Monday, December 29, 2008

The First Annual Musician's Carol

Happiness depends more on how life strikes you than on what happens. Andy Rooney
On Thursday, December 18, a group of Calgary musicians got together to hold the First Annual Musician's Carol on behalf of the DI. It started with a guy named Lester Howe. He came into my office one day and said, "I want to make a difference. Can I pull some musicians together and put on a concert for you guys?"

And he did. While the weather outside was frightful, the sounds and spirit inside Dicken's Pub, where the event was held, were delightful! Even though weather was an inhibitor, the roads were treacherous and holiday spirits were wearing out on the last few shopping days 'til Christmas there was a good crowd throughout the evening to partake of the amazing music. Through the generosity of the performers and those who attended, the First Annual Musician's Carol raised $675.

During the evening, Lester kept coming up to me and saying, "Next year will be even bigger. I've already booked the venue and the night." I'm sure he's right. The evening was big enough that night to open hearts and minds to the possibilities of doing even more for those who need our help.

On the night of December 18, I felt like I was part of something that transcended the every day. It was a community spirit of giving. A sense of belonging to something filled with possibility, filled with giving to receive the gift of music, of talent, of connecting to something bigger than just ourselves.
During the evening, the musicians came up to thank me for making it possible for them to support the shelter. What awesome spirits! They had all volunteered their time and were grateful for the chance to give back. When I invited them to contact me if they wanted to come into the shelter to put on a show, they all jumped at the opportunity.
"Hey!" one guy said after hearing he was welcome to come in and play for clients. "I've been there. Down and out. Without my music, I'd still be down. It's the least I can do if it might help someone else get out of that place of feeling like the only place you got to go is down."

The gift of empathy. The gift of caring. The gift of giving. It was an evening filled with the joy of being human.

It was also an evening to witness the human condition struggling to find itself somewhere in the chaos of a bar. A place to see the parallels of life on the street played out on the bar room floor.

Late in the evening a tall, skinny man, clad head to toe in black walked into the pub. Black hair. No hat. No scarf. His face had a tight, pinched look. I smiled at him from behind the podium where I was seated at the door. A stack of DI newsletters sat on the counter top beside me. A grey tin cash box, lid closed, rested in front of me.

"What's this?" he asked pointing at the cash box. A confused look on his face at the realization that I was there for a reason.

"It's a benefit concert for the DI." I told him.

"You mean I have to pay to get in?" He hesitated. Eyed the stairs towards the exit. Glanced at the bar. "I..." He stopped. His shoulders lowered, his head dropped forward, his chin touched the collar of his black leather coat. He shook his head. He let out a big sigh. "Great. I shoulda known. It's my birthday. I just want a drink. I'm not here to listen to music. I'm fighting with my boss. He wants to cut my pay. He keeps saying I'm lucky to have a job and with the economy..." He took a breath as if to continue on with his tale of woe.

"Happy Birthday! Please feel welcome to come in." I smiled and said quickly. "Giving is an option. Have a nice evening."

He stood in front of me for a moment. Confused. Someone else entered and I turned to greet them. He slid away to the bar and ordered a drink. He turned his back to the musicians on the stage, hunched his shoulders over a beer and stood by himself, a solitary figure in black. Lonely. Sad. Lost.

He reminded me of many of our clients. A well worn path to the bar, their minds filled with the stories of why they're where they're at and will never get to where they want to go, if only they knew where that was. They can't see the story on the other side of opening up to possibility and lose their sense of direction. Stuck in where they're at, they cannot find a way out.

For that man, finding a reason not to give is all he can give. Perhaps one day he'll give himself the gift of a new story of his life, but for now, he's where he's at. All I could give him was a smile and an invitation to come in from the cold.

Later, a young man stumbled across the floor, his body weaving from side to side. He wasn't with anyone. He didn't have a drink anywhere that I could see. And still he stumbled. Another patron brushed past him. The young man stopped. Scowled. Stared after the other man who was oblivious to their brief encounter. His face scrunched up in thought. Did he want to fight? Duke it out. Call out, "Hey man. You pushed me." I hesitated. Not sure if I should approach him. Not sure if I should get him a chair.

