Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Covenant House

The company I work for arranged for about twenty of us to volunteer today at Covenant House in downtown Toronto.  They are a shelter for homeless youth, offering 24/7 services to kids from 16 to 24 years of age. 

We arrived at 10:30 this morning and were given a tour of the facility.  They have beds for 94 people, and offer health services, meals, employment counselling and even high school classes right on the premises.  It's an amazing facility. I've walked by this building many times over the years and never realized how big a space they have.  There are two buildings side by side on Gerrard Street and a few years ago, they purchased what used to be the McGill Women's Club on McGill Street and expanded into that space, which not only gave them more space but also the added bonus of a gymnasium.  I'm told the Gerrard Street buildings are actually designated as heritage buildings, they are full of beautiful woodwork and staircases, stained glass and high ceilings.

photo from the Internet
After our tour, we watched a short video and then headed downstairs to help serve lunch to the kids.  Four of us, myself included, suited up with hairnets, gloves and aprons and started dishing out food to some very hungry guests.  Today's menu was burgers and lentil soup.  My all important task was to offer packages of ketchup and mayonnaise to go with the burgers.  Okay, maybe that wasn't the most crucial part of the meal but it did give me a chance to say hello to each of the kids, which I enjoyed very much.

We got to eat after the kids were served and sit at the tables with them.  I met a young man named Rodrigo who is staying at Covenant House while looking for a job.  He's hoping to eventually get accepted into the military, where he'll spend a few years before moving back into the civilian work force. He said he was looking forward it, that it would be much better than the life he used to have.  I hope so, for his sake. 

After lunch, our group split up to help with various tasks.  My boss and I spent a couple of hours putting pamphlet packages together, to be handed out when Covenant House counsellors go to high schools to speak to students about their options if they are thinking of leaving or running away from home.  Others helped to organize clothing donations, serve lunch at the drop in centre (which feeds kids off the street, as compared to those currently living at CH that we fed), organize the kitchen pantry and clean out a supply room.  Basically, we were there to provide extra pairs of hands for whatever needed doing.

I first heard about Covenant House more than 10 years ago when the niece of a woman I worked with stayed there when she ran away from home.  In that case, it was a teenager and her mom who just weren't getting along (they eventually patched things up and the daughter/niece moved back home) but many of the kids that end up at CH have much more difficult stories than that - histories that involve abuse (sexual, physical or emotional), problems at school such as bullying, drug or alcohol addiction, neglect.  We even heard about kids who arrive from overseas, having lost their entire families in a war torn country or been sent by their families in a desperate bid to keep the child safe and with the hope that some day, the rest of the family might follow.  CH offers all of these kids somewhere to go where they will be safe and where they can work with the counsellors there to make a plan for themselves and their future and hopefully avoid a life on the streets.

I was glad to be able to do just a little bit to help out this worthy cause. It's one thing to put a cheque in an envelope and mail it in and quite another to actually hang out on their premises for a day and see how things work. It was the kind of day that once again made me realize how very lucky I was to have the upbringing and opportunities that I did (thanks, Mom and Dad!) and to see firsthand people taking positive steps to help others do what it takes to change their life and create opportunities for their future.  It was very inspiring.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Very lovely Cynthia. Thank you for being you.