Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Art with Heart creates a magical night to remember

“The artist must create a spark before he can make a fire
and before art is born,
the artist must be ready to be consumed
by the fire of his own creation.”
Auguste Rodin

Tracy Gardner had a spark of an idea. She would teach people how to paint beautiful paintings in the style of the Masters and then she would create a magical evening in which she, along with her students, shared their creations with other Calgarians. And thus, Art with Heart was born.

On October 25, Tracy and 31 artists from her Midlake Art Studio put on a display of 65 pieces of art that touched the hearts and minds of more than 200 people who gathered at the Safari Lodge at the Calgary Zoo to participate in her dream. Funds raised totaled over $23,000 but, even more than the monies raised, it was the incredible beauty of the art that inspired everyone who attended.

“It was breathtaking to walk in and suddenly see the art on display,” said Dermot Baldwin, Executive Director of the Calgary Drop-In & Rehab Centre. “The colours, the tones, the visual impact was almost overwhelming. From the painting of a native woman sitting on a blanket to Tracy’s superb rendition of a mountain goat standing on a ridge, every painting brought its subject to life in living, vibrant colour. It was spectacular.”

Master of Ceremonies, Judy Gabriel of City TV, did a tremendous job of moving the evening along with grace and ease. The story of her own journey through homelessness as a child when her family fled the war in Ethiopia to eventually call Calgary home touched everyone’s heart.

Guest Auctioneer, Frank Hunt of Century Services, kept the live auction hopping by encouraging people to step forward and bid on the 3 oil paintings donated by Midlake Art Studio artists, Dale Bruce, Tracy Gardner, and Keith Hornby. As well, Frank kept participants in the bidding wars when paintings from Drop-In artists, Reg Knelson and Max Ciesielski, were on the block. When the blanket box created by the WoodWork Shop of the Drop-In came up, the bidding was fierce, but, along with the help of his two 'Vanna Girls', Liseanne McDonald and Megs Strachan, Frank handled it all with aplomb. Thank you Frank. You made a difference.

The evening celebrated musical and theatrical arts as well. Harpist Adrienne Schipperus soothed any ruffled spirits with the dulcet tones of her harp. Sitting amidst the beautiful paintings, Adrienne looked like a Masters portrait come to life. John Harris’ classical guitar sounds kept the crowd in the foyer entertained as they browsed through exciting non-art items up for silent auction.

The evening also included a performance of Chairs, a relevant and thought-provoking seven-minute play about homelessness, written by Alexis McDonald and performed by, Aaron Ranger, Stephanie Rubletz and Telly Hunt of By-Product Theatre.

Thank you to all these performers for contributing to a magical evening to remember.

Special thanks go to the artists who put enormous time, effort and love into each painting and who tirelessly assisted in setting-up the displays and dismantling the show when the night was over. Thank you:

Johanna Baarda
Peggy Bell
Judy Bunyan
Eileen Buzan
Maryjo Edmison
Angela Eyck
Bernie Fernando
Tracy Gardner
Heather Golden
Lynn Hardman
Keith Hornby
Carol Irving
Lynne Jones
Janice Kirkman
Bruce Koch
Janette Lennox
Rose Mellersh
Susan Miller
Anne Mulligan
Diane Niesz
Harvey Reimer
Mary Slimmon
Yvonne Smyth
Joan Sommerstad
Laurie Sommerville
Shelia Sterna
Gord Stuart
Ron Turnbull
Carol Turner
TR Turner
Loraine Ure
Max Ciesielski
Reg Knelson

Sincere appreciation to our generous sponsors who donated to the silent auction and made it such a huge success:

Anonymous Donors
Artists of Midlake Art Studio
Bonvida Wines
Dale Bruce
Cactus Art Supplies –
Cottonwood Golf & Country Club
Ted and Rilla Darragh
Tracy Gardner
Grower’s Direct, Riverbend
Calgary Hitmen
Keith Hornby
Kensington Wine Market
Midlake Art Studio
Oaktree Carpets
The Palette Coffee Shop
The Siding Café
StreetSide Development Corporation
The WoodWork Shop -- CDIRCS

A very special thank you to the Khanahoff Foundation. Their generous sponsorship ensures all proceeds from Art with Heart can be directed to and other programs and services that impact the lives of the clients at the Calgary Drop-In & Rehab Centre.