As quickly as the encounter happened, the young man turned around as if he'd forgotten something. Perhaps where he was. He stumbled up the stairs and disappeared into the cold night, buttoning his coat as he left.

An older man sat at the lottery machine behind me. Sixties. Perhaps seventy. He plugged the machine with coins and sipped on a drink. He sauntered over to me, one finger pointing and shaking in front him. "Hey! Wanna dance?" he slurred. His grin was toothy. His eyes watery. He reminded me of some of our older clients at the shelter. The only difference was, this man has a home to go to. His clothes were clean. He obviously had cash. But the behaviours were the same. The loneliness that pervaded his being, the need to belong, the desire to connect, I see those things every day at the shelter.

We are all connected by the human condition of our lives. We all have a story to tell, a reason for where we're at, an excuse for why we cannot give and receive, a reason why we give and receive.

It was an evening of magic. Of life unfolding. Of giving and receiving. It was a night of human beings celebrating creativity, no matter the condition of our spirit; no matter where we laid our heads down to rest after the celebrations were over.

Thank you to Lester Howe for his gift of creativity, his willingness to give so that we could receive.

Thank you to Todd Stewart and the team at Dicken's Pub. You made the world a better place by giving us a place to stage the event, a place to come in from the cold on that bitter night.

Thank you to the musicians.
Troy and Joni
Raw Boswin
Kenneth Locke
Bryan Bayley and the circus
Jonathan Ferguson
Black Dog
Ralph Boyd Johnson
Molotov Smile

Your music creates a world of difference. Your generosity of spirit, the sharing of your talents and your gifts creates a different sound in the world, a song of faith, hope and love. Thank you for sharing your music and song, your talents, time and energy.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Merry Christmas

And so it is Christmas. A season of peace. A time when the Christian world takes a collective breath and offers up a prayer of hope, love and joy.

It is a time for new beginnings, renewed spirits, refreshed souls. It is the time to celebrate all that is miraculous in being human, all that is wondrous in our world.

It is the time to heal wounds, to bridge gaps, to reach across divides that separate us from those we love. It is the time for human beings to stop and take a breath. To let go of what is keeping us apart and connect to what holds us together, as family, as friends, as fellow human beings on the journey of our lifetime. It is the time to connect through our human condition to all that makes us magnificent, to all that makes a better world possible.

And so it is Christmas. Twinkling lights and festive bows. Crinkly paper and mysterious boxes shimmering in the lights of a fragrant fir festooned with decorations. Tires scrunching on snow. Jingle bells ringing. Carollers singing.

A time when the spirit of Christmas lifts up humankind. A time for camaraderie. Fellowship. Good cheer filled with warm greetings as shopkeepers call out Merry Christmas, or Happy Holidays depending upon their political correctness, as they wrap parcels in brightly coloured paper. A time for cards that arrive in the mailbox, unexpected emails from friends afar wishing you and yours a blessed holiday season. And phone calls, and smiles, and gifts exchanged over laughter and a tender look.

A time to soak up the smells of Christmas. Fir trees and spruce boughs. Cinnamon and apples. Cookies baking. Turkeys roasting. Fragrant aromas that awaken our senses and stir memories of Christmases past where we sat around the family table, arms linked, hearts joined in a circle of love that can never be broken no matter how far we roam from the family tree.

It is the time to wrap ourselves up in the warm, toasty, velvet blanket of feelings that embrace us and nurture us through the long winter nights. That raise spirits and open eyes to the wonderment of a world awakened to love, peace, and joy.

It is Christmas. A time to rejoice in a child's birth over two thousand years ago. A child who gave birth to this wondrous time of year. A time when peace on earth reigns as a real possibility and goodwill amongst men beckons to families across the globe as they gather together to celebrate love enduring.

This is the time to connect. To reach out. To pull in and gather round a blazing hearth and surround ourselves with friends and family. A time to open hands and minds, to still quarrels and soothe aching hearts with kind gestures, a gentle touch and loving words. A time to cherish those we love and to extend a welcoming hand to those who need to find peace with where their journeys have taken them. And, for those who cannot go back home this Christmas, it is a time to find a place to belong so that they too can share in the joy and fellowship of this special time of year.

Throughout the year at the DI, we provide a place for people to belong. A place to still the longing for the hearts and homes they've lost. And, throughout the year, our load is lightened by many hands reaching out to support us, to lift us, to help carry the load.

