Musings from the ever-changing, ever-amazing and occasionally ever-baffling Fort McMurray, Alberta.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Centre Of Hope - Re-Branded, Re-Launched, and Renewed

There are places in this community that have captured my heart over the past year. Some I can explain, as their importance to me is so obvious. Some are a bit tougher to understand, because they touch me deeply for reasons I don't even quite comprehend. One of these places is the Centre of Hope, that humble little blue building on Franklin Avenue. I've had the opportunity to get to know some of the staff and the patrons at the COH - our local homeless population - and they have taken on an importance that  astonishes even me some times. It's not that I've ever been homeless, as I haven't. I haven't even had any family members that were homeless. And maybe that's exactly why this has become so important to me - because I know I have always lived, and continue to live, a privileged existence. I know that with privilege comes responsibility - and I know that in the company of the COH patrons I have found some of that sincerity and honesty and authenticity that I crave. That is why last week I was pleased to attend the breakfast session at which the COH launched their new website, showed off their new logo, talked about some new fundraising and awareness events - and shared their vision and passion, with the help of a team from Leadership Wood Buffalo.

The breakfast was held at MacDonald Island Park (very convenient for me, as I could eat breakfast, which was fabulous as usual, and then head straight to the gym to atone for the pastries I should not have eaten at said breakfast), and it was hosted by Leadership Wood Buffalo. The LWB team had helped the COH to plan their rebranding and relaunch, and so it was truly a collaborative effort between them, the COH's needs meeting with the LWB team's skills - and the result is spectacular.

Centre of Hope is now sporting a brand new logo, one that speaks to their willingness to reach a hand out to those in need, those often turned away at every turn and every corner of our world - the homeless:

The new image doesn't stop at the new logo, though. The Centre of Hope is also now the beneficiary of a brand new website design, one much more sleek and streamlined. Maybe a new website doesn't seem like a big deal, but people expect everyone, including charitable organizations, to have a certain "look" to their online image. One that is clunky, outdated, or otherwise difficult to navigate will deter people from checking it out, and so a new website is a huge bonus to any organization, especially one so carefully crafted.

But it doesn't stop there, people. One of the biggest issues surrounding homelessness is the lack of awareness of the problem. Many people don't realize how many people are at risk of becoming homeless, or of the true magnitude of the problem. And many have never experienced it themselves, and so are unaware of what it means to be homeless. That's when the LWB team stepped in, and created some new fundraising and awareness events for the Centre of Hope - and I think they sound amazing.

They have created a week-long event called "Awareness Week", a week designed to specifically highlight the issue of homelessness in our community and raise funds for a place that knows first hand what the homeless endure. And during this week there are some incredible events planned, and one in particular I am quite excited about.

There is the "Northern Warrior Race", a race of a different sort and meant to prove both endurance and ability. There is a "Moonlight Classic Golf Tournament", to be played from 8:30 pm to 3:00 am on the Miskanaw golf course. I'm not a golfer but the idea of playing in the moonlight on a softly lit golf course, surrounded by our boreal forest, sounds quite lovely to me. The event I am most excited about, though, is the "Hope In The Dark" Awareness Overnight. 

You see, during "Hope In The Dark" local residents will gather and "sleep rough" for a night. There will be bands and guest speakers and awareness events - and then there will be sleeping outdoors, on the pavement. This isn't like camping out under a starry sky, though. This is meant to help foster an understanding of what it is like to sleep outdoors every night, in good weather and bad. It is meant to build awareness of what our homeless residents face. What troubles me, though, is after one night I will go home. Because I have one of those, a home to go to, while some of our local homeless population spend every night this same way. The title of the event says it all, though - there is hope in the darkness. There are those reaching out a hand to those who need it, who do not judge or condemn, and who are simply willing to help. And that hope is currently found in that little blue building on Franklin, and the people who work in it.

People, I've spent time at the Centre of Hope, and with their patrons. They have been incredibly kind to me, both staff and patrons, and I have found there a sense of authenticity and sincerity often lacking in this world. They have been honest with me when others would likely have lied, shared things they could have held back, and welcomed me into their world when they have no reason to do so. They have little reason to trust me, an outsider, a writer, and someone who has never shared their experience - and yet they have placed their faith in me when I told them I wanted to tell their stories to all of you. And at the Centre of Hope relaunch I had an opportunity to give a little of that back to them.

The COH and team from LWB had set up a small tree and called it a "message tree". The idea was that you could write messages on paper, clip them to the tree, and then those messages would be shared with all those from the COH, patrons and staff alike. I wrote this :

You are not alone!
Don't give up.
Keep the faith.
Keep the hope.
Keep on fighting.
I believe in you.

And you see I mean every single word. I believe in the staff at the Centre of Hope, and I believe in their patrons. I believe they can conquer whatever has led them to living on the streets of our community, and I believe in their ability to succeed in this world. I will have faith in them when their own faith falters, I will fight for them when they are weary, and I will share my hope with them whenever I can. They are not alone. Giving Light to the Homeless Awareness Week is an opportunity to learn about homelessness in our community, but we don't have to wait until then to learn. You can visit the COH's brand new website. You could drop by that blue building and volunteer some time. Or, you can join me on May 26th at the Clearwater Public Education Centre as I sleep rough and think about what it is truly like to be homeless. When I am there that night I will be thinking about the friends I have made in our homeless community. I will think about how they have created a family on the streets, and about how the COH has brought light into their often too-dark lives. I will think about how the team from Leadership Wood Buffalo has shared their belief and hope with the Centre of Hope, and I will think about how hope trickles down from one person to another, how it is infectious in nature and unstoppable once begun. I will lie there and think about how, even during the long night and outdoors, there is hope - hope in the darkness.

My thanks to the 
Leadership Wood Buffalo team
for inviting me to the breakfast launch
and for all they have done for the
 Centre of Hope.
And as always I thank the
Centre of Hope staff and patrons
for the kindness they have shown me -
and for never giving up hope.

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