It began with an idea and became an evening to celebrate amongst good friends, old and new, who shared a love of art, good food, and laughter. Consumed by her desire to make a difference, Tracy Gardner and the artists of Midlake Art Studio created a magical night that everyone who attended will always remember.

Thank you.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Where hope lives

It was a tough day for staff and clients at the Drop-In on Friday. When I got to work, the roadway was closed off with crime scene tape. Police cars, firetrucks, an ambulance littered the road. Clients and other passers-by stood outside the tape silently watching.

A man had been stabbed. He's going to live. But it was dicey for awhile.

I felt the ennui all day. The seeping away of energy. The sadness. The sense of futility, of why bother thinking, of what's the point questioning.

The point is, I care, as do the other 177 people who work at the Drop-In. As do the clients who considered the man who was stabbed one of them. As do the countless people who support us in our work of making a difference in the lives of those who believe they cannot make a difference.

Working at the shelter is important to me. Recently, someone asked me, why are you so passionate about working with homeless individuals. My answer, "because I believe it's important to help those without voice find their voices. It's important to give voice to the things that steal our voices."

Once upon a time, I lost my voice. I gave it up. Gave it away. Gave it over to an abuser who told me they had the right to take my voice and had the right to speak up for me. I gave my voice to him and in the process, I made a mistake that hurt me and those I love.

No one can take my voice -- unless I give them the right. When I give them the right, I abdicate all responsibility for my life. And when I give up on my life, I'm giving away my power and ability to make a difference.

And that is wrong -- for my life and for those I love.

When individuals turn to the street, to drugs and alcohol to soothe the pain raging in their hearts and minds, they are giving up their voice, their truth, their song.

That hurts.

I can't change what they've done, but I can make a difference by helping those who have been wronged by their actions and the actions of those around them to find their courage, their strength, their belief in themselves so that they can give voice to their dreams once again.

Antoine de Saint-Exubery, author of one of my favourite books, The Little Prince, wrote, "If you want to build a ship, don't herd people together to collect wood and don't assign them tasks and work, but rather teach them to long for the endless immensity of the sea."

On Friday, a man was stabbed across the street from the shelter and I felt hopeless for awhile. I saw the sea of futility, of hopelessness of despair and lost sight of hope and my belief in the immense capacity of the human being to change, to make a difference.

When I give up hope, I give into the voices who would say, "Them homeless, they deserve what they get." "Let them die on the streets." "It's their own fault." "They chose to be there."

No one chooses an addiction -- addicts nor addictions are that discriminating. No one as a child dreamt of being an addict or of being homeless. No one dreamt of the day they would crave a drug so badly they wanted to die. When believed they would die without it. And no one dreamt of the day when the label they carried would be, homeless, of no fixed address, vagrant, bum, blight on society, scourge and countless other labels we ladle out to explain away what is happening in our society.

Regardless of the circumstances of their lives, regardless of whether they have an 'address', or not, no one deserves to be stabbed. No one deserves to have their life threatened, or fingers chopped off because they didn't pay up for their drugs (as has happened to three clients over the past week).

While I don't agree with drugs and other addictions and I don't agree with what the media sometimes call, the 'high risk lifestyles' of many of our clients, I believe until such time as they can see that the life they're living is killing them, they need my help and the help of others to keep hope alive long enough for them to see the endless immensity of the sea of possibilities for change.

As long as someone is alive, hope is alive. But when they die, hope dies with them.

At the Drop-In, we keep hope alive. If we do nothing else, keeping people alive, and as safe as possible, is essential in the battle against addictions, poverty, violence, and crime. As long as we continue to do what we do, we will have an impact. We will keep hope alive.