At the DI, we rejoice in the lives we've touched throughout the year and give thanks to those who have touched our hearts with their support, their time, their smiles and their helping hands.
May you and yours know the joy of sitting around a dinner table, connected through bonds of good tidings and joy and a love that can never be broken. May you know that the difference you make is in the smiles on the faces of our clients this Christmas as they too share in the fellowship of the meals you’ve helped sponsor and prepare, the gifts you’ve so generously donated, the stockings you’ve helped stuff, the time you've spent lifting our spirits.

This Christmas, may we all know peace in a world of good tidings and joy. May our hearts be opened in love and may everyone find a place to call home, a place filled with love and family, a place where we all belong.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Christmas at the DI

Christmas is a time for family. For gathering round a laden table and sharing in the family bonds that tie us to our past with the present of our future generations.

At the DI, the family table is shared by over 1,200 people linked together through the bonds of adversity and the homelessness in which they all share. Amidst the lack of a home a community spirit arises, a fellowship of caring for each other in a world of good tidings and joy in this season of goodwill amongst men.

The DI is a busy place, every day of the year. But at Christmas, extra volunteers are needed to help sort, stuff, and distribute gifts and stocking stuffers so that Christmas morning is special for every one of our clients. We are grateful for the volunteers who turned up to support our many initiatives, and sponsors who phoned in to ensure the holiday meals were replete with all the fixings.

At the DI, we are grateful for the support of our hundreds of volunteers who turn up day in and day out to help us make a difference in someone’s life. We are grateful for the corporations, the families and the individuals who sponsor meals and donate valuable time, energy and financial resources so that we can continue to do the work we do to end homelessness, one person at a time.

This Christmas week will be busy. On Christmas morning, every client will awaken to a sock stuffed with goodies by their pillow. The socks will be filled with toiletries, chocolates and candies and other goodies donated by generous Calgarians, as well as schools such as Father Doucette Elementary and Ernest Manning High School.

In total, over 1250 stockings will be stuffed, and 653 gifts donated by caring Calgarians who responded to the call of the Christmas WishList will be distributed. Over the course of the three days, 80 fifteen pound turkeys, 60 fifteen pound hams and roasts will be consumed. The chefs and volunteers will prepare over 1,000 pounds of stuffing, 1200 pounds of vegetables and 200 litres of gravy to accompany these meals.

The following is a list of special meals and events, here at the DI this week:

Christmas Eve -- Wednesday, December 24

1:30 pm – 4:30 pm

Volunteers will be stuffing Christmas socks and sorting gifts

6pm – 7pm

Dinner – Employees and family from Stampede Lexus Toyota will be helping to serve the turkey dinner they sponsored.

Special Entertainment
Calgary folk singer, Cort Delano will be performing during dinner.

Christmas Day -- Thursday, December 25

8am – 5pm

Volunteers will be distributing gifts to recipients from the Christmas WishList

Noon – 1pm

Sponsored meal by an Anonymous Donor – Ham dinner with all the fixin’s

6pm – 7pm

Staff and family of the DI have joined together to sponsor the Christmas Day meal. Roast Beef dinner

Boxing Day – Friday, December 26

9am – 2pm

Volunteers will be distributing gifts to recipients from the Christmas WishList

6pm – 7 pm

Members and family of Humanity Unites Brilliance (HUB) will be preparing and serving a sponsored Turkey dinner.

Thank you to all our supporters.

You make a significant difference in how we go about our work. You keep our spirits lifted and provide the essential resources that keep us going. Thank you for all you do, and all you give.

Have a blessed and joyous holiday season from the staff and clients of the DI.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Small Gestures Make A Difference

Written by Tait H. Age 8. His report on his visit to the DI for his Grade 3 class.

We are studying the topic of 'homelessness' in English language arts, and 'global citizenship' in social studies. We have realized that small gestures can make a difference in another person's life. We did extra chores around the house to earn money for the homeless.

I had a goal of raising $20 for the Drop In Centre. They said that they needed mitts and socks the most, so I thought I could help with that a little bit. My dad really liked the idea, so he said he would match every dollar I made. I thought that was a good idea, so I asked my Grandmother if she would match it too. She said ‘no’, but if I got to my goal, she would give me $100 for the Drop In Centre!

