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May12TueCommunity centre provides more than just practical assistance in St. John's, N.L. May 12, 2015 by Kristin Ostensen
Six years ago, James came to the New Hope Community Centre in St. John's, N.L., a broken man.
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“I walked through these doors, down-faced and hurt—my career, my life, my house, my job and my furniture gone, overnight,” he recalls.
For years, James had been a fisherman, making up to $2,000 a week during fishing season. But when he got in trouble with the law, restrictions on his movement meant that he could not go out on the ships anymore. And when his unemployment benefits ran out, James realized how desperate his situation was.
“It was a very trying time in my life,” he says. “I could have easily went off the deep end—drinking and waking up the next day facing 10 years. It could have gone either way.”
James was trying to make the best of the situation while living on social assistance when someone pointed him to The Salvation Army and its New Hope Community Centre.
“I thank God that they were there when I needed them,” he says. “You know that, on the drop of a dime, if you need anything at all, they'll help, and that's so good.”
A Place Where Needs Are Met
New Hope is a multi-faceted social services centre, with a range of programs that include a drop-in centre, soup kitchen, chiropractic services, addictions counselling, a wellness group, chaplaincy and employment programs, as well as a full-time social worker. James is one of more than 600 people on the centre's client list.
“Our client base is growing,” says Major Hedley Bungay, executive director. “Word is getting around the community that New Hope is a place where needs are met and people are cared for.”
As the centre's client base grows, so do its offerings. One of its most recent additions is an on-site nurse practitioner, Gail Bishop, who provides health services to clients three days per week.
“It could be anything from an ear infection to preventative care to cancer,” she says, noting that she sees about 30 patients each week.
“We implement programs that are specifically geared to meet a need in the community,” Major Bungay shares. “No matter who comes to us, we have a professional in place to support them.”
“It's Not Just Me”
Many clients at New Hope find more than assistance with their various needs—they find community.
Janice has been a regular at the centre for the past three years. “I enjoy talking to people, interacting with the staff—they're just wonderful,” she says. Janice was a home care worker for more than 10 years when her then 20-year-old son had an accident at work that nearly severed his arm with a chainsaw. In the painful aftermath of the accident, he tried to commit suicide and Janice quit work to take care of him.
“I was afraid of coming home and finding my son had overdosed or cut himself,” she recalls. Her income drastically reduced, Janice often comes to New Hope to have meals. “I only have a hundred dollars to get me through every two weeks. A hundred dollars is not a lot, especially when I'm trying to feed myself and my two children.
“I enjoy the fact that I can come here and meet other people and it's not just me—I'm not the only one out there that's in this position.”
As well as coming for meals, Janice has participated in the centre's arts and crafts program. “I'm hoping that someday I can contribute as well,” she says, “helping other people, like I've been helped.”
Partners in Christ
While the centre is careful not to duplicate programs offered by other organizations in the community, it enjoys a unique partnership with George Street United Church, where its programs are currently housed. The centre has been operating there since March 2014, following a major flood at the former facility that forced its closure. Thankfully, George Street is located right next door to the former New Hope Community Centre in a low-income area of St. John's, minimizing the disruption of services after the flood.
“Our two ministries have dove-tailed quite nicely,” says Reverend Susan White, minister at George Street. “It's a tremendous benefit to our clients because we serve the same people. Our partnership means that they are not dislocated and having to find Salvation Army services scattered throughout the city.”
The church provides The Salvation Army with six office spaces, as well as the use of the church's kitchen and hall.
For Major Bungay, having George Street's support turned what could have been a catastrophe into a positive partnership.
“They've been so accommodating and they understand our clientele,” he says. “They made it very easy for us to transition by extending a warm, friendly hand. It's how the church should be.”
Plans are underway to build a new facility for the centre.
One of the Army's six offices belongs to Catherine French, co-ordinator of employment training programs. The New Hope Community Centre operates two employment training programs in conjunction with the College of the North Atlantic.
“We recruit income-support recipients to do 12-week training programs,” she explains, “while the college develops and delivers the curriculum. But they do it on site with us and, in doing so, we are able to offer support services that the centre has available.”
When French does an intake assessment with potential participants to determine some of their barriers to employment, she often discovers that they have other needs.
“In some cases, they may require better housing, so I would work with Denise Miller, our social worker, on that,” she explains, “or they might have a health-care problem, in which case I could refer them to our nurse practitioner.”
Some barriers are less visible than others. Low self-esteem—which often comes from individuals being out of the workforce for a long time—and mental-health issues can make it difficult for people even to begin the employment process, while having a criminal record can prevent people from being hired.
“There is a big bias and prejudice against people with criminal records,” says French. Working with the John Howard Society, which helps ex-prisoners re-integrate into society after serving time, New Hope assists clients to find employment opportunities and put the past behind them.
New Hope's employment training includes a retail skills program in the fall and a building service work program in the spring. Each program involves nine weeks of classes followed by three weeks of hands-on training in a work placement. A typical session of the program helps 10 individuals get back into the workforce.
Michael completed the building service work program and was able to obtain steady cleaning work. But when he couldn't get enough hours to support himself, as well as his niece and her two children, he returned to New Hope and Denise Miller for assistance. The Army provided funds so that Michael could get his driver's licence back, and when he found a position as a truck driver, Miller helped him get a pair of glasses so he could drive. He also spent a year in the centre's addictions support group, which has helped him dramatically reduce his drinking.
“There's always practical help,” says Michael. “It's a constant connection. I can always turn back here.”
Miller, who has been working at New Hope since 2007, says that many clients stay with the centre for years, seeking assistance with multiple issues. “It's not just for short-term needs,” says Miller, who notes that she sees up to 10 clients each day. She helps clients with finding housing, applying for income support, obtaining bus passes, making medical appointments, getting referrals to other services and many other needs.
Ultimately, it's the relationships that Miller and the staff at New Hope build with clients that keeps them coming back.
“They're an amazing bunch of people,” says James. “In the last two years, I've come to see them as my friends, more than employees or volunteers. I bring my grandchildren down here and we're always met with open arms and love.”