As the spring slowly rolls in, Bissell Centre is gearing up for its annual gala – Bissellebration (pronounced Biss – celebration)! This year the committee has chosen to do something a bit different. Normally, the revenue from Bissellebration has not been designated to any program. As we prepare to re-launch Moonlight Bay Centre (www.moonlightbaycentre.org) as a retreat centre, a corporate meeting space, and a Bissell Centre client camp we thought it would be prudent to support this renewed initiative. The lake front property has not been used for two years and we are excited to re-open the doors to transforming lives! Continue reading
Category Archives: Success Story
One of the things that is wonderful about working at Bissell Centre is the opportunity to see how people, schools, corporations, and other communities yearn to make a difference. It is always a joy to provide a tour to our donors or simply to those who want to learn a bit more about the challenges of our inner city clients and maybe break down some assumptions or stigma around poverty and homelessness.
For a third consecutive year, École Joseph Moreau’s “Comité ESPOIR” (Hope Committee) has undertaken some fund raising initiatives to support their less fortunate community. This small group of Junior High students has raised over $750 and increased awareness of our organization to the leaders of tomorrow.
Success Coach at École Joseph Moreau, Marc Piquette, believes “these kinds of experiences have a real impact on kids and help them understand some of the realities of our society but also the hope and the triumph of the spirit of community.”
Thank you again for your support and we look forward to hosting you for a tour again next year!
This story was written by one of Bissell Centre’s Homeless to Homes participants. *Name has been changed to protect the participant’s privacy.
My name is Jennifer*. I became homeless about four years ago. Prior to becoming homeless, I was in an abusive relationship with a common law partner for approximately 10 years. The moment that I made the decision to leave this relationship was the moment I became homeless. I knew that’s what I was choosing, but the experience that I had in this relationship was so bad that I felt like I had no alternatives.
Being homeless is pretty rough. There were many moments when I was homeless that I felt scared and angry. I found that the amount of alcohol I drank increased when I was homeless, and I spent time picking bottles to make enough money to purchase more liquor. I spent most nights at inner city shelters, and at times, when I had no other options I even stayed outside. Continue reading
I wrote this little story – a blend of fiction and non-fiction – some years ago and just rediscovered it in my personal archives (which is a nice way of saying, among the stacks of papers kept in many boxes). It was written in the summer-time, but for me, it is a Christmas story about hope and change. I hope you like it.
Like you, I am frequently approached for a hand-out by someone on the street. Sometimes I hand over some change. Sometimes I don’t. When I don’t is when I find myself rationalizing that I don’t want to support someone’s drinking habit. Giving them a sandwich would be more appropriate, I tell myself. But of course, I don’t carry a sandwich in my pocket and I don’t go buy them one. I just walk away with my self-sustaining rationale.
I bet most of us do that more often than not. Yes, I know. Handing over a dollar won’t solve anything. What difference will I make? Maybe I will cause more harm than good. Who knows? Then I remember a fellow I knew years ago. His name was Ernie. He had been on the streets for twenty years – a heavy drinker, the personification of a “bum.” The kind of man you walk around if you see him coming down the street. All of my colleagues figured he would die on the streets.
Ernie comes to mind for a couple reasons. First, because he was always willing to share what he had – which wasn’t much – with anyone who asked. He was just that way, an all around nice guy (despite his rough appearance), even when drunk on Lysol or cheap wine. Second, one day Ernie just quit drinking and never started again — at least for as long as I kept track of him anyway, which was for several years.
One day I asked why he just stopped drinking.
He gave me a big smile and shook his head. “I don’t really know,” he said. “I just woke up one morning and said that’s it. I’m done. I threw out what little booze I had in my room, took the empties to the depot and headed to the Gold Nugget for breakfast.”
I guess I was looking for more of a watershed moment from Ernie, some kind of spiritual turning point – anything other than “I don’t really know.”
“Something troubling you, son?”
I shook my head. “I just thought you would know the reason.”
Ernie laughed. “I can think of some now, looking back. Like I didn’t want to die yet. But at the time, the honest truth is I didn’t know. I just quit.” He paused for a moment. Ernie had always been a thoughtful man and had an uncanny sense of other people. “You,” he said. “You were good to me – and the others at the drop-in, you know, the workers there.”
“Thanks,” I said. “I wasn’t fishing though…”
“Maybe you were, maybe you weren’t,” Ernie said. “But it’s true anyways. It wasn’t that you were social workers. You were just people, decent you know. You gave me change, bummed me smokes, gave me rides when my arthritis was bad. You just hung out and talked. I never got the feeling you were trying to save me. I hated that – people trying to save me.”