We bought 6 pairs of mitts and 8 pairs of socks and a whole bunch of hand and foot warmers, which the store didn’t make us pay very much for, because they also thought helping other people was a good idea. We also donated $103.25, so they can buy more of whatever they needed.

After school on Tuesday, my mom took me and my little sisters down to the Drop In Centre. There were a lot of people sleeping on the floor because they had nowhere else to go. They can go here to get warm and have something to eat. The Drop In Centre helps them find a job, too.
Even though it seemed that we were different, and they didn’t know why we were there, the homeless people held the door open for us, and everybody wished us happy holidays. The people that worked there were very nice, too. They said I must go to a good school if they taught us to do things for other people. They said it inspired them, which means it made them feel like they wanted to do more. They showed us a room where they teach classes, and they were making really cool art when we were there.

I have learned that when people need help, even if I can't do very much, I should do what I can, because it does make a difference. Just like the people who had no home that talked to me at the Drop In Centre, they made a difference by giving to me what they had, a smile and good wishes. That is how it feels when people are good to other people. It is nice to help others, but sometimes all I might be able to give is a smile, but I have learned that even that is a good gift, because it made me feel good when it was given to me.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

A little bit of a difference

It was a simple email sent to our general mailbox. A simple request from a young boy. Eight years old. Grade 3 at a local school.

Subject: grade 3 student wants to help


We are studying the topic of 'homelessness' in English language arts, and 'global citizenship' in social studies. I have realized that small gestures can make a difference in another person's life.

I am doing extra chores around the house to earn extra money for the homeless right now. What can I do with this money? Should I get blankets, mits or hats? or something else?

Is there anything that I can do that will make a difference?

Please let me know as soon as you have a chance.

Thank you. Tait

I responded and thanked him for his kindness. You make a difference by caring enough to want to make a difference, I told him. Mitts and socks are most welcome, I added.

He wrote back and said he'd be buying socks and mitts, since that is what is needed. He also wrote, I am working hard, and my Dad said he would match every dollar I earned! So now I need to work even harder. My mom said my gramma would probably do the same thing. That a pretty good idea because sometimes people dont know what they can do to help but they can by doing even little things.

He came in Tuesday afternoon with his mom, two little sisters and a stuffed dog named Ethan which one of his sisters clutched firmly in her mitten covered hands. I brought the family up to the 6th floor to meet Debbie N. and to take a picture of Tait presenting his donation.

Proudly, he pulled his backpack off his back and opened the zipper. His face beaming with a toothy grin, he displayed its contents. Socks. Warm winter gloves. Hotshots and a bag of chocolate Hershey kisses. He'd spent $37 on socks and gloves from the money he'd earned and his father had matched. His gramma had donated an additional $100. He proudly presented me with the cheque tucked inside his backpack along with the change from the $40. "You can't keep the backpack," he said. "I need it for school."

As he emptied the goodies into a box he pulled out a large sheet of card stock paper. The top half had tiny round perforations. Shyly, he passed the card to his mom, his chin tucked into the puffy collar of his blue ski jacket. She passed the card over to me. "Tait is legally blind," she said. "I translated the Braille on the bottom half of the card he wrote."

Debbie N and I swallowed hard. I ran my fingertips along the perforations. Slowly, I read his words which his mother had printed beneath the Braille.

Dear Louise

Thank you for helping me make a little bit of a difference. Thank you for all you do to make a difference, too. From Tait

Inspiration comes in many forms, shapes and colours. On Tuesday afternoon, inspiration came in the form of a small eight year old boy with a backpack full of winter essentials. With his limited sight, he saw into the heart of the matter. He knew that anything he did would make a difference. No matter how small, he knew every bit counts.

What Tait did is no small matter. In his determination to do his chores and raise the money to buy things we needed, he taught each of us the difference that comes when we each do something, no matter how small, to help carry the burden.

His backpack was filled with more than just gloves and socks, a cheque and some change. His backpack was filled with the possibilities that open up when we look at what we can do when do not limit ourselves to doing nothing because all we see is what little difference we make.