With hope, there is always a chance for someone to put up their hand and say, "This life isn't working for me anymore. I need to make changes."

Last week a knife ripped through a man's body and anger ripped through me. In my anger, I wanted to give up. I wanted to turn away, to take the easy route, the safe path.Today, my anger has abated and I feel hopeful again.

I can't change someone's life. I can change the feelings of hopelessness that pervade their lives when they give up hope of ever being different, of ever having a different life. I can hold onto hope as they hold onto their lives desperately searching for the answers to the question they are afraid to ask, and too afraid to confront.

I can't stop someone from being stabbed. I can't stop anyone from picking up a needle and shooting poison into their veins. I can keep hope alive until they find the courage, and the strength, to start asking themselves the tough questions that will lead them away from the life they're leading back to the homes and the families who love them.

I can keep hope alive until they find the courage to stop and look and listen to the world around them so that they can see there is always a possibility for change. I can keep hope alive long enough for them to believe they can do it differently.

For those who support us, who donate their time, energy, financial and non-financial resources, you too are helping us keep hope alive. With your help, we make a difference in the lives who have given up hope of ever living life differently.

Monday, October 08, 2007


Last night I headed down to the Drop-In to help serve Thanksgiving dinner. I was a bit concerned about how dinner would progress. We were anticipating about 1,200 people for dinner, and on Friday, there hadn't been enough volunteers signed up to help out. I needn't have worried.

Over the past few days both radio and TV have promoted our Thanksgiving dinner. By the time 6pm rolled around, over 30 volunteers had turned up to help out and lend a hand serving the meal. Normally, we do not allow young children into the shelter to volunteer. But, a couple of families turned up with their younger children and Cindy, the chef on duty, in the midst of organizing mashed potatoes and gravy, slicing turkey and heating up veggies, found jobs for each of them.

What a gift the children were to staff and clients. They added a 'lightness of being' to the evening. One client commented as I walked passed, "This is great. Everyone's watching their language!" And it was true. Where normally some clients don't think much about the words they use, the room became filled with courteous discourse as everyone made an effort to be on their best behaviour for the sake of the children. Clients quit bickering amongst themselves and staff stretched themselves to encompass our youthful guests at a mealtime that is often fraught with stress as they juggle keeping an eye out for trouble makers and ensuring everyone gets fed. It was a beautiful meal.

As the children worked with their parents to carry each plate filled with turkey and all the fixings to our guests, they concentrated on not spilling a drop. When they reached an individual, they each looked up, gave a shy smile and said, "Happy Thanksgiving". As each guest received the meal held out in a child's hands, they stopped, smiled back and said, "Thank you." Some whispered a gentle, "God Bless," others, simply nodded their heads in gratitude, their emotions too strong to give voice to. But, in their exchange, recognition of the human spirit that connects us all was lit and hope awoke in everyone's heart.

Last night serving dinner, I watched faces transform, hearts break open and minds open up to possibility. Those shy smiles plucked heartstrings. For some, they set off memories of Thanksgiving dinners past, for others they opened up the possibility of dinners to come, hopefully in better times, better places.

A smile is such a simple thing, and yet, such a precious gift. The smiles from those young children will live on in the hearts of everyone at the shelter last night. Dinners will come and go, but those smiles will continue to ignite spirits to the possibility of change. Those shy smiles will continue to keep hope alive.

I left the Drop-In last night filled with gratitude. For the families who came out to help. For the staff who do such an amazing job day in, day out. And, for the clients for whom a child's smile carried such a blessing. Their lives are not easy, but, they keep getting up in the morning and starting over again. Some will be there for awhile. Others will move on quickly. No matter how long their stay, their hope that one day life will be different gives me hope too. I can't change their lives, but as those children reminded me last night, I can share my smile, willingly, freely. Sometimes, it's all I can do. Sometimes, it's all I need to do to acknowledge their presence on my journey as we touch eachother's hearts with gratitude.

