Life Change Stories

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When The Earth Shook

The first time that I was in Ecuador with Carlos I watched with great amusement as he taught a bunch of rural village kids the nuances of the great Canada game of “hockey! hockey! hockey!” for that is what they exclaimed each time their stick touched the bouncing ball.

Much has changed. Now my friend Carlos, 3 years removed from his journalism studies at Carleton University in Ottawa lives in Guayaquil, Ecuador and journeys alongside of many of people who live along the Onzole River in the northern province of Esmeraldas, Ecuador. Yes, that is center of Saturday’s earthquake.

Carlos relayed to me his story of riding in a taxi on the streets of Guayaquil when the earthquake struck. “It felt as if a bunch of hooligans were rocking our car’ he said. “But then we pulled over and I could see windows and cement falling from the buildings. Suddenly the lights went out, the entire city pitched into darkness.” He described the alarm and the masses of people cascading from the building and into the street; some injured, others frightened, and still others crying and overwhelmed.

Life Change Adventures invites people to become engaged in the process of change. Start now, start in your local context; work, school, neighbourhood. Just start!

Carlos did and now he finds himself in the very centre where the entire earth is shook. Change is inevitable. Sometimes it enters our life almost imperceptibly, other times we contribute, and then, other times it just plummets into our world without warning.

A life well lived simply must be a life that cares for others and embracing the care that will be returned; investing in change and being changed in the process.

Carlos observes; “It is absolutely amazing how disaster that literally tears the earth apart has brought people together in solidarity for one another.”

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The people of Life Change: so many stars!

12196327_10206488994776829_3850142852123554984_nWe truly believe that the spark of real positive change is within each one of us. This evening Meaghan Sheppard, a beautiful young woman who we have had the great fortune of journeying with for many years, brought the audience at SVP Waterloo to tears with her passionate appeal to be understood and experienced as a real person. If you have ever heard me talk about Meaghan ‘never under estimate me ‘ Sheppard you will know that all of us involved in LCA are massive fans. All of us are convinced that this lady will make a significant contribution to her world. Meaghan simply does not see her physical challenges as a handicap, but as an inspiration. Each day Meaghan faces hurdles that most would be entirely stymied by, yet she refuses to give in… a hurdle for Meaghan is little more than another opportunity.

A link to Meaghan’s speech will be posted here when made available. Watch this space!

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Running and Reading meets The Korirs

23327022886_ce7df209ec_oThe people involved with Life Change work hard to help others establish greater hope and vitality in their lives.  Along the way, we encounter a wide variety of significant challenges, so it is always an immense encouragement when we encounter others seeking to invest in this process of change.

Last week Tara and Wesley Korir joined us for the launch of one of our after school programs. First, we sat in the gym and they encouraged our kids to take seriously the importance of running and literacy. After, everyone went out on the field and ran together. What a thrill to watch our kids gallop beside this very neat couple.

I watched Wesley’s feet flow effortlessly over the blades of grass. This man who won the 2012 Boston Marathon and last week finished 6th in Chicago, demonstrated for me a chief characteristic of a leader; he slowed his pace so that he stayed a few paces ahead of the kids, all the time smiling and encouraging them to push harder and to stay in touch with him.  It is a good picture of what LCA attempts to do; enable those we serve to go a little further, believe more and strive for a better future.

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Beyond the Fun: How LCA is transforming lives and communities

The summer sun hangs overhead, mercilessly beating down upon plant and pavement alike. The thermometer reads somewhere in the high 20s, but it feels twice that. In the open parking lot, it’s swelteringly hot, but no one seems to mind. All around, kids are running with paper airplanes, playing tug-of-war, getting sprayed with water guns and carefully tie-dying t-shirts. It’s the first day of Life Change Adventures’ 5 Fun Days camp, and this eighth annual iteration is already living up to its name.
article cover picture From August 17-21, Life Change Adventures, a project of the Navigators dedicated to transforming communities by helping individuals discover their potential, brought 25 youth leaders and nearly 100 kids together for a week of fun activities in Waterloo, ON. These participants come from LCA’s area of focus, which includes the Sunnydale community as well as residential complexes near and on Albert and High streets.

In putting on this camp, however, the goal is more than simply having a fun time. “It directs children into the idea that you can do more than you think you can,” says Courtney Curzon, a senior youth leader who has been involved with LCA for the past nine years. “When they see us, the leaders and youth leaders, the kids look up to us as role models and sometimes that can change their whole idea of who they are and what they want to do.”

