A moving spirit

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(L to R): Paul Latour thanks volunteers Dave Meade and Kent McFadyen. Photo: Jacqueline Rimmer
(L to R): Paul Latour thanks volunteers Dave Meade and Kent McFadyen. Photo: Jacqueline Rimmer

Compassion can be a powerful force for change. The Anglican Journal takes you to three communities where it is at work for and with youth.

“People said it couldn’t be done, that it was asking too much of these kids who are ages 12 to 18,” says Sheryl Kimbley, describing the program she created, with a cadre of volunteers, that runs annually in Prince Albert, Sask. Northern Spirits gives about 100 aboriginal kids from northern Saskatchewan the opportunity to participate in a fall workshop where they learn about producing a musical showcase. They also compete to be among 30 kids chosen to create an annual show, performed before hundreds in February at the Prince Albert Winter Festival.

“They have not once let me down,” Kimbley says. The kids are in charge of producing the show. “They are the musicians, they are the emcees, [responsible for] every possible thing that has to do with putting on a show, right to knowing how to deal with admissions and customer service,” she adds. Along the way, in the larger workshop and the show, the goal is to build their confidence, self-esteem and dreams for the future.

The event requires a huge investment of time and energy from Kimbley and the other volunteer organizers and mentors. “The preparation is ridiculous, finding the presenters and speakers…I can’t even begin to calculate the hours,” she says. They also invest a lot in the kids themselves. Sometimes it is answering a music question via Facebook or answering a call in the middle of the night and trying to connect kids with people who can give them more help with personal troubles. In 2010, Northern Spirits became a part of Kimbley’s job with the Prince Albert Grand Council, but before that, her hours had all been volunteer, including using holiday time and sick leave from work.

Why does she do it? “Saskatchewan is losing kids due to suicide at an alarming rate. I think if there’s something that we can do that helps even one or two of them, then you can’t stop.”

The program’s many success stories from the program keep Kimbley inspired. She describes one young girl who didn’t find the courage to sing until everyone was saying their farewells at the end of the workshop. “When she sang, she was shaking and trembling, but she had the most beautiful, powerful voice ever … She [later] went on to be a junior chief on her reserve.”

Kimbley grew up in the parish of St. Alban’s Anglican Cathedral in Prince Albert. Her whole family is musical and many of them are involved with Northern Spirits. “Anything that I do is not without the grace of God and the community and [my] family,” she says.

In Victoria, B.C., compassion is also bringing the community together to help provide a safe haven for youth at risk.
The Threshold Housing Society began as a ministry of Christ Church Cathedral, diocese of British Columbia. The society grew until it had to become separately incorporated, but the Rev. Scott McLeod, the bishop’s representative on its board, says it maintains its connection with the diocese. Many Anglicans support Threshold, volunteering for events and helping with the upkeep of the two houses it operates.

Recently, a 90-year-old woman, who wishes to remain anonymous, donated a four-plex property to the society, but the building needed an extensive renovation. Threshold asked activist Paul Latour if he could help.

Compassion has led Latour on an interesting journey of his own. In 2008, he wanted to help a friend with multiple sclerosis fix up her garden, and he organized a mini extreme makeover. He recruited a team of six people, and seven weeks later, they were stunned by the generosity of those they approached: 27 businesses and 75 volunteers helped do a $25,000 garden makeover.

“It was really only meant to be a one-off,” says Latour, but afterward, the volunteers kept thanking him for giving them the opportunity to make a difference. “Something shifted inside and God opened up a door and said, ‘Do you want to walk through?’ ”

He went on to organize other radical renovations of non-profit facilities, such as Victoria’s Mustard Seed food bank. He was still in the process of setting up his organization HeroWork when he agreed to take on the Threshold project. (HeroWork brings people and companies to complete “radical community renovations for worthy non-profits.)

In the lead-up to the renovation, Latour says he was working about 14 hours a day to pull together all the volunteer efforts. “It is, on one hand, the hardest thing I have ever done…and on the other, it’s this beautiful, magical thing.”
In Newfoundland, Claudia Long is working to help build compassion in a new generation. She had no sooner retired from her 31-year career as a schoolteacher than she was back in schools for 27 visits a year as an instructor in the Roots of Empathy program.

Created by another Newfoundlander, Mary Gordon, the program is designed to cultivate empathy by bringing a parent and infant into a classroom of children who are coached by an instructor on how to relate to an infant. It aims to help children understand their own feelings and those of others and to build caring societies. It is now in use in every province in Canada, some U.S. states, New Zealand and the U.K.

Although the organization is a secular one, Long, an Anglican in St. John’s, says its values go hand in hand with her faith.

“The most rewarding part for me is to see the children’s reaction with that infant baby and to see that even the most assertive kids in the classroom still come down to that baby’s level,” says Long. “I just felt it was a wonderful program to give back.”

Leigh Anne Williams

Leigh Anne Williams

Leigh Anne Williams joined the Anglican Journal in 2008 as a part-time staff writer. She also works as the Canadian correspondent for Publishers Weekly, a New York-based trade magazine for the book publishing. Prior to this, Williams worked as a reporter for the Canadian bureau of TIME Magazine, news editor of Quill & Quire, and a copy editor at The Halifax Herald, The Globe and Mail and The Bay Street Bull.

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