Thank you to Tait, his mother Char, father and sisters and his gramma. You have touched many lives and made a difference in the hearts of all of us.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

First Annual Musicians Carol

Join Lester Howe and a host of talented musician's this Thursday, December 18, 6pm until the wee hours.

Dicken's Pub
905 8th St. S.W.

Enjoy an incredible night of music for only $10 admission.

All proceeds wil be donated to the DI.

For more info: call Louise at 403-699-8227

Monday, December 15, 2008

Goodwill amongst men.

Written by: Alexis M. Volunteer, Christmas WishList
Being unwanted, unloved, uncared for, forgotten by everybody, I think that is a much greater hunger, a much greater poverty than the person who has nothing to eat. Mother Theresa
I am working in retail for the first time this Christmas. At a store whose contents are on many a wish list. I am witnessing a side of this season of giving that I’d rather not see. Holiday shopping is in full swing now, there is a level of pandemonium as moms and dads desperately try to find that size six pink hoodie that thier little angel will just die if she doesnt find under the tree. Boyfriends awkwardly attempt to pick the most inoffensive size for thier beloved and people drop piles of cash so that their recievers will know just how much they’re loved.

Yesterday I asked a woman if she wished for me to put a sticker over the price on the pants she was buying for her daughter. “No” she said between pressed lips, “I want her to know exactly how much I’m spending on her”.

This is the lesson she’s teaching her child about Christmas? And yet, I know that there is a part of me that has the same feelings of entitlement that this woman's daughter might also share. I have been blessed to always have had a luscious evergreen pregnant with a mountain of gifts. In fact, since I was seven I’ve had two. And while I spend a great deal of Christmas day plagued with western middle class guilt, I think I might have a very violent vendetta against the man in the red suit if ever my stocking were ever filled with coal instead of gift certificates and socks!

Last week, after a day of Christmas chaos and gross overspending, I met up with my sister and a few close friends at a place of a very different kind of chaos. A place where people argue over beds instead of the last size 12. We had been asked by another friend to come down to the DI to help out with The Christmas Wish List. A website that shares the stories of homeless Calgarians in the hopes of connecting them with a personalized gift made possible by the generosity of more fortunate Calgarians. Our job was to interview the clients so that thier stories and wishes could be posted to the site.

As we gathered in the little office awaiting our instructions, I was unsure of what to expect. I wasnt sure how some people might react to some of the questions and if I would be able to connect with the interviewees. I was handed a stack of forms and given a place at a table. On each form were a series of questions. Name? birthdate? How long have you been homeless? What are the reasons you are on the street? What are the biggest stresses of being homeless? What are your interests? What gives you hope? What would lift your spirits? What would you like for Christmas? And then a list of acceptable items: Work boots, phone card, transit passes, jackets, etc.

A long line of clients waited at the door as staff guided the first in line to an available volunteer. My first interview was with Donna* (not her real name). A blond woman in her forties. Beautiful, in a hardened way. She spoke of the relationship that ended, leaving her with nothing five years ago. About her 18 year old daughter. Her angel. She doesnt like her coming down to this corner of the city. Its too dangerous for her here. They arrange for times to meet. Her daughter will call and leave a message. Sometimes Donna doesn't get them. It hurts that she can't be there for the girl whose name she has tattoed across her shoulders. A permanent reminder of the gift she is in her life. What gives Donna hope? The dream that someday she will be able to have her daughter over anytime in a place all of her own.

A young man sits down next. He's 21. Born a year after me. We are both Gemini. Unlike my friends and I, the light is missing from his eyes. He has lost contact with his family. Made some poor decisions. “What would lift your spirits this christmas?” I ask him. “A gift from somebody…Anybody.” is his reply.

More men sit down. One with a black eye and a quiet smile who wants nothing more than to see his kids this Christmas. They are in New Brunswick. It's a long way home. I get no requests for gift cards or fancy electronics. The requests are simple. Boots, overalls, a back pack-if possible a new one that doesnt have holes.

An older gentleman sits down. I ask his birthdate. 1955. He looks nearly 70, his face weathered and cracked by the years slipping by. He was attacked 12 years ago and made legally blind. He made his living driving machines. He can't have a licence now. He is thankful everyday for the eye doctor who gives him hope pro bono. I ask what would lift his spirits. His voice cracks and tears well up in his eyes as he manages a quiet “peace on earth and goodwill amongst men”. He shrugs as he concedes to the fact that that won't happen anytime soon. He marks down an am/fm radio. The music takes him away from this place.