The youth leaders she mentions come from a group called Sunnydale Connect, an LCA program that runs out of the Sunnydale Community Centre for those in Grade 7 to 12 who want to get more involved in the community. This was where Jeremy Horne, LCA’s founder, first started his involvement in Sunnydale and is also how Courtney and Meaghan Sheppard, another senior youth leader, first became involved with the 5 Fun Days camp.
Having the Sunnydale Connect youth take on leadership roles in the camp has a dual purpose. In addition to teaching them valuable leadership skills, they develop relationships with the younger children that serve to strengthen the bond of community within their neighbourhoods. “If [the children] see [the youth leaders] walking down the street, they can go up to them and talk about issues they’re having at home or other things like that,” says Meaghan.

Priscilla Owusu-Amoah, an LCA team member, echoes this sentiment, saying she’s noticed the kids realizing that “this program is not available just so they can bring all their friends to make the group bigger. It’s available so the youth volunteers can spend time with each kid and get to know them. They know they are not just another number in the LCA books, but they are a person worth getting to know.”second within article

Meaghan and Courtney are both youth who have experienced LCA as campers and as leaders. Meaghan says that as a result of the love she was shown and the value she was given, “you go through it and you want to help the leaders who helped you and help the kids you’ve seen grow up with you.”

Speaking from what she has seen, Priscilla says that “when the kids come through all these programs, it doesn’t just end there. They take on responsibility and then give back to their community, so it’s this same investment in youth and youth development, which you don’t usually see. What we have is a kind of recycling of people, where our kids are coming back and leading the things that they went through.”

As an example of this, Priscilla and Meaghan both point to Courtney. “She has about five or six siblings,” says Priscilla, “and she started out doing things like Running and Reading and doing 5 Fun Days [as a participant] with us. Now she has the opportunity to lead her little siblings through that same thing. She has spent countless hours coming up with little outlines of pictures and themes to go into our programming so that it’s the best experience for her and her siblings as well.”

Courtney says her experience with LCA has also helped shape her career path, guiding her towards studying Early Childhood Education, which she will begin this September. She says her experiences working with kids in the 5 Fun Days camps helped to affirm this direction and gave her the confidence to know this was what she wanted to do.
third within article In Meaghan’s case, leadership and learning to be a leader among those her own age have been two significant areas of growth. Especially because she was born with a condition that has left her without fully developed limbs. She says her experiences with LCA have “given me the ability to talk to kids about it a little easier. It used to be a lot harder for me because I couldn’t wrap my brain around why kids wouldn’t understand when I said I was born this way. They just kind of looked at me like, ‘what does that mean?’ Having those leadership opportunities has given me a little bit of an easier time to explain to kids and [helping them] to understand it a bit better.”

Over the years, LCA has had a significant impact on the communities these kids live in. It’s to a point now, says Courtney, where the kids and youth leaders are asking in January about when the next 5 Fun Days will be. The answer, as always, is late August. Based on what she has seen, she also says that “when the kids in that community make friends at the camp, they’ll go home and hang out with each other, and the parents will see and you won’t have to worry as much whether it’s an unsafe community. It feels more welcoming.”

Courtney says her experience with LCA has also helped shape her career path, guiding her towards studying Early Childhood Education, which she will begin this September. She says her experiences working with kids in the 5 Fun Days camps helped to affirm this direction and gave her the confidence to know this was what she wanted to do.

“They know they are not just another number in the LCA books, but they are a person worth getting to know.”

In Meaghan’s case, leadership and learning to be a leader among those her own age have been two significant areas of growth. Especially because she was born with a condition that has left her without fully developed limbs. She says her experiences with LCA have “given me the ability to talk to kids about it a little easier. It used to be a lot harder for me because I couldn’t wrap my brain around why kids wouldn’t understand when I said I was born this way. They just kind of looked at me like, ‘what does that mean?’ Having those leadership opportunities has given me a little bit of an easier time to explain to kids and [helping them] to understand it a bit better.”

Over the years, LCA has had a significant impact on the communities these kids live in. It’s to a point now, says Courtney, where the kids and youth leaders are asking in January about when the next 5 Fun Days will be. The answer, as always, is late August. Based on what she has seen, she also says that “when the kids in that community make friends at the camp, they’ll go home and hang out with each other, and the parents will see and you won’t have to worry as much whether it’s an unsafe community. It feels more welcoming.”
fourth within article In addition, 5 Fun Days also provides opportunities for LCA team members to provide support to the families in the neighbourhoods they focus on. Priscilla says this can be in a variety of ways, such as running programs like 5 Fun Days, meeting people in their struggles and helping immigrant families, most of who are refugees from North Africa, adapt to Canadian society. “I think that’s what really makes a difference,” she says, “We go beyond what is expected and really get to know people and really get to do life with them.”

