What We Learned – Learnings

What We Learned

Breaking Free

Toronto’s Massey Centre delivers critical programs to young pregnant and parenting women and their babies. Massey Centre offers a host of therapeutic, educational, and parenting supports and resources as well as supportive housing. In Spring 2016, Massey Centre offered an at-capacity program for young moms aged 13-25 who have been victims of the sex trade or sex trafficking. United Church Foundation grant monies supported this project.

Breaking Free helped young women understand the impact of sex work in their lives, to heal, and to find support with ending the cycle of violence and poverty. The project ran two successful sessions and is now seeking funds to continue.

“We cannot give up on this program as it is one of the best attended programs we have offered,” says Paulett Ramsey, Director, Resource Development.

Below are some learnings that the Massey Centre shared with the United Church Foundation.

Research to have an accurate snapshot of the experiences of the people you are serving…and be willing to revise your picture.

Prior to offering the program, after beginning to collect pertinent data in 2014, Massey knew that approximately 30 per cent of the young mothers had self-identified as being forced into sex work as a means of survival prior to arriving at the Massey Centre.

The agency suspected that figure was much higher (as high as 70 per cent) due to shame and stigma surrounding sex work and being forced into trafficking. In Breaking Free sessions almost 75% of participants reported incidents which they did not label as sex work/trafficking, but were.

What Massey did well: draw on diverse existing expertise to be prepared for complexity.

Massey Centre knew that involvement in the sex trade and sex trafficking have a multitude of life-altering risks associated with them: exploitation and violence, HIV/AIDS, early pregnancy, discrimination, domination.

The program was led by the Intake Social Worker and a Child and Youth worker. They were supported by external professionals/resources to ensure that the young women’s needs were being met.

Writes Massey Centre : “[In the sessions] It became apparent to us how sex trade and domestic violence are deeply interrelated, and how complex those issues are for the young women to understand and cope with.” While the sessions were continuing, the agency held weekly case management meetings that dealt with addiction issues, poverty, homelessness and domestic violence.
Amidst this complexity, reported successes in this program included: participants’ increased knowledge about violence against women and its impact; increased knowledge about the negative impact of sex trade/trafficking; women’s increased capacity, skills and knowledge to create safe and healthy environments for themselves and their children; increased group and individual counselling sessions to help the young women deal with trauma from their experiences; participants’ increased confidence to talk about their feelings and past trauma; opportunities to support young moms in securing funds, such as student loans; decreased incidents of sexual exploitations.

Initially, the Massey Centre planned to hold four 10-week sessions every year. The sessions were firstly offered without a long enough break between each.

Going forward, the agency would plan to reduce the duration of sessions to 7 weeks with a 2 or 3-week break before beginning the next session. Given the intensity of the subject the staff identified that a longer break in between the sessions provides the young moms with a “mental health break.”

The program was very popular with the young moms and registration and attendance was at capacity.

Some weeks more clients wanted to attend the program than anticipated, and Massey wasn’t always able to accommodate them because of insufficient volunteers to provide parent relief while the young moms participated in the program. In a next session, the agency would hope to secure more childcare help.

Seasoned Souls

Seniors want a fun night out!

In Jarvis, Ontario, one woman shared that dream to make a difference.  With prayer, co-operative leadership, and supportive volunteerism, Seasoned Souls is now a successful monthly seniors’ outreach event at Wesley United Church.    Seasoned Souls began after 76-year-old Pat Wright decided she wanted a monthly date night with her husband.

A self-described “old bird ministering to old birds,” Pat stations herself at the church doors and personally greets attendees.   The monthly supper-and-entertainment evening attracts about 60 seniors from Jarvis and beyond, and from a variety of communities.   Seasoned Souls runs from about August to June.

The United Church Foundation first funded Seasoned Souls with a seed grant for $1,800.  Now the program is self-financing.

“I am so grateful for the conversation I had with the young man from the Foundation,” says Pat.  “The seed money gives you strength and faith and a fallback,” to float your pilot idea.

Here are some lessons Seasoned Souls shared with the United Church Foundation about what’s helped their vibrant ministry flourish.