I didn’t know quite what to say, so I shifted gears. “So did you enjoy your breakfast that first day – you know, at the Gold Nugget.”
“Nope,” Ernie said. “I got sick like a dog, and then I gave all my change to Stanley – you know him, right?”
“He was in a bad way and needed a fix more than I needed my little bit of cash.”
“I understand,” I said.
Ernie looked at me. He smiled a little. “I imagine you do, son. I imagine you do.”
I don’t know where Ernie is today, but I have a feeling he is alive and sober. He’s still poor no doubt and living day to day on his disability checks. He’s probably still off the streets living in a small room in McCauley or somewhere along 118th Avenue.
But one thing I know for sure. When Ernie comes across an outstretched hand, he stops and gives them what he can. Knowing him, he likely has a chat as well. And when he finally does move along, he’s not wondering if he should have bought them a sandwich. Maybe he understands these things better than we do because he was there and then one day things just changed. I figure that if that can happen to an old alcoholic bum named Ernie, maybe it can happen to other folks, too, even folks like you and me.
The very last time I saw Ernie was a couple years after I left my job in the inner city. I was walking along Whyte Avenue on my way to Greenwoods to buy a book. He was headed the other way, moving slowly with his wooden cane.
“Hey, Ernie,” I said. “Long time.”
Ernie looked up at me and smiled. It took him a moment to recognize me. “Mark,” he said. “How’s things?”
“Good,” I said. “Real good. You?”
“Same as usual. My leg hurts a bit more lately than usual, but can’t complain really.”
We stood there for a few minutes, talking about other folks we knew, those who had died, others who had left town, the few who were still walking 96th Street each day. People streamed by us, oblivious to our reunion, except for a young man in a business suit who gave us a dirty look for being in his way.
Ernie smiled at the man. “To have old friends, son, you got to make a few first.”
I laughed. The young man didn’t, but he went away.
And then it was time. “Mark,” Ernie said. “I should be getting on.”
We said our goodbyes and then continued on our separate ways. A few steps later, I turned around. “Ernie,” I yelled.
Ernie turned half way toward me
“Good to see you,” I said.
Ernie nodded and gave me a little wave with his cane and then shuffled off through the crowd.
As I waved back I caught my reflection in the shop window. I stepped forward to get a better look but then thought better of it. I didn’t want to frighten people in the store gawking like some stalker! So I crossed the street and walked into the bookstore. I felt different somehow, but wasn’t sure why. All I know is I felt somehow changed by an old man with a bum leg who had quit drinking years ago for reasons he didn’t understand at the time.
Like most people, I wish for a lot of things in my life. I hope my children will be happy. I hope my wife loves me as much as I love her. I would like more money, who wouldn’t? I hope for less violence and pain in the world.
I also wish I could be more like Ernie. And on that day in the middle of summer, I wished for that more than anything.
Written By Rylan Kafara, Bissell Centre’s Inner City Recreation Coordinator
Anyone who has been in Bissell Centre has probably seen Ceno’s art. There are pieces displayed in almost every office, some are hanging in the hallways, and others are painted on the walls. If you’ve visited some of the businesses in the area, you may also have noticed the works Ceno has used for barter when he’s hungry.
Recently, one of Ceno’s pieces was submitted to the 4th annual Edmonton Timeraiser. The Timeraiser is a charity gala where local artists’ paintings are selected by a jury of their peers for auction. If chosen, the artist is paid the market value for their work. At the event, the pieces are given to the highest bidder.
Instead of paying money, however, the winner offers volunteer hours. These hours are worked over the course of the year at community agencies of their choice, and then they are given the artwork.
The Timeraiser is about creating connections, and building community. All across Canada, prospective volunteers are paired with the agencies they are best suited to work with, from Vancouver to St. John’s. Each year the event grows, as more cities host events, more artists are showcased, and more volunteer hours are raised.
This year, Ceno’s “Spirit of Chief” was showcased at the Timeraiser held on October 13th. So not only was his talent recognized by other Edmonton artists, but he was paid a fair price, and his art gave back to the community through a new volunteer.
Ceno’s art being featured at the Timeraiser helps remove barriers between the inner city and the wider community. Although he has never had a formal art education, Ceno has been able to nurture his talents at Bissell Centre, and through that support he has achieved something any artist would be proud of.
If you’d like to help community members like Ceno, visit our Giving Guide to see the many ways you can! Bissell Centre Giving Guide