As he gets up to leave I ask him if I can give him a hug. He is speechless. His hand goes to his heart. He nods a silent yes. Mother Theresa said once, that if there is no peace, it is because we have forgotten that we belong to eachother. As we stood in an embrace in the midst of the chaos on the second floor, we belonged to eachother and if only for a second, I hope that that man felt some of the peace and goodwill he so desired.

The interviews gathered to a close and my friends and I made our way out of the shelter to a restaurant where we were able to share our stories over a meal that we got to choose from a menu. We recounted the jokes we had swapped, the moments we had witnessed, the things in our lives that we are grateful for.

It doesn't need to be said that I am grateful for a roof and for food. That goes without saying. On that night as I looked around at my sister and my friends and the memories we have shared together I felt more thankful than I’ve ever been. For being wanted. For being loved and cared for. For not being forgotten.

Written by: Alexis M. Volunteer, Christmas WishList

Baby! It's cold outside!

I've always believed society is defined by how we deal with our weakest links. The best of America is when we take care of the less fortunate. Peter Samuelson
Winter has blown in with a howl of frigid Arctic air swooping down from the north. Traffic crawls along snow covered roadways, inch by inch. Crunching tires. Spinning wheels. Baby, it's cold outside.

Tucked inside my office, peering out at the snow-laden trees and covered sidewalks, I don't care what the weather's doing outside! I'm cosy in my office. If it weren't for the fact I have a meeting later this afternoon outside the office, I might not venture forth at all today! I have the option to stay put, hunker down and take care of business in my office. I have the choice of what to do with my day.

The option of what to do is not filled with appealing alternatives for the 1200+ people who crowd into the building, seeking respite from the biting winds of a prairie winter. Their options are limited. They can wander the streets to get a break from the crowds huddled into the shelter and risk freezing a finger, a toe, their nose or ears, or they can sit amidst the sea of humanity trying to ignore the constant ebb and flow of conversation, the noise and hum of over a thousand people trying to get by in the depths of winter.

On Friday night we had our annual Christmas staff party. Lots of people didn't make it. The weather blew in and blew out any hope of some people finding their way through the blowing snow to the hall where the party was held. Others had to work. We're 24/7. Some people had to heed the call of duty and could not put in an appearance.

For those who did make it, the festivities were a welcome respite to an arduous year of ending homelessness, one person at a time. At one point, the President of our Board of Directors got up to give a speech. "Until I got the stats this week, I didn't realize we were in line with McDonald's," he said. "We served over one million meals this year."

That's a lot of meals. A lot of people looking for a link back to the homes they lost. A lot of bellies to fill with hope of getting a next meal and a next.

See, that's the thing about homelessness. We must care for 'our weakest links' if we are to keep hope alive in a land of plenty for those who have lost everything, including hope. We must hold out hope to those who have lost their way so that they can find their way back to where they belong.

It's cold outside. Inside, I am warm. And I am filled with hope. Winter's chill will ease into warmer climes. Spring blossoms will appear with the promise of spring. In the meantime, we might even enjoy a white Christmas. A welcome respite from the normal brown and grey tones of the past few years.

No matter the weather, no matter the times, here at the DI, hope lives on. It lives in the minds and hearts of all who care for the weakest links in their families. Who shore up the crumbling walls of someone they love. Who deliver a steaming bowl of soup to someone who has nothing but the clothes on their back and a dream of someday finding their way back home.

Hope lives on as long as we care enough to reach out for those who have reached the end of the road and don't know where to turn to next. Hope endures when we link our arms and stand together to protect and serve those who cannot stand alone any longer.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

We See You

Hope is faith holding out its hand in the dark. George Illes
They arrived in the dark of night. Their yellow school bus twinkling with Christmas lights. A big two ton truck following them into the drive. Amidst a flurry of colour, twenty-five yellow caped angels disembarked and swarmed into the loading dock area of the DI. Some wore Santa hats upon their heads while others wore glow-in-the-dark halos that bobbed and weaved as they unloaded Christmas gifts and carried them into the building. All of the yellow caped angels were wearing big, wide smiles. All of them were laughing. All of them cared that they spread joy and hope where ever they went.

