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Community Ministry's Key Strategy: Include People
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By Haydn Jensen

You won't see this sign: "Life Resource Centre Meets Here".

Yes, there is a Life Resource Centre and many new people do meet there and become part of it. There isn't a sign on purpose. People come because other people bring them. The Centre thrives on community and relationships. Everything they do flows from that. For the many refugees and immigrants who participate, the Life Resource Centre provides a friendly opportunity to share with others their many skills learned before they came to Canada.

North Park Community Church began this outreach ministry about 7 years ago by simply starting with a prayer walk through neighbourhoods within the Adelaide, Kipps, Huron and Sanford Street area. David Cottrill, Director of Community Outreach at North Park says that this time allowed them to see and meet people and get to know the neighbourhood. He says that when working with lower income communities, it's important to spend the time to learn and understand their particular challenges. In fact, time can be one of the biggest challenges impoverished people face. As David explained, imagine how much longer it takes to simply get food for your family when you have to walk to and from the grocery store. For those struggling with English literacy, the tedious process of understanding packaging labels also takes extra time. As David says, “It's important to not just go out with the intention of helping people—you need to consult them to see how you can be involved in their journey.” You need to be visible and present. The aim is to connect with those who often find it very difficult to integrate with the larger neighbourhood and affirm their value and place here. This is especially important for newcomers to a neighbourhood, city or country.

Staff and volunteers from the Life Resource Centre walk alongside refugee, immigrant, and struggling families as they deal with challenges such as language, culture, isolation, and financial difficulty. By facilitating connections with community leaders, social service providers, and other agencies, they provide a neighbourhood-based support for individuals and families. Many benefit by having a supportive place to practice and improve their English language skills. Tendayi Gwaradzimba helps facilitate many of the activities, and was herself a newcomer to Canada from Zimbabwe not many years ago. As she puts it, “We don't do anything for people. We encourage them to do things for themselves." Tendayi herself is living proof of how the Life Resource Centre works to engage people.

The Life Resource Centre rents the basement of St Lawrence Presbyterian Church at 910 Huron Street simply as a practical arrangement. It provides an accessible location in the neighbourhood and a suitable facility for various activities from social tea time to sewing, cooking, and children's programs. Skills are shared, taught, and friendships form. At one point a year or so ago, Tendayi and others started asking the women, "What are you doing this for? Where are you going with it?" Tendayi knew that just coming to a drop-in centre to learn to sew or cook with no goal in mind could lead to burnout and people would stop coming. As a result of these questions, the Life Resource Centre organized World Tailors and World Cooks.

World Tailors started as a gathering of women who were growing as sisters and enjoying encouraging one another. It was Donna Teeple and Tendayi Gwaradzimba who began to realize that there was much potential in the strong relationships that were being built and the quality of the sewing skills that were emerging. So, they began making and selling aprons for adult and children.

World Cooks began in much the same way, starting out as a place where women could cook and teach each other how to prepare foods. In order to become food service providers, they then needed to help one another complete the Food Handling Certification Program. Although interpreters were at times needed in order to complete the testing, once the first lady passed, this gave others the confidence to do the same. Now they regularly prepare and serve food at church events, Sunfest and other venues. These enterprises help the women earn a little extra money for themselves and their families, while also helping them learn more about banking in Canada, budgeting, and other money skills. Socially, these activities also connect them with the larger community beyond their family, language and cultural groups. David Cottrill makes a strong connection between a healthy community and sustainable living: "If someone has a place to belong in a community, their chances of then entering the economy are so much higher." Not surprisingly, there are those who have “graduated” from World Cooks and now enjoy steady employment in local restaurants. Excellent!

A helpful video on the World Tailors' ministry can be viewed here:
World Tailors video: View Video

But why stop with cooking and sewing? The Life Resource Centre also holds frequent outdoor events at the Huron St. Church where they now use portables there for children's activities and a monthly thrift store. As if that weren't enough, folks at the Life Resource Centre also grow food! World Farmers operates in partnership with friends from Stoney Creek Community Church, using 2 acres of available land nearby. Because people from other cultures often grow food differently, everybody learns. For example, last summer some Canadian partners became concerned that some “world farmers” were letting their garden plots become overgrown with pigweed. What an education—and delight—when they later discovered at harvest time that pigweed is delicious! For many Africans, pigweed is food to be harvested and not a weed at all.

Needs and Opportunity
Tendayi and David shared how there are now people coming to the Resource Centre from across London, indicating that there is both need and opportunity for expansion and for other London churches to consider similar outreach efforts. When asked what advice he would give to churches wanting to do something similar, David's first response was to begin with the future in mind: "If a church wanted to do it, be sure they have a long-term commitment. It takes a long time to build trust and to be known as a place that is welcoming and warm." He also shares how important it is for us to get out of our church building in order to be a visible presence in the community - even an event in the church parking lot is a great first step. Over and over, both Tendayi and David stressed the importance of partnership, listening and responding to the changing needs of the community by learning and sharing together as equals. Tendayi says, "If you come as the helpers of the poor, you are not really doing anything." David adds, "We try to stay away from the word 'help'. We don't do it for them; we walk alongside them."

Tendayi also offers a helpful and philosophical perspective on why operating something like the Life Resource Centre is so beneficial: "When you start a journey, you need to reach your destination. So our destination is to see some of our friends getting to a point where they can say, 'Yes'- they have done it by themselves. They have reached the goal of living a decent life, of being able to contribute to their community, and of being able to show their children that work is so important to them."

Given the growing concern we often hear about the widening gap between the rich and poor, efforts like the Life Resource Centre are well-worth encouraging.






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