Seasoned Souls typically provides tea, coffee, and juice.  For most dinners, seniors bring a potluck dish.   Some have help from nearby family who might prepare the dish for them.   Three months of the year, the church provides a full dinner.  An early New Year’s Eve party and early Christmas party are Mystery Dinners.  The costs of the program are for the beverages, decorations (as re-useable as possible), and paying for entertainment ($125).    

There are no requirements for the potluck.  What shows up, shows up.

“Some may bring a pound of butter and a bag of rolls,” says organizer Ross Gowan. “There are some that don’t bring anything.”“And there’s always more food than we need.”

At the end of the night, leftovers go into take-out boxes and are left on a table.   For a donation, people bring them home.   

Entertainment is often musically-related to earlier decades (such as a Barbershop Quartet), or to traditional standards, offering seniors a chance to reminisce and sing along.Even the potluck aspect responds to the church’s particular spiritual, generational, rural, and community heritage.

“The most unique part of this project is that the seniors spend much of the day preparing their prized culinary delight to share with other members of the community,” Joyce and Ross Gowan wrote in the church’s grant application.   Joyce is Chair of Wesley’s Congregational Board.

“For many generations in our rural, primarily agricultural community, the ladies have contributed recipes to cookbooks compiled by church groups, Women’s Institutes, and other organizations. Ladies in this generation love to cook, and in many cases throughout their lives have cooked for threshing gangs, extended families and church potlucks.   As a senior living alone or as a couple, however, the ladies don’t have the opportunity to prepare their favourite recipes.”

Having one dedicated organizer was key to getting Seasoned Souls off the ground.   Pat first ran a similar program at another church, and then when she returned to Jarvis, brought the program with her.   “It just takes someone in the congregation who is going to drive it.  Let them know they don’t have to do the physical work,” says Pat.  “They just have to be an organizer.  We all work together on this.” Wright first phoned the Foundation to investigate applying for seed money, and then shared her ideas with the Gowans.   After writing the application, Joyce and Ross have been instrumental with other core volunteers.         Wright says she feels that now that the program is running, she loves the fact that she believes it could continue without her.     “I just field the calls, get the entertainment and make people want to come back.”

Having sufficient numbers of volunteers is key so that the burden is not too great, notes Joyce.Volunteers accept the potluck items and arrange them in the kitchen.   Another crew does the dishes.   Another crew sets up so everyone can see the entertainment.   One person decorates the tables with little treats to take home at the end.   At Christmas Rev. Kim Shantz made cookies with chocolate as party favours.

Seasoned Souls has also started supervising high school volunteers.   These have been youth from the community usually with a connection to a Senior attendee.

Parish Advocacy at Lambeth United Church

With support from a $3,000 grant from The United Church of Canada Foundation, Lambeth United Church, in London Ontario hired Jan Linner, R.N, and is seeing for itself how what’s becoming known as a holistic, spirited, ecumenical ministry is bringing surprising results.

“Her role was designed just to be for the church, but the community is finding that the work Jan does has a broader effect,” notes Lambeth’s minister, Rev. Matthew Penny. “This is affecting the congregation in a positive way.”

From December 2016 to the end of March 2017, Linner visited 22 families, and made 25 visits to the hospital, and ran eight educational events on topics such as stress, Alzhehimers, and girls’ health and wellness. A third to half of the Alzheimer’s evening attendees were seniors who are not congregants, noted Penny.

Linner reflects that while the congregation decided to hire a parish nurse in relation to seniors’ needs, “the need is just as great throughout all ages.”

More than 20 girls aged 9 -14 attended the girls’ workshop mentioned above, only a handful of whose families are Sunday attendees. Such youthful contacts are boosted by the church’s youth group, plus the congregation’s visibility through renting space to community programs such as Brownies, notes Linner.

Linner draws on her experience in intensive care, cardiac nursing, and computer systems that affect nursing and other medical systems. She is also a member of Lambeth United.

Penny said the congregation was inspired to pursue hiring a parish nurse after viewing a video produced by the Anglican Diocese of Fredericton. St. Peter’s Roman Catholic Seminary in London offers parish nursing training for registered nurses, and helps registered nurses build a bridge between their clinical and professional skills and pastoral and spiritual care.

Music, Memory, and Seniors

Music matters! An agency that houses and cares for seniors in Burnaby and Vancouver, B.C. is seeing how much.

