships with individuals from the neighbourhood but got to hear their life stories and sometimes meet their family members. This was over-and-above any of my other experiences, which was usually to meet someone, maybe give out food, but then move on. There was something special about being welcomed into homes and meeting the parents, children, and spouses of the friends we love. This made me think about how life goes on after a meal program ends or after I get on the bus to go home. Each of these dear friends have a different circumstance to go home to and that I should not stop thinking about them or praying for them when I leave.

These are only some of the many reflections and discoveries I have learned during my time with the Dale. I am so thankful for Erinn, Joanna, and Meagan for welcoming me onto their team, taking the time to show me the ropes, and for exhibiting how to serve and love a community so well. It’s going to be hard to say goodbye, but I know I will see them all again when I visit Toronto.

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Julie Gold is a member of The Dale community and a friend. We have recently learned that Julie has been missing for eleven days. The last time she was at The Dale was June 24th. Though from Uxbridge, Julie made the long trek to Parkdale on a regular basis (always to my amazement). There is evidence that she may currently be in the Toronto area. We join together with Julie’s family in deep concern that she be found.

We have been instructed by the police to ask the following should you have any information about Julie:

Please contact the Toronto Police at 416-808-2222, or in case of emergency, 911. This is Durham Regional Police case #18-136926. The officer in charge is Police Constable Gerritts, Badge #3521, 905-579-1520 ext 2000. PC Gerrits can also be reached by email at 3521@drps.ca

Julie is 5’8″, has a medium build and shoulder length brown hair. Those are important features to know as you look. Please also know that Julie is the kind of friend who consistently encourages me to take time out for myself and regularly offers to meet for a drink (she doesn’t like coffee, but knows I do) or a lakeside walk. She is: a loyal friend and a lover of cats; can be very quiet and has a great laugh; is quick to help with the dishes and gives good hugs.

Julie: may you know deep in your core that you are loved. I hope you are safe. We all do. 36636842_10156213384211223_3177978359669850112_n

 

 

 

 

We play a fair amount of Scrabble at The Dale. Years ago we inherited a large turntable board that The Salvation Army Thrift Store (the location of our Tuesday drop-in) graciously allows us to keep stashed in a back room. Most weeks it is set up on the table in the Coffee Corner, surrounded by mugs of hot drinks, a few snacks, and a rotating group of interested players. Nine times out of ten we don’t keep score, partially eliminating the competition factor- depending on who you play with.

For some people Scrabble is a new game. It is always interesting trying to describe the rules, especially when we regularly *ahem* loosen them: there must be at least two players and no more than four; the person who draws the earliest letter in the alphabet plays first; the game progresses as each player lays down tiles on the board that make up words that connect to already played words (this might be the most challenging rule to get across); tiles cannot be placed diagonally or backwards; suffixes, prefixes and abbreviations are not allowed, nor are words that require the use of a capital, hyphen or apostrophe.

There are many memorable Scrabble moments for me. A community member once had us play “Christmas Scrabble”, where we were only allowed to play Christmas-related words with an accompanying STORY (which for some turns was how we learned a word could be remotely related to December 25th). I love playing with another friend who reads and writes in a very limited way, but eagerly wants to participate. Oftentimes he will excitedly say, “I’ve got a good one!” to a word that has been entirely made up, his face erupting into the biggest grin.

I love to play games and admit it is where my otherwise non-existent competitive streak tends to comes out. Playing at the Thrift Store has helped me keep this in check. It’s not that I still don’t enjoy a very serious game of Scrabble, it’s that I’ve come to love the very NON-serious style we have at The Dale. I have seen unlikely relationships form as two people commiserate over what to do with seven vowels. We get to be very engaged with each other, while also collectively strengthening our brains. It’s fun. And given the variety of challenges our community faces, fun is a very good thing.

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What does it truly mean to do ministry like Jesus? I thought I knew the answer to that until I joined The Dale, where I have seen it with my own eyes. My name is Olivia, and I am interning at The Dale this summer. I have only been around for four weeks and have already felt very welcomed by the community.

The Dale is unique in so many ways. I have come to know this through experiences that continuously shape my idea of who The Dale is.

The Dale is: knowing by name each person sitting on a park bench or along street corners.

The Dale is: being friends with the gentleman at the traffic light asking for spare change.

The Dale is: visiting and feeding cats while their owner is in the hospital.

The Dale is: treating everyone with dignity and value.

The Dale is: two people trying to carry twelve bags of groceries to a friend’s apartment on the second floor.

The Dale is: cleaning a friend’s apartment while listening to “I’m Sexy and I Know it” on repeat.

The Dale is: passing a plate of food around the table to serve one another as a family does.

The Dale is: not just giving but mutually receiving from the community members.

The Dale is: hugging every individual in the church congregation during the greeting.

The Dale is: an unconditional love for anyone, from all walks of life.