As the volunteers left, they walked down the aisle between the tables where satisfied diners sat back, their bellies full, their lives perhaps a little less bleak. As the volunteers passed through, the clients clapped in gratitude. The volunteers were a bit taken aback, embarrassed, except one young boy and his brother. They raced along, chasing each other down the aisle. To them, this was just another part of life they'd never experienced before.

Cindy, the frenzy of getting dinner ready finally over, stood at the bottom of the stairs to thank each volunteer for their contribution. One little girl, her kitchen-helper hair net still in place covering her blond hair, stopped in front of Cindy, put her arms up and gave her a hug. "Thank you for letting me help serve dinner," she said.


It doesn't matter what side of the street you're on, gratitude is a force that can change lives. I am so very grateful for my blessings, for my family and friends, the joy in my life today, for my freedom, for a job I love and for people I admire with whom I work.

May your life be a plentiful banquet of good friends, bountiful food, love and laughter. May gratitude fill your heart and open up the limitless possibilities of your life today as you give thanks for all that you have and all that you can be when you live fearlessly and passionately. May you smile throughout your day.

Friday, October 05, 2007

It Is Not What Happens; It Is What We Do With It. By Dave C.

Written by: Dave C., Senior Supervisor

A decade ago, I was tired. I had been running my entire life believing the reward for all my pain was around the next corner. At each corner, was another corner. The maze of desperation had no exit thus I sought the ultimate escape. My suicide attempt failed and I was hospitalized. I sought salvation from doctors and medications. The glimmer of hope faded when nothing changed. I believed the world was divided between winners and losers; between the loved and the unloved. I believed I had been shorted in the lottery of life and I was destined for an existence of emptiness. I hid from my hollowness in the oblivion of addiction. My resources ran out and I ended up on the streets.

Coming from the suburbs, previously having experienced the inner city from sealed car windows as I drove by, I expected the worst. To my surprise I wasn’t mugged, stabbed, or even judged. The people I met were as lost and as hurt as me. The people I met welcomed me.

In the darkness of my bed at night, fears would emerge. I tried to forget the past and the future by being grateful for today. I looked up and saw the roof over my head; I rubbed my stomach and felt the food digesting inside. I was ok and I said Thank You.

City streets are hostile when you have no place to call your own. While these streets were my home, there was no welcome mat in place for a person like me who had no money and no position. Signs such as “No Loitering” and “Restrooms for Paying Customers Only” reinforced what I always believed – I did not belong. New anxieties were added to the old thus I feared each step. While most shielded their faces from me or tried to look through me, a few acknowledged me. These moments gave me strength.

I feared the night for, while I slept in a room with many, I was alone in my despair. I again thanked the roof over my head and the food in my stomach. To this I added thanks for the kindness displayed by a few among the masses. Peaceful sleep followed this gratitude.

Survival and routine covered old wounds. Hopelessness extinguished want. I was safe and I no longer had to run.

A smile from a stranger penetrated my armor. The sincerity was overwhelming and it initiated a quest to discover what was being smiled at. I had always focused on what was wrong with me, that smile indicated something may be right with me. That smile lives in my heart to this day.

With that smile, my world began to change. I had found simplicity and complacency, a place to hide from myself. This no longer sufficed. Like a slow burning acid, that smile penetrated my soul and forced me to re-enter the world I had fled. I knew the demons of the past were lurking outside my lair but the love inherent in that smile gave me the courage to move on.

Most of my life I thought I was living in anguish. My journey from the shelter towards myself taught me the true meaning of hell. It was long and arduous. I had to face the demons I had been running from for most of my life. Through the help of others and through the strength of that smile, I was able to embrace these demons, thank them and let them go.

Today I am free. Today I am loved. My journey through hell taught me two things:

1. We are all winners if we choose to be.
2. We are all loved if we allow ourselves to be loved.

Ten years ago, I was living in a homeless shelter. Today I am employed as a Senior Building Supervisor in one of the largest homeless shelters in Canada.

It is not what happens; it is what we do with it!

Written by: Dave C., Senior Supervisor