Fairhaven United Church Homes bought 40 hand-held music devices for seniors with memory loss, Alzheimer’s disease, or dementia. Inspiring the purchase was therapeutic research showing that music can improve a wide range of neurological conditions. Staff and volunteers worked with seniors or their families in the Vancouver care facility to develop customized or general play lists reflecting individuals’ tastes. Devices are managed at nursing stations but are loaned out as needed and desired.

Normeo Chung, Director of Therapeutic Recreation and Volunteer Services at Fairhaven, reports on lessons learned through the project.

The project was able to buy double the devices it first planned for after coming to the conclusion that lower-tech devices worked just as well as higher-priced items.

Having a volunteer who is familiar with managing computer music playlists can save lots of staff time on loading music on to seniors’ devices, reports Chung.

Some residents who had been speaking “word salad” or gibberish for a while, suddenly speak in well-constructed sentences while listening to music, reports Chung. “One resident. . . constructed a perfect sentence and said clearly ‘your hair looks nice today!’ She was smiling and giggling while she said it.”

Chung says in some cases, “music is better than antipsychotic [drugs].” There are no negative side effects to listening to music, she says.

“When residents are more engaged and not so isolated, feelings of hopelessness / helplessness can be reduced or removed,” she says.

She reports that more care staff are reaching for seniors’ music devices in early intervention therapeutic ways, such as when people show early signs of feeling or acting aggressive.

It is NEVER too late to begin music therapy with anyone, no matter how “disengaged” they seem to be.

Chung says that some were uncertain about how or if listening to music could affect seniors who whose cognitive or communicative abilities appear greatly diminished. But there has been a universal positive impact of giving seniors their own music playlists.

“Music is like the glue that binds people’s experiences together,” observes Chung.

Some seniors who people are accustomed to sitting very still are now seen smiling, humming to the music, or tapping their hands and feet to the beat.

Chung says a highlight of the project has been seeing residents dance who were fairly non-responsive before.  Additionally, beyond the devices the project purchased, some families have also purchased iPods and headphones for their loved ones.

“It’s so encouraging to confirm the benefits of [our project] by the family members and the staff,” not only by people involved in recreational therapies, she says.

 Healing Pathway

With the support of a United Church Foundation Seeds of Hope Grant Healing Pathway made the transition from being a foundational program of Naramata Centre, to being an Incorporated Society accountable to BC Conference.

“Our goals have mostly been achieved with a lot of hard volunteer work, and your support.   But the main goal that is not seen in these lists of accomplishments, it is that Healing Pathway has survived a major transition, and indeed has thrived as we find our feet in this new reality.  And that means that countless lives across the country are being changed; either by offering or receiving this healing, whole-making spiritual practice.”

Healing Pathway enables people to develop the gifts and skills of healing within the Christian tradition, and fosters the development of healing ministries in congregations and other communities.  You can learn more about their through this video.

Hear are some of Healing Pathway‘s learnings

It’s really hard work making such a transition. It’s hard work sustaining a ministry community across the whole country.  There have been innumerable volunteer hours offered by many people to make this transition a success.  The leadership of the Coordinating Circle has been essential.

It is vitally important to create lines of communication that help connect stakeholders across the country in order to sustain the Healing Pathway movement in congregations.  Healing Pathways is using newsletters, the website and communication between the Coordinating Circle and the Instructor’s Circle and Practitioners across the country.  Communication is crucial to the health of the movement.

Never doubt that the Spirit can create resurrection and new life even out of chaos and endings.   Taking the risk of trusting the Spirit made this transition possible.


Cool Clothes for Cool Kids

A project of St. Paul’s United Church and St. James Public School, Thunder Bay

Back-to-School is a stressor especially when parents can’t afford clothes. But in Thunder Bay, a unique boutique shows how sharing resources makes a huge difference.

Cool Clothes for Cool Kids started after the former principal at St. James School downtown raised a need with her congregation: many school families could not afford kids’ clothes. Further, the school community includes some kids in transient situations as it’s close to shelters serving both Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal women.

Now, on a regular basis in a classroom at St. James Public School, kids at the school can “shop” at the Cool Clothes for Cool Kids boutique and choose their own seasonal clothing. Clothing is free.

