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May8WedCedarbrae Community Church bridges the gap between Sunday services and social services. May 8, 2013 by Kristin Fryer
Located at one of Toronto's busiest intersections in east Scarborough, Cedarbrae Community Church is surrounded by a densely populated and diverse community.
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At least 1,000 children live within 1.5 kilometres of Cedarbrae, many in the 12 high-rise apartment buildings just 500 metres from the church. For Major Louise Wareham, corps officer, that's at least 1,000 opportunities for the Army to share the love of Christ and be a transforming influence in the community. And with the help of Lieutenants Keesom and Tina Phanthaamath, assistant corps officers, and a dedicated staff, this vision is becoming a reality.
“In the last few years, the corps has gone through a major shift in that there's no longer a divide between the Sunday worship service and our family services,” Major Wareham says. “We take an integrated ministry approach so that a person who accesses one service at the corps is now more likely to access another.”
In the fall of 2010, the corps conducted a community assessment, consulting the Toronto Police Service, community groups, social agencies, the Toronto District School Board and other churches. It found that many of the families in the area were living on the margins and that poverty was on the rise. With that in mind, the church began to focus on providing more programs for children and families.
“There is a well- documented need for after-school activities in high-needs and high-risk neighbourhoods where kids have little to do and limited access to extracurricular programming,” explains Kerry Brown, children's outreach co-ordinator. Cedarbrae's programming includes an after-school program on Wednesdays, a youth drop-in night and school breakfast programs.
One of the most popular activities is a monthly “big event” for families such as a family movie day at a local theatre and a trip to the Ontario Science Centre.
Another popular program at the corps is Joyful Noise, a community choir for children aged four to 12. Launched in September 2011, the choir has grown to 28 participants, meets weekly and performs at Cedarbrae and other churches throughout the year.
“It's such a great group of kids,” says Brown. “They all enjoy what they're doing and they get along really well.
“Our programs are about relationship building and strengthening families,” she continues, “and when those families have questions about God or something difficult happens, they have someone to turn to.”
This approach is key in the corps' family services department, which has contact with 300-500 households each month through the food bank.
“Many families come in month after month and we get to know them,” says Joan Harry, family services co-ordinator.
“It's taking the conversation deeper and really demonstrating to people that we care,” agrees Major Wareham.
Lisa Blake, family services worker, and Harry encourage the families to connect with the church in other ways as well, whether it's the Sunday service, programs for children, cooking classes or life-skills development.
“Our vision is that Cedarbrae would be a place to call home, where people are loved and accepted,” says Major Wareham. “We want them to know that God's love is for all.”
A Sign from God
Robin Browett knows what it means to have a second chance at life.
In December 2011, while in jail for stealing a mountain bike, Browett was stabbed in the head by his cell partner, sending him into a coma for four months. The doctors told his father that there was a good chance he wouldn't make it, but he asked them to try anyway.
“When I woke up, my father said, 'When you were on that table and they were trying to fix you up, you died. I asked God to save your life and you came back,' ” Browett remembers. “And from that day on, I knew I had to go somewhere, I had to do something, because what I was doing wasn't working.”
Since he dropped out of school in Grade 10, Browett has struggled with drug addiction and crime. He has spent more of his life in jail than out, including 10 years for injuring two pedestrians during a high-speed police chase. At the height of his criminal career, he was stealing five cars a day. But those days are far behind him now.
Browett first came to Cedarbrae last July after walking past the church and seeing its sign out front.
“It said 'A place to call home,' ” he recalls. “So I came here and they took me in with open arms.”
He started volunteering at the food bank and now comes in three or four times a week to stock shelves and help clients.
“I love coming to work here,” he says. “Every morning, Lisa Blake and I have a prayer together. It picks my spirits right up if I'm sad, or if I'm dealing with cravings I ask God to give me the strength to stay sober.”
Browett became a Christian last November after a long conversation with Lieutenant Keesom Phanthaamath.
“He told me, 'There's a lot more for you than you know, and you've got to get that devil off your shoulder,' ” Robin shares. “So I asked God to come into my life and, from that day on, I felt relief.
“It's like God has just filled me with life,” he continues. “Without him and The Salvation Army, I don't know where I would be.”
Lola Burton was raised in a Christian home and attended church for much of her life. But when her mother passed away in 2008, she found herself unable to go anymore.
“I was so depressed,” she remembers. “I didn't want to go because my mother was a godly person and when I came to church it reminded me of her.”
Burton's journey back to church—and to The Salvation Army—began with floor hockey. She signed her children up for an after-school program at Cedarbrae after receiving a flyer advertising the program at a community skate.
Since then, her children—Nathan, 16, Justin, 13, Jaya, 10, and Jacob, 10—have been involved with many programs at the church, including Bible study, camp, Joyful Noise, Saturday family events and more.
When it came to actually attending a Sunday service, though, Burton was nervous, sitting in the back pew with her children, hoping to escape notice.
“But as soon as Major Louise saw us, she said, 'Hi, Lola!' ” she laughs. “I felt like hiding, but it was nice that she remembered us—we just came to floor hockey—and we started to build a close-knit relationship.
“When I first started coming, I prayed, 'God, tell me if this is the right place for me,' ” she adds, “and I know this is where I want to be. There are so many people here and they're all friendly—it's not you alone—and that's what church is supposed to be.”
Having the support of the church has been essential for Burton who, as a single mother, often struggles to make ends meet.
“One Sunday, I came to church and I didn't know how I was going to give my children lunch or snacks the next day—I had nothing in my fridge,” she remembers. “But I came in and Major Louise handed me a voucher. It was like she just knew. I hugged her and I don't think she realized just how much, at that moment, I needed it.
“Even though I'm working, it's been very difficult,” she continues. “But every time I'm down to my last dollar, God always sends something or someone. It never fails.”
More Than Outreach
When a Salvation Army breakfast program came to Mason Road Junior Public School in September 2010, Deslene Bastien signed her children up right away. A single mother, she was not working at the time and the chance to ensure that her children had a nutritious meal in the morning was a welcome help.
She went with the children a few times to accompany her daughter, Adriana, then in kindergarten, and found out that the Army was looking for parents who were willing to volunteer. From that point on, Bastien was at the school every morning, wiping tables, making toast, tidying up—rarely missing a day.
The breakfast program co-ordinator, Charlotte Garcia, became a mentor and friend to her, and so when she left to take another position, Bastien was disappointed.
“But when she suggested I apply for the position, I thought, 'Oh, I'd love to!' ” she smiles.
Bastien became the program co-ordinator in September 2011, a job she loves.
“There are a lot of low-income families in the area where the school is, so having this program there is very good,” she says. “It gives me joy that The Salvation Army would reach out to the community in this way.”
The family first attended Cedarbrae Community Church in February 2012 after an invitation from Major Louise Wareham.
“I had never been to a Salvation Army church before, so I didn't know what to expect, but we really enjoyed it,” she says. “We were welcomed into the church and it felt like home.”
Soon after, Bastien's children were attending many of the church's programs—Adriana, 7, loves coming to Sunday school, while Sean, 16, and Eandre, 14, enjoy youth events such as floor hockey.
But, for Bastien, being connected to Cedarbrae is more than just attending programs and Sunday services—it's being part of a community.
“Being a single mom, sometimes you feel closed off to other things,” she says. “So being exposed to people who actually care and show love toward you means a lot.”