Every year, The Salvation Army’s Cedarbrae Community Church in Toronto provides placements for students from surrounding colleges who are pursuing certificates in social services work or health and wellness. The students help with the client intake and assist at the food bank, answer phone inquiries and ensure clients are attended to.

“While we have been conducting student placements for the past five years or so, this past session was particularly momentous,” says Joan Harry, Cedarbrae’s community and family services co-ordinator.

But it wasn’t just the size of the placement group—13 students—that made this a standout year.

Passion and Compassion
Halfway through the placement, Joan was suddenly hospitalized and then placed on sick leave for five weeks, between February and April. That left only family services worker Senthil Kumaran, himself on the job for just three weeks before Joan’s departure.

One of the placement students shows Salvation Army family services worker Senthil Kumaran all of her hard work in the food bank
Without the guidance and supervision provided by Joan, the students could have simply melted away to pursue other interests or opportunities.

Instead the students stepped up and took over the planning and execution of the programs, with Senthil’s assistance and oversight from Majors Cecil and Tina Mitchell, Cedarbrae’s pastors.

It was only when Joan returned to her duties after her hospitalization and convalescence this spring that she realized how the students had had to take matters into their own hands.

“It chokes me up now when I think of it, but they all rose to the challenge,” she says. “They didn’t panic or walk away when things got rough. The students learned to work together as a group and became stronger because of it.”

There was more to what they did than just working together, however.

“The students came from different backgrounds, countries and faiths,” says Senthil. “Not only did they gain leadership qualities, but they embraced the core values of The Salvation Army and understood our mission, which is to meet people at their point of need. It changed their lives. They now have a passion and a compassion for the poor and the needy of our community, and they have become mature adults in the process.”

“It was a challenging time,” Joan reflects, “but we saw God work in mysterious ways in the lives of our students, giving strength to those who needed it.”

To commemorate their great work, Cedarbrae hosted a special graduation supper for the students, complete with a certificate acknowledging their efforts.

“As far as we were concerned, these kids graduated with honours,” smiles Joan.

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