“We just didn’t want boxes of things for people to scrounge through,” says Mary Anderson, Chair of the Stewardship and Outreach Committee at St. Paul’s. “We wanted it to look like a boutique. A fun place with mirrors, where things look attractive.” The boutique at the school now features freshly laundered, curated seasonal clothing organized by size.

Here, Anderson and former principal Marla Poulin share more about the project and its learnings.

To educators at the school, the need for clothing was apparent. What they were seeing was reflected in statistical research showing that the percentage of vulnerable children at St. James School had risen.

Project leaders knew that while some families lacked new clothing, other families had surplus clothes to donate. As well, space and staff resources were available.

The school could create space to showcase clothes; the church had a room that could be re-purposed for receiving and sorting donations on an ongoing basis. The church secretary helps receive clothing; the church janitor delivers it to a sorting room.

The first clothing drive was launched during a Vacation Bible School camp in the summer at St. Paul’s.

Appropriate winter coats and boots are rarely donated, so the project purchases these items with donated funds.

Anderson says at first some people don’t understand why the clothing boutique is open to the entire student body, instead of children with a demonstrated need. But because all kids can access the boutique, it’s a fun highlight for everyone, not a stigma.

“The students have embraced this project with pride. The children help each other choose their own clothes giving them positive feedback and a sense of pride and ownership,” she says. “They don’t think that they have been given some hand-me-downs.”

Once a month, or as needed, kids can shop to meet seasonal needs.

With a sense of humility, the Cool Clothes for Cool Kids sought both to provide clothes and to seek a meaningful way for the congregation to grow in service to the community.

The project now sees 15 senior volunteers from St. Paul’s United Church and 5 young women involved with the project on an ongoing basis.

An after-school program supporting Aboriginal culture, Biwaase’aa, is also involved with mutually sharing resources. All students at the school are invited to attend drumming sessions. Participants of this group are welcome to choose clothing as well. The Biwaase’aa program leader can access the clothing.

A local Native women’s crisis support agency, Beendigen, promotes Cool Clothes to newcomer families with kids at the school.

“Mothers who arrive at the shelter with limited clothing and supplies are relieved to find that they can clothe their children when they register them for school,” says Poulin.

Some families from the school donate clothing back to the project. The school council has invited the clothing project to evening events to showcase clothes.

“Quite a few people have found a niche,” in the process of preparing the boutique, says Anderson. Volunteers are a mixture of church members, retired teachers, and the children themselves at the school.

Particular volunteers are involved in different aspects of receiving donations to getting them boutique-ready. Some sort clothes that arrive at the church and arrange to donate inappropriate items to other non-profit services; others regularly launder items at home. One woman with a van likes to pick up the bags that have been laundered and sorted and to deliver them to the school.

The church’s eight-person Stewardship and Outreach Committee acts as a steering committee for the project, and meets once a month.

The church hopes to engage the youth group in sorting and selecting clothing as part of a larger dialogue about the ethics of clothing production and resource distribution.

“When we started, we gladly accepted what we were offered. Now we are being more specific in describing our exact needs. Now we are more particular. We ask for freshly washed clothes. Even though clothes are clean, there are dog hairs and odours. We are cautious of allergens and safety,” says Anderson.

The project is still seeking an ongoing source of free, new clothing.

The Cool Clothes for Cool Kids project is supported by a $3,500 grant from The Wesley C. Smith Fund and The Watkins Fund for Poverty and at-Risk Youth and Children.


West Broadway Community Ministries

Meeting social, physical, and spiritual needs in Winnipeg: that’s what West Broadway Community Ministries is about. But offering a hand also has a literal meaning at this neighbourhood drop-in and resource agency.

In 2015, West Broadway taught 23 people how to offer reflexology hand massages. Reflexology is a healing art based on the principle that reflexes in hands, feet, and ears correspond to every organ or gland in the body, according to The Reflexology Association of Canada.

Since 2011, West Broadway has had a permanent space where people, primarily seniors or people with disabilities, can be treated by a certified reflexology therapist. The 2015 project aimed to equip seniors with the skills to practice this preventative health discipline. The training modules emphasized relief for ailments such as arthritis, diabetes, sciatica or poor circulation.