During Jesus’ ministry, He spent time with the people who were marginalized in those days, such as the tax collectors and the sick. He told the people to “love your neighbour” (Mark 12:31) and models this throughout His ministry. Through working with The Dale, I am learning more about how this is applied today, that loving people can be accomplished by joining them in life’s mundane tasks. This community has shown me what fellowship looks like. From being with one another in the hard times to the simple moments of sitting in the park singing.

I am excited to continue to be involved in Parkdale and feel blessed to be a part of this family. Each day is unpredictable. I am never sure how plans will turn out, but by the end of the day it is cool to reflect on and see how God is directing things for His good.

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One year ago today Meagan joined the staff of The Dale.

Meagan’s first day was, shall we say, unique. Months prior, I had been scheduled for a colonoscopy (ahem). We had wondered about delaying Meg’s start so that I could be fully present, but she was ready to go. Because I was going to be sedated, she and Joanna agreed to be the ones to pick me up and get me safely home. The sum total of what I recall after they picked me up?…sitting in my living room, eating scrambled eggs that Joanna made, and me saying, “I have a feeling I’m not going to remember anything I’ve just said”. Not exactly the way I envisioned welcoming Meagan to the team!

Looking back, I’m somehow grateful for the opportunity to greet Meagan in such a vulnerable state. I knew that Meagan, though for different reasons, was feeling vulnerable too. Choosing The Dale was a leap of faith for her, one that required joining a small staff, getting to know a whole new community and doing fundraising for the first time. I remember one of her earliest prayers before a Monday Drop-In: it was simply for peace and a friend, both things that she desperately wanted.

I have said this to Meagan privately, but I also want to say it here: today I celebrate and give thanks for her. I am grateful for her courage; for her quiet strength; for her calm, solid presence; for her humour (she regularly cracks me and Joanna up); for her ability to process things which then reveals such wisdom; for her active choosing to be transparent, even when it’s hard; for the way she loves our community; and for her friendship.

Meagan, the last year has truly been a study in contrasts. We have experienced joy, sorrow, loneliness, community, and that’s just a start. Building relationships takes time, even when it feels like it shouldn’t. You are doing such patient work, slowly and carefully developing trust with a lot of people. I hope you feel enfolded and aware of how deeply you are loved and valued. I know the life we have chosen and been called to is not easy. I often think of the way CS Lewis describes Aslan in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, “Is he quite safe?…’Safe?’ said Mr Beaver…’who said anything about safe? Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good’.” This journey is not safe AND it is so good. I’m glad we’re doing it together.

PS If you ever have a colonoscopy, Joanna and I will be there to pick you up.

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One of the first posts I wrote on this blog was titled, A New Adventure where I invited people to join me on a journey. Now, years later I share this letter, fully aware of how far The Dale has come. This too is an invitation, one to come alongside us in whatever way you can. Maybe you can give a financial gift, or share our story with someone else, or attend a drop-in, or…whatever it is, we are grateful.

 

The Dale is my family…We are a family held together with love.

Through thick and thin we stay together.

Marlene, talking about why she loves The Dale

When asked to describe The Dale, our people consistently say it is where they find friendship, community and a place to belong- it is like a big family. We love to be together and create space for everyone to fully participate, an attempt to have people experience what it means to both give and receive. For example, people might offer a warm hello, help to cook, do dishes, sweep floors, play music, or support someone in distress.

We have been working all year to tell The Dale story, to generate financial support, and to strengthen the ways that we are present in our neighbourhood. As a community without our own walls, we have a well-established nomadic weekly routine, one that takes us from location to location for our drop-ins, church service, and administrative work. We do street outreach and advocacy, visit people in hospital, in jail, in their homes, and outside, and accompany people to appointments and court.

The Dale is entirely reliant on the financial support of others to do what we do. As we reach the end of the year, we invite you to consider making a donation to this work. In order for us to plan and budget well, it is very helpful to receive monthly gifts of any size. This is easy to do by using our Pre-Authorized Remittance system. There are other ways to give too, including on-line.

We hope and pray that you think of the people at The Dale as friends, and that you find any contact with us enriching. It certainly is for us- whether you are volunteering, making a gift, being together in a community activity, or simply staying in touch and offering your encouragement.

The Dale is life-changing for Marlene and so many others who find friendship, community and a place to belong with us. So today, we ask you to help move The Dale into another year. Thank you so very much for your goodwill and support. We are grateful for you and others who care about The Dale and our people.

Sincerely,

Electronic Signature

Erinn Oxford

Pastor and Executive Director

Regular Giving

Give on-line through CanadaHelps

Become a regular donor by filling out this Pre-Authorized Remittance Form and sending to erinn@thedale.org or mailing to:

The Dale Ministries
PO Box 94, Station C
Toronto, ON  M6K 3M7

Cheques or Cash

Cheques should be written to THE DALE MINISTRIES and mailed to the above address. To donate cash, please contact Erinn Oxford at erinn@thedale.org.