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WorldRooted @ Seven Shores Community Cafe

“I don’t know what came over me,” says Jeremy Horne, 66, pulling open the front door of Cedarbrae Public School in Sunnydale, Waterloo. “I just went to the principal and said, ‘What do you need?’ About the same time our community association said, ‘We have some issues with some of our teenagers; could you give us a hand?’”

Thus momentum was added to the movement of Sunnydale friends and neighbours enacting small solutions upstream to prevent big problems later on. Jeremy and his team are called Adventure 4 Change, and he’s letting me tag along on a typical autumn afternoon.

Linda Kruger – Community Resource Coordinator at Sunnydale Community Centre, a House of Friendship Neighbourhood Program – says, “Sunnydale is a warm, welcoming and culturally diverse community which is home to many new immigrant families, a large number of children and youth and many families living on a limited income. Partnerships are critical to what happens here – beginning with the residents, who first got the ball rolling in the mid-1990s when the crime rate was high, the community was under-serviced and people isolated themselves in their homes. Residents formed their community association and reached out to community partners, including Adventure 4 Change in 2008, which helps to engage, empower and equip those who live here.”

The challenges are as diverse as the spices wafting from every kitchen, yet the solutions are simple: this morning, mothers met in a living room to nibble cookies and coordinate childcare needs. When the 3:00 bell rings at Cedarbrae, kids read and run with mentors from Wilfrid Laurier and Waterloo Universities. Several women have spent the afternoon huddled on couches in “the Neighbourhood Hub” two blocks away, trying their English on a facilitator from a nearby church. As the women rinse their mugs, middle-school kids swing in with back packs full of binders. Later, teenagers will fill the Hub with games and conversation. They’ll spend the summer coaching Sunnydale Soccer, leading day camps or working their first jobs, courtesy of A4C’s Leaders Development Intensive Training and Genesis Job Fair.

It’s the type of grassroots model that has prompted Sunnydale residents to report higher social trust than provincial or national averages. In fact, complications have arisen because of the success of A4C’s efforts: how to safely shuttle children to drop-in after sunset in the middle of winter? What’s proper protocol for notifying parents when their teen has earned their first paycheque? 40 kids barely fit in the Hub during a typical youth event – now they want to bring more friends! Several churches have graciously offered their facilities for summer-camp use; will this multi-faith community know it’s for everyone? It all takes money: are grantors still excited to invest in a household name?

These hurdles are part of a long game – setting people up for success – that’s worth the effort. Success can be hard to measure, though, against the traumas that brought many to the community in the first place. Natural disaster, disease, violent conflict – the forces that expand our global village are rarely comfortable ones.

I’m working to create a record, in writing and in art, of how it feels to be part of the human family right here, right now. I was introduced to Jeremy and his crew through lifelong friends with a commitment to loving people well.

Their names are Steve and Deb Tulloch, and they’re two of eight co-owners of Seven Shores Community Café over on Regina Street. Their business model – simple, ethical, relational – enables them to stand in welcome to a rich diversity of people looking to connect. Seven Shores is currently hosting my exhibition, WorldRooted: the Art Project for People, designating 25% of each sale to either Adventure 4 Change, Reception House Waterloo Region or International Association for Refugees Canada – all friends of Steve and Deb. Any friend of theirs is a friend of mine.

This past year, Reception House Waterloo Region welcomed 318 government-funded refugees from 12 countries and 13 distinct linguistic groups. It provided ongoing support to 1,170 families new to Canada, from documentation and healthcare to life skills and youth connection, across all aspects of community life. There’s so much to teach and learn – not only on streets lined with intersecting language and cultural expectations, but in newcomers’ unfamiliar bathrooms and kitchens.

Kathie Must, Reception House’s Manager of Philanthropy, emphasizes, “We have approximately 250 volunteers: local families who partner with newcomer families, women who volunteer as part of English Outreach to reduce the isolation so many newcomer women experience plus help build English skills. As an organization we have an amazing team – many with lived experience – but the community is such a vital part of our work.”

Sharon Schmidt, Kitchener-Waterloo Representative of International Association for Refugees Canada, expounds: “Refugees often find themselves viewed only as people in need, confined to the receiving end of impersonal services meant to keep them alive. As necessary as such services are, they can be quite dehumanizing as they undermine dignity and hope. Recovery work seeks to strengthen community, faith, emotional well-being and personal capacity. It includes getting behind the ideas and solutions of refugees themselves, recognizing the important contributions they offer in finding solutions to their displacement. This is IAFR's strategic part in seeking the welfare and protection of forcibly displaced people in the world today.”

Open Homes is one key mission of IAFR, providing refugee claimants temporary housing through the hospitality of its members – members such as Steve and Deb.

“The eight of us at Seven Shores are pretty intimately involved with new Canadians – mostly refugees,” says Steve. “We would like to think about ways that our space could be more beneficial to that population. Our home has been a gathering place for an artist-activist community in this region, and the café is a place where we will host them. Space where food is prepared and shared, where people feel safe to have good conversations, where people sense that they belong, that this is where people are nurtured – all of that flows very much out of my sense of how I think the Creator wants us to live in the world; and the café is, to me, a great place to do that.”

Steve and Deb’s life has informed my idea of what it means to live well; that’s why I founded WorldRooted. I’ve partnered with caring community at three exhibitions over the past year and a half to raise over eight thousand dollars for humanitarian and environmental work, hand a former refugee her first catering gig, put on a concert and support fellow artists. Folks invest in us so we can pay it forward, fortifying a culture that honours our human family.

My current body of work consists of dimensional forms that rely on light, rather than colour, to tell a story that’s different every day and for every viewer. The subjects are found in nature all around the world – some we recognize, drawing up anecdotes about wedding bouquets, family farms or solitary hikes. Some are unfamiliar to us, creating opportunities to learn from others.

Thanks to the New Leaf Podcast, June 28, 2016, for the quote from Steve.

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