They are, Angels in the Night. A team of mortgage and insurance brokers from Invis Financial who for the past several months have been raising funds to purchase much needed winter essentials for homeless citizens across Canada. It was their sixth year coming to the shelter. The sixth year of sharing the wonder and the joy of Christmas with people in need of their support.

In their wake, they left behind over $5,000 worth of winter apparel and footwear, underwear, towels, blankets and other cold weather essentials at the DI. And they left hope and joy, and the realization that we are not forgotten, and neither are our clients.

Sometimes, all we can do is let people know, "You are not forgotten. I see you." Theordore Roosevelt once implored a nation to remember, 'the forgotten man' and last night, Angels in the Night reminded everyone at the shelter that even those living on the fringes of our society, those whose lives are beaten down, will be remembered. No one will be forgotten. They reminded all of us that as long as they are taking a step, where ever it leads them, no one need be left behind. Because as long as they breathe, there is always hope.

It was a magical evening. And it was busy here at the DI.

Amidst the laughter and the singing, the pranks and the high fives, the serious business of caring for those who cannot or will not care for themselves was taking place. A floor above the loading dock where Angels in the Night had formed a conga line to the clothing centre so that they could transport their gifts with ease, clients were moving up to the sleeping floors, settling into their beds, claiming their little corner of the world for the night. In the first floor lobby area, clients lined up waiting for the opening of our Intox sleeping area. By the time the doors opened, over 200 people would stumble in and claim a mat on the floor, a safe shelter away from the bitter cold and biting wind that accompanies every step of homelessness.

These are the lost souls. The ones who have forgotten they deserve more than this life of homelessness. Numbed by the addictions that cloud their thinking and clog their veins, they have forgotten who they once were, who they were meant to be. All they remember today is the disappointment of who they think they have become wandering the streets in a fog of alcohol or drugs.

We cannot forget them. We must remember for them.

Last night, Angels in the Night arrived and I remembered why I do what I do. Because I can. This morning, my memory is strong. I have the capacity and the ability to remember hope for those who believe there is none. I can carry hope with me where ever I go throughout my day, and I can carry laughter and share a smile. I can share the magic and the wonder of what I saw last night, of what I witness every day and hear throughout the shelter. Because, throughout the shelter, hope lives.

Hope is in the caring words of a staff member who, upon examining the jacket of 'Joe' and finding the zipper broken said, "You can't stay warm like that Joe. Wait here. I'll get you a better jacket." The staff member is 30 something. Muscular. Burly. A giant of a man. Tattooed arms and buzz cut hair. The client, an old man of 60+, missing teeth, dirty hair sprayed out around his weathered face, scarred and leathered hands, broken nails and broken dreams. Yet in the words of that staff member, in his caring for a man who has nothing, dignity is restored. Hope is renewed.

Yes Virginnia, there is a Santa Claus. And his name is Hope.

Hope is in the difference we make when we remember those who have forgotten how precious they are. Hope is in a gentle touch, a caring word, a kind gesture. Hope is in the Angels in the Night who share so generously their abundance so that others may remember, "We see you."

Thank you Lyn and Jim Webber and all the team at Invis Calgary. You make the magic of Christmas come true.

Friday, December 05, 2008

The Christmas Wish List

Christmas waves a magic wand over this world, and behold, everything is softer and more beautiful. Norman Vincent Peale
Last night volunteers came in to interview clients for the Christmas WishList. One of the volunteers is a businessman, an executive from an oil company. It's the second year in a row he's come in to interview. The second year he's left feeling humbled. Blessed. Calm.

I watched him as clients approached the table where he sat. He'd stand up. Put out his right hand. Grasp the clients hand in both of his and say, "Hi. I'm George. How ya’ doing?"

He was warm. Welcoming. Open. He'd sit back down and invite the client to take the chair on the other side of the table. To complete the interview, George had a sheet with a set of questions on it. The objective was to invite the client to tell a bit of their story, about how long they'd been at the shelter. How long they'd been homeless. What caused their homelessness. What stresses them, what gives them hope and then to invite the client to list off one thing he/she wanted for Christmas.