The United Church Foundation supported the workshop series. Workshops were run conjointly with a drop-in lunch. Here, West Broadway shares learning about its “Put Your Hand in the Hand” project.

“I learned about the human body, things I did not know. . .I liked that I was participating from the first day,” wrote one participant in an evaluation of the workshops.

Community Minister Lynda Trono and reflexology therapist Susan Rowley say participants in reflexology training gained a means of doing self-care and an increased interest in participating in their healthcare.

“It’s a lovely thing to offer. It’s a luxury for sure, but there’s so much anxiety and stress in being poor, that doing any piece of comfort is a lovely thing. . . And working on hands is also about opening up the opportunity to touch each other,” says Trono. She adds that many seniors who attend West Broadway may largely be alone, and may not otherwise experience touch.

Rowley and Trono say that locating workshops in a space alongside a seniors lunch allowed people to notice what was happening, but the down side was disruption.

Another time, says Trono, the workshop might be held in a separate room, with organizers inviting people who were already dropping in for lunch to attend, instead of anticipating a consistent group. “People’s lives here are pretty chaotic. . .Often, it’s simply whoever shows up,” says Trono.

Small groups work best with teaching hand reflexology, says Rowley. While she wishes the workshops had reached more people, she still would have preferred fewer participants per session. Participants choose a partner, and having fewer people present allows the facilitator to give each set of partners focused attention, says Trono.

A common programming pitfall can be trying to cover a great deal of material due to a fear of boring one’s group. But Rowley said when it comes to reflexology, she would advise otherwise. “I would tell others who wanted to do something similar to expect to use lots of repetition in their lessons.” Trono notes the centre already offers Tai Chi, another physical practice which builds on repetition.

Rowley says having a concrete and formal way to close a mini-workshop is important, to amplify a sense of closure and pride. “All ages take pride in learning something new. I would give certificates of participation to all those who attended the workshops, even in part.”


Choral Morphosis

Choral Morphosis’ director Melissa Barnes knows launching new programs can be a bumpy ride.

But after five years’ directing a successful and unique choir, she knows how to stick with what works – like listening to the choir’s desire to sing the same songs again and again, such as Joni Mitchell’s “Big Yellow Taxi.”

Choral Morphosis is a program of Robertson-Wesley United Church in Edmonton.  The choir is designed particularly for adults aged 16 and older with a developmental or physical disability.  The church’s music director, Tammy-Jo Mortenson, first created the choir after noticing people with disabilities and musical interests in the community were under-served.

Today, the choir has about 40 core members, 94 per cent of whom return year after year.    Returning member Nicole Chalisoux says the choir has helped her meet new people.  “I love to sing so I enjoy being there.   I wouldn’t change a thing about it,” she says.   “It has opened my horizons up.”

But such program success wasn’t always so.    Here, Mortenson shares some more lessons about launching new ministries:

“There are so few programs, especially artistic programs for people with disabilities… These are people who are often falling through the cracks. [Many members] are people often on social assistance who often have very little money to spend on what our society has termed ‘a frill,’ which we don’t agree music is. So [Choral Morphosis] is filling that need for which there is really very little. That’s probably true right across the country, but also particularly in Alberta.”

“As with anything new when you start a new project, you can’t immediately give up when it doesn’t seem successful. Our first year, I think we had three people on a consistent basis, and three people does not a choir make. We kept on with a lot of advertising but a lot of word of mouth [really helped]…. So just don’t give up!”

especially when serving people who are accompanied by caregivers, says Mortenson. “Consistency is really important, that you are not cancelling rehearsals or there are not new people in the leadership all the time; the location and time are consistent. All of that is really important when workers are bringing people.”

“This probably also goes hand in hand with the patience to see what will happen. We’ve seen such incredible growth, not only in the program itself, but within the people. That’s why we called it Choral Morphosis. There can be learning without specified training or any of those kinds of things. There is incredible growth that can happen in a community when people join something, and from learning a new skill.”

“We got so big, and many of the members who started with us have found they want more challenge now. So now we’ve started a new program called Choral Arts, and it’s still under the Choral Morphosis umbrella. Choral Arts has gotten more into acting, and singing of solos.”