Ultimately though, in everything they do, Life Change Adventures works to be exactly what their name implies. “It gives us the opportunity to have those adventures that can change anybody’s life, for the better,” Meaghan says. “Everything we do in LCA strives to change children’s lives, in order to help them have a better family life and a better life overall and give them the opportunities they need to succeed in life.”

5 Fun Days 2015

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Change Begins Here

We were a ragtag group, high on passion, learning as we went. It was a crazy, full, exciting, at times exasperating week. Five Fun Days; our 8th annual camp for kids from the local communities. This is surely what Paradise must be like I said to whoever at the moment was standing next to me. Every colour, race, religion imaginable; and laughter, activity and noise in abundance!

“Start somewhere. Start right here. Start now!”

Sure there are weaknesses and gaps everywhere – in many areas we could have and properly should have done better, but no one said that the process towards change would be perfect – no one said that it would be cosy, neat and clean.

Fatema our new Burmese friend. Tiny in stature but amazingly strong, talented with a truly gorgeous smile led her group of kids with skill and stature.
Esther, our summer student from Dalhousie coordinated it all. One minute would catch her in serious contemplation of the next decision, the next laughing uproariously at something that grabbed her attention.
Jerry, from Rwanda, quietly and deliberately took his charges through the day, being abundantly patient with one little girl who exhibited serious emotional issues. Full marks for persevering.
Dean’s magic trick which were not magic at all, but who cared, they were funny and the kids sniffing out a fraud howled with derision.
Christy directing traffic in ways that only a mother of 3 is able, seeking cooperation from reluctant teens, at times exasperated, but always laughing and always life giving.
Kristi, mother of two , our registrar, ever vigilant, firm but gentle, wrapping her arms around each as we showed up for a day’s work.

This is our camp – 5 fun days. – five days of the summer where our community comes together to build memories, give kids an enjoyable experience and declare in the loudest possible manner to each and every single person matters and is valued. It might be a tiny step. It might all appear small and insignificant, but we feel it is a step towards change. Change that takes place one action at a time.

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Change

I recently read a book whose by-line was “everything must change.” Really? Everything?

Life Change would agree that change is necessary for vast portions of our world. But ‘everything’ is paralysing. And I am not even sure I agree: a beautiful sunset? A fabulous painting? A wonderful symphony… does that need to change?

But truth be told there are just too many people in our world suffering, too many people struggling with immense poverty, too many desperate to  care for their loved ones, too many with their lives in peril, too many discouraged and depressed, too many doing jail time.  YES, change is necessary. Real, sustainable, life giving change. We can’t quibble with that.

How does it happen?

This is the kind of change that Life Change Adventures has set out to pursue:

  • We seek to turn discouragement and despair into hope and purpose.
  • Conflict and hurting into compassion and care
  • Loneliness and isolation into relationships and community
  • Feeling small and insignificant into strong self-worth and value
  • Confinement and powerlessness into strength and freedom.

 

A tall order indeed! But we do it step by step, person by person.

We create and lead programs that emphasize beauty, justice and compassion. And at the core of what we do will always be a strong commitment to see and celebrate the worth and value of each and every person we encounter, the powerful and healthy respect for relationships and the relentless pursuit of real and lasting transformation. We recognise that this will not just happen because we want it, but will require commitment and personal cost — A cost we are ready for when it’s necessary.

Why, you ask?

Simple.

We believe that this is the way that life is meant to be lived and is best lived — and people, no matter what they may think of themselves, are worth it.

That smile.

scilla for websiteMother Teresa once said that even a smile can be a powerful agent of change. I was sceptical until I met my friend and co-worker Priscilla. Life Change has many fabulous people who work with us. Few have made a more significant contribution than Scilla. She has taught many of us the power of the smile. When she walks into a room with her smile the entire tone of the place changes. But when she dances and begins to move to the music and her entire face lights up, her wonderful smile radiates joy and delight. She has taught me that a smile makes people feel warm and open. That a smile draws people forward and invites them to be real and vulnerable.

