Sunnydale, Waterloo

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Are We Making a Difference?

Many times I catch myself wondering: “Are we really making a difference?” Last week a group of our guys gathered in a local gym. After a rousing game of basketball and floor hockey we sat down and attempted to start up a ‘more serious’ chat. Nathan did a great job. But the kids were distracted, a few days later one of them could not even remember that a chat had even taken place let alone remember the topic. Did we waste our time?

“Faith” has to be core to what we do: a parent invests in their child with the belief that their efforts will bring about a mature adult, a teacher trusts that their instruction will educate an athlete that training will make them better. Often with little or no guarantee each of us engages in actions that require faith.

Ten years ago we gathered together our first group of Waterloo teens. We are still at it. Some weeks it seems like an utter waste of time! Some weeks it is just blah. But the other weeks we are exhilarating. Some weeks all we hear is grumbling, others everyone seems engaged. We encounter many behaviours; some we do well with, others are enormously frustrating. In all, week after week we show up; week after week, month after month, year after year.

Why?

Because we are crazy! Well, while that may be true there is a greater reason: we trust that by consistently being present, reaching out with genuine interest and building friendships we will make a difference in the life of another. And perhaps that might start a simple movement of people caring. Really caring! But we never really fully know. So we do it because it is right to do. Care always requires action.

So this week we will show up for the drumming circle and next week for something called Laserquest, after that the car wash…

and the week after we will show up…

and when we are tired we will show up again…

and during the week we will engage in relationships…

and…

Why? Simply because it is the right thing to do and because we just trust that we are making a positive difference. Because we are!

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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

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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Meet our Guys

Blue and white… they insisted; ‘Ice colours’ they said, ‘its cool!’

Days later our office is still strung up with streamers and tinsel across various doorways, and the only traditional ‘Christmassy’ element is the jovial Santa smiling at me whenever I exit the stairs.


 

Sunnydale Connect is anything but a typical or traditional youth group. Why not an ice theme for the Christmas celebration? Diverse to the max… a huge range of cultures and backgrounds, age and experience… people who have no obvious natural basis for being together do so in ‘Connect’…  Africans, Asians, Latin Americans. North Americans… all together… laughing, struggling, creating, playing, learning…!

Sometimes more than 30 gather and the energy generated is something to behold. We have outgrown our space, we are stretching our leaders to the hilt, our finances are under pressure, but we are seeing change and growth and friendship and transformation.

I watched our gang devour two turkeys, Halal chicken, vegetables galore, citrus punch and an abundance of pie & ice cream, and was struck again; just how important the act of ‘celebration’ and appreciation is in the life of community and relationship building. We may each enter this holiday season from different perspectives and faith orientations, but surely we can all decide to celebrate; celebrate others, celebrate life, celebrate the next breath I take, celebrate it all. We in Life Change will certainly celebrate these kids and our sacred journey with them.

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A Shining Sun… A Celebrating Community. 

The sun shone, the westerly winds blew delightful warmth that enveloped us.  Leading to that day, for an entire week, the weather had been cool and wet.  Today’s beauty was exceeded though by the wonderful scene that unfolded about us.

Two years prior, while the community children were at school, their playground, determined as unsafe, was, without warning, removed.  For families, as many are, who had journeyed the refugee highway survived bullets, famine and violence the irony was poignant.

Now on this day, after many conversations, much dreaming, and the hard and creative work of the landscaping firm Earthscape, the community was prepared to celebrate. A job well done!  A neighbourhood, that rarely comes together, found common ground through the design, implementation and funding of their new playground.

“Small acts, when multiplied by millions of people, can transform the world.” ― Howard Zinn

This day was set apart to celebrate and to say a big thank you to all who worked hard and to those who donated to the project.  With BBQ’s billowing smoke, hamburgers sizzling, and desserts pouring out from the houses… the kids squealed with delight at their chance to show off their new playground.

The community came together. A ribbon was cut by the youngest member, groups huddled on the grass, laughter and chatter filled the air, Jean Claude took the microphone and guided the proceedings.  The community was alive. In time these memories will fade, and even the playground will sadly deteriorate and need to be replaced…. but my hope, my desire is that the realization that change is possible when people band together and work hard for a common goal will stay firmed rooted deep in the hearts and minds of each participant, young and old.

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Four Fun Days: Live Your Adventure

frontEarly Tuesday afternoon, amidst the manageable chaos of registration and organization, I received an email. In the subject line, two words “Brace Yourself!” So I did. I braced myself when I opened up that email and saw attached a photo of our campers: a never-ending kanga line of little smiling faces! I braced myself when this flock of approximately 80 kids bounced over to Church in the Woods this too cool summer afternoon for the first of four fun days to come.

 

I also braced myself (we all did) for on outpour of rain that would drench us all, destroy our fun and coop us indoors with 80 let down kids. Instead, we were met with kids who wouldn’t miss this week for the world, downpour or snowfall; kids who know camp station rotations better than most because they’ve done it 6 times over; dedicated leaders with energy bouncing off the roofs. It was to be a journey through the hopes and dreams of 5-yr olds, teenagers and twenty-somethings: people living their adventure!

 

Our circle is filled with aspiring professional basketball players, child-workers, dentists and beekeepers. “I want to tell you my dream,”  little George says tugging on my shirt, as do many of these guys and gals. This camp provides the space for that: to remind them of their own value and the value of their dreams. I think we’re going to have to brace ourselves when the time comes. Brace ourselves for the amazing leaders, visionaries and life-changers these people are going to be (and are, really!) And some of it starts here, at our yearly Five (four this year) Fun Days Summer Camp!

IMG_20140812_130150   brae

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