I watched the clients as they talked to George. They'd lean forward. The tension in their shoulders would ease. They'd relax their bodies and talk. And talk. And talk. For some people, this could be the first time in a long time that someone simply listened to them. Heard them. It could be the first time in a long time that a 'regular' guy asked their name and used it in a sentence in a friendly way, no expletive attached.

When clients got up to leave George's table, he shook their hand in farewell. They always left with a smile on their faces. Their step was lighter. They stood taller.

The night before, both my daughters had come in to volunteer with a couple of their friends. At one point, I watched Alexis talking with an older man. Grandfatherly. When he got up to leave, she stood up, walked around the table and gave him a hug. The smile that appeared on his face could have lit up the room. "That's what I really wanted for Christmas but didn't say," he said. "A hug."

It was a beautiful moment. Small. Quiet. Hearfelt. A small moment in an otherwise busy world. A moment to cherish for having witnessed its beauty.

Earlier, one of the staff had come to me with a request for a client who has lived at the shelter for two years. "He's a good guy," the staff member told me. "He's really struggling to get his life back in order. Hasn't seen his kids in two years. Desperately wants to get back to the east coast to see them for Christmas. Is there any way we can help him? I'd be willing to put some money towards his ticket. Is there any way his WishList could ask for contributions?"

As I was collecting the volunteers at the end of the evening, I stopped on one of the sleeping floors to let the volunteer know we were finishing up. She was in the office with a client and one of the staff. The client saw me and called me in. "I'm filling out the form for someone else," he told me. "He'd never do it himself. He's always doing for others but would never ask for anything for himself. Is that okay?"

"What a beautiful gesture," I replied.

The magic of Christmas.

Hearts opening up to strangers. Stories told that connect us in the human condition. People comforted by the attention of a stranger. By a handshake, a hug, a concerned friend. Staff wanting to help out a client. Clients wanting to help out eachother.

This is the real Christmas.

Thursday, December 04, 2008 show a grand event

Believe you can and you're halfway there.” Theordore Roosevelt
Sunday, November 30th was the third annual Christmas art show and sale for

It was a day of celebration. Of spirits flying freely and of hope living joyously in the hearts of the artists and all who attended.

Two and a half years ago when I started the program, it was a dream. An idea. A possibility.

Sunday, I looked around the room, crowded with artists and patrons and realized, I had believed it was possible and now my dream is no longer my dream. It is a community spirit. A reality for all who attended. A truth for each artist and that truth is: I have value. I am worth more than the label 'homeless'. I am an artist. A human being. Creative soul. Expressive spirit. I am a man/woman of possibilities.

Seven artists had their works on display. Another played guitar. Tamara, a young fourteen year old girl who created a charitable organization, Heartprints, Kids for a Cause, so she could sell her handmade jewelry and donate the money to charity, was also there. She raised $500 for the DI.

Wild Rose United Church sponsored the show and had a cafe complete with Nanaimo bars and scrumptious cookies. Nan and Gordon the hosts, welcomed everyone and made everyone feel at home.There was never a lull in the flow of people entering the hall. Never a period where I worried about whether or not the show would be a success.

Success is the artists turning up. Success is the pride on their faces as people drop into their booth and admire a piece of work they created with their hands. Success is the media dropping by to do a story for the newspaper, complete with photographs of the artists and their work. Success is knowing, lives are being changed. Dreams are being crafted. Hopes are being awoken. Possibilities are being created.

Success is written on the hearts of everyone who was there.

Everyone who entered was in awe of the talent of the artists. Their commitment to turn up and express themselves. Their desire to support each other, and their dreams.

And with every piece that was sold, a bit of the artist went home with them. Home. To a place where they belonged, to a family, a couple, a single woman adorning her apartment with a piece of beauty.

The artists may be homeless, but their art found homes yesterday. And if that can happen, finding a way home is possible too.

All they have to do is believe they can get there. They're half way there.

Thank you to everyone who participated. The artists. Staff who helped out. Linda Hunter and Wild Rose United Church. Tamara and her mother Bev, Tom and the crew from the Woodwork Shop. The staff who ensured the art and artists arrived safely and all the people who came out to support the artists and their work.

You light up our lives.