Every person has a stake in making this world a better place. Each person has a contribution Scilla againto make. Scilla brings joy to others through the delight she projects with her dance and music. I think she makes the choice to smile even when smiling might be hard. This is her contribution, this is her delight. And I know of no one who doesn’t like being in a room that she is in. There is certainly a lot more to this woman beyond her smile, but it is her smile that is the door opener and proof positive that a simple smile can be the catalyst for change!

The Smallest Person at Camp is a Giant!

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“There is no ‘can’t’ in my vocabulary”

Let me introduce you to my friend Meaghan; “Meaghan never-underestimate-me Sheppard.” At least that’s the name I have affectionately pinned on her. It started-surprise, surprise, -when I assumed that because she hasn’t any hands, (or lower legs), that she would not be able to text. Boy! Was I wrong! Meaghan put me in my place, as within seconds she whipped off a perfect sentence. Dropping the phone into my hand she exclaimed firmly, “Never underestimate me!” A year later I did. I regretted it.

Last week Meaghan co-led our annual ‘Five Days of Fun’ camp for kids from our expanded neighbourhood. 120 kids were registered, more than 30 teens contributed to leadership. Meaghan and a few older youth lead the whole program. What an amazing crazy, full and exciting week!

Halfway through the week Meaghan addressed the entire camp… all 3 feet of her, (she had left her legs at home). The kids were captivated. Meaghan spoke with the courage and tenacity of a giant. She later sang with a powerful voice.

“Can’t is not a word in my vocabulary”, she said firmly. “I refuse to accept that I am unable to do something. It may take me longer, but I can do almost everything you can do.”

“Each of us has challenges or hurdles”, I said following. “The challenges that Meaghan must deal with are very clear. But we all have struggles and each of us can rise above them and make a difference in this world. Just like Meaghan is doing.”

We are giants not because we are excessively big or tall. We are giants’ when we choose to go beyond our assumed limitations. Giants are people who resist compromise and make change happen. Each of us can be a giant or a hero to another. Meaghan is a hero to me.

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One month later…

It feels like only moments ago, I was under the Ghanaian sun, surrounded by dozens of giggling children, all eager to hold my hand and learn my name. Close to my memory, are all the late night conversations I had with my team members on topics like justice, identity and faith. Even though it happened one month ago, I find I am still grappling with the experiences I had, and struggling to figure out what it means to live out the lessons I learned.

In countries like Ghana, the needs abound. The problems the country faces seem very visible, from power outages, to poverty, to traffic congestion. It was all a little overwhelming for me. It wasn’t until I witnessed the people and the school in Lolito, that I began to understand how change happens. It’s not about solving all the problems. It’s about using your gifts to address the needs in your own community.

It’s a good lesson to learn, but I’ve found it challenging to apply to life in Canada. The issues seems far less obvious here, and even more so in my wealthy, small town of Elmira. It has forced me to step back and take a critical look at my community and the people I interact with. What are the hidden needs and what is my role in addressing them?

In my reflection, I’ve noticed the need for genuine relationships that go beyond the surface. Relationships built on trust, openness and encouragement. To be a part of the solution, requires a great deal of intentionality on my end. This summer, I will have numerous opportunities to interact with those who may not have these kinds of relationships. Whether it’s the children from the summer camps, the youth from Sunnydale Connect, or my fellow leaders and friends. I must go beyond the “programming” by being an example of openness and encouragement and by intentionally starting conversations of greater importance.

I know it’s a lot easier said than done. It takes extra effort, a certain amount of patience, and sometimes it’s downright awkward. But this is how I start taking the lessons I’ve learned from across the ocean and bringing them into the context I know best, my home.

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Day 15: Born equal, grown to be unequal

They say all good things must come to an end and indeed it is true. One would be led to believe that sight seeing primarily involves viewing illustrious buildings, environments and to some extent people. However, today being the penultimate day, we journeyed through Sodom and Gomorrah and Chokor- two places immensely punctuated by abject poverty, promiscuity, a high crime rate and an inadequate sewage system.

The smell was unbearable, houses were crammed together and the smoke from burning garbage persisted incessantly. The entire community was located within the heart of land solely designated for sewage and garbage. How people manage to live there remains a mystery. The grim image was very disheartening and a profound contrast was soon created when we saw visited one of the richest estates in Ghana shortly after. This area was well decorated with affluence and to some of the persons on the team, it appeared as if the estate was independent of the nation.

The portrait of black and white, riches versus poverty, aroma versus stench, perfection versus imperfection clearly showed the contrast.

The experience left the team reflecting on the quotation, “We were all born equal but grew to be unequal” and wondering how we could truly be agents of change…