Friday, October 15, 2010

Thank you, community-builders - where would we be without you?

Organizing an event is an unusual undertaking at the best of times. Things get even more interesting when you’re dependent on community donations and goodwill to pull it off, as has been the case for the three years I’ve been doing the annual Project Connect event for the street community.
Doing anything to benefit the poor evokes a peculiar reaction in some people, as if it’s sainted work. But staging an event like Project Connect, sponsored by the Greater Victoria Coalition to End Homelessness, is less the work of saints than it is of community worker bees.  They fill my heart with hope for a better day every time I have the privilege to see them in action.
Every year, the outpouring of goodwill and effort reminds me of how much can be accomplished when everyone steps up to the plate even just a little. From the local businesses that donate gift cards and products to the hundreds of people in the community who donate items for “survival packs” or give their time, people attach to the event for all kinds of reasons.
But what really stands out for me is the leadership shown by the local faith community, both in mobilizing for donations and providing wonderful, committed volunteers.
I’m a secular person myself, so my tendency is to look for some broader explanation as to what brings out humanity in people. But what I’ve come to see is that you often find a higher concentration of it within the faith community.
My time at PEERS Victoria helped me see the role that faith and hope play for people in desperate circumstance. They need to believe.
But really, don’t we all? Some of us are fortunate enough to enjoy abundance and happiness to the point of never feeling the need to reflect on the faith and hope in our lives. In truth, life would be unbearable without them.
Much to the benefit of our communities, faith and hope at a collective level manifest as a whole lot of good-hearted men and women prepared to do what it takes to make something happen. Like that noble character Horton the Elephant, the people I’ve come to treasure as community-builders say what they mean and mean what they say.
They show up. They work hard, and for all the right reasons.  
That’s not to suggest that everyone who helps out with Project Connect belongs to a church. But the faith community plays a significant part. I know we couldn’t have filled 700 packs so generously for people at Wednesday’s event at Our Place were it not for the efforts of local Christian congregations.
Every year is a learning experience with Project Connect. But the point that definitely sticks with me three years on is how much I like people who show up.
They say they’ll get a task done, and they do. They inquire about what you need help with, and then they make it happen. They reach out across their personal networks and pull in all kinds of kindnesses.
Obviously, you needn’t attach to a particular spiritual identity to do that work. (Case in point: Me.) But there’s no denying that a significant part of the hard, free work of our region gets done by the faith community, and by the broad base of volunteers they are skilled at mustering around them.
It’s faith and hope that brought so many of the 35 service providers into the room for Project Connect as well, and never mind that some do this work for a living. There’s real love at the heart of a lot of poverty work.
I saw a woman transform lives Wednesday with a set of hair clippers and a friendly willingness to jump into even the most tangled, wiry beard. Who’s to say God wasn’t among the crowd when one of her beaming, newly groomed clients emerged into the courtyard at Our Place to a spontaneous round of applause from his admiring peers?
A hand massage for a person who rarely feels a kind touch is, for the moment, a miracle. When your bike rides better, your dog gets help, your socks no longer cling damp and fetid on your aching feet, your sore tooth is finally dealt with - well, that’s how hope takes root.
Talk is cheap. So is caring, unless you’re prepared to put action to it. Thank God - literally, in many cases - for the people in our community who get that.

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