Ottawa teen now inspires others to take faith in action

16-year-old Thomas Lindale is unlike others of his age.

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For Thomas Lindale, going on a mission trip to India with Free the Children (now WE Charity) was really about being God’s light in the world.

After attending a WE Day conference in 2015 as a Grade 8 student, Lindale felt inspired to apply for a trip aimed at improving food security in India’s rural regions. He did not have high hopes of being selected.

“I didn’t think I was the exceptional candidate,” he said.

Two months later, to his surprise, he was selected.

Upon leaving Ottawa, Lindale could not express the emotions he was feeling. He was excited for the opportunity, but he was also scared because it was his first time travelling alone.

Those fears dissipated with a layover at the New Delhi Airport. Although he was the second youngest on the trip, he realized he was in good hands with people who would soon become his closest friends.

Lindale and his group of volunteers were travelling during monsoon season. When they arrived at the village, they saw that every field was flooded and the local farmers lost their crops.

Their mission was to build a stone wall to protect the local farmers’ crops from being washed away. This wall to protect their garden would continue giving back year after year.

“The very thought of someone being happier when you’re leaving them than when you came,” he said. “That’s amazing.”

Coming home from that mission trip, Lindale was inspired to become more proactive in his faith. He wanted to bring God’s light into every aspect of his life.

“Just because we have it good here doesn’t mean we can’t have it good everywhere,” Lindale said.

Now in Grade 10, 16-year-old Lindale is taking the lead on bringing other young people to Christ. He is involved in many clubs at his high school, St. Pius X.

With the guidance of his chaplain, Lindale created a group called Pius X last year. This group meets regularly at lunch hour to discuss matters of faith. Last semester, Pius X launched their own Alpha youth program.

“I thought there must be a way to calm down during the day and be at peace because at school it’s loud,” he said. “It’s rare you get a quiet place to think by yourself and I also thought … God is a great peace.”

This isn’t the first youth group in which Lindale has helped make a difference. In Grade 8, he applied for a Speak Up grant from the Ontario government for the youth group. The Speak Up grant is aimed at engaging students and helping them take action on something they’re interested in.

The Ontario government awarded Lindale’s youth group $1,000 which they used to organize a year-end retreat in Vals des Monts, Que. The retreat was themed “You are the light of the world” and provided students the opportunity reflect on how they can be God’s light in the world.

His faith and this mantra have had an effect on the countless other activities and fundraisers he is involved in.

Lindale said that being brought up in a Catholic home has taught him what it means to be grateful and how to put that into action. It has given him the opportunity to be a leader and find ways he can help. He wants to seize the opportunities to lead and encourage others similar in age to do the same.

“A young person making a change can be very inspirational for their friends around them,” he said.

Combatting hunger

Ottawa Food Bank held their annual general meeting earlier this month.

The Ottawa Food Bank aims to provide access to food for all people of Ottawa, but they recognize they can always do more.

That’s why at their annual general meeting on Monday, partner agencies and community members came together to celebrate the work that was done, and look forward with hope.

In 2016, the food bank was able to put close to six million pounds of food in the hands of those who needed it. Also in 2016, they focused on how they could better serve the community.

Michael Maidment, executive director of the Ottawa Food Bank, shared with those in attendance the results of a community consultation they began in September.

Stakeholders told the food bank they wanted them to improves access to healthy food, educate the community and build capacity in the food system.

“I want you to walk away knowing we heard you,” Maidment said.

Those tasked with putting these themes into action are the board of directors and its three newly appointed members.

Sylvie Manser is one of those new board members. Currently she is the executive director of the Banff Avenue Community House, in which she and her team provide educational and social service programs to a low-income community.

Manser is looking forward to the opportunity to work with the food bank and fight hunger in Ottawa. According to Manser, learning about the many programs the food bank offers will help her better serve the communities she works with.

For her, it’s important the voices of the community are brought to the board so the programs developed work for them.

“It’s really important to be the voice for the community,” Manser said.

Ivan Gedz, co-owner of Union Local 613, is also a new recruit for the food bank board. Initially apprehensive to the idea, he has since become more comfortable with this new role.

Gedz is hopeful the relationships he has developed with the many people involved in the food industry are able to help the food bank.

“I have a lot of connections with the food service industry so perhaps I can leverage those relationships,” Gedz said by email.

Gedz is excited to use those relationships to shape policy and change the plight of those going hungry. As a restaurant owner, he recognizes the irony of this position, but hopes it will allow him to sleep better at night.

“There is something very perverse about serving decadence to those that can afford it while watching those that cannot go hungry,” Gedz said.

With their new board members, the Ottawa Food Bank will continue to grow their food programs for those who need it most.

The lawyer who serves

Tyler Botten volunteers for the Ticket Defence Program to make a difference.

For Tyler Botten, being a lawyer means more than just defending your client in court – it means providing a voluntary legal service to the street-involved.

Along with his role as a criminal defence lawyer, Botten regularly volunteers for the Ticket Defence Program of Ottawa (TDP).

Working with lawyers and law students, the program aims to provide access to justice for street-involved persons in Ottawa. The program meets many clients through referrals, but also visits shelters and drop-in programs to spread the word.

The program has a history dating back to 2003, but with a relaunch in 2015 Botten was asked if he could help. At that time, he had just left his job at a law firm with plans to open his own and with more time on his hands he agreed.

“I was looking for something to do that was going to be different,” he said.

At any given time, Botten and his colleagues are working on 10 to 15 cases for TDP, along with their primary role at work. The volunteering Botten does is very similar to his day job, but this program makes concrete difference in the lives of those he serves.

“For the individuals we deal with it can be more impactful on them directly,” Botten said.

Albeit most of the tickets Botten deals with through the program are minor, they can have lasting effects.

In work like this, sometimes it’s the consequences of the issue being unresolved that can have more effects than resolving it. In one his most recent cases, a woman was unable to buy a home until she had her creditors cleared.

“I get to deal with real world human problems,” Botten said.

For the homeless, panhandling tickets they can’t pay begin racking up. Without a representative like Botten, the dollars continue to add up without any hope of ending the cycle. Even with his defence, his volunteerism does sometimes feel like it’s not going anywhere.

“The best I can do is just fight the new tickets as they’re coming in,” he said.

The cycle is due to the nature of the work Botten does with the Safe Streets Acts. Aiming to protect the public, the act fails to significantly quantify what panhandlers can and can’t do.

For now, Botten will fight the tickets, but he said, he hopes the program is able to do more to help offenders.

“I would like to know about every Safe Streets Act ticket,” he said.

This data would help him and his colleagues understand how these tickets are being issued and if there is any consistency. Lacking a quantifiable measure makes room for subjectivity amongst officers and that’s where issues arise.

“The legislature at Queens Park can create these parameters, but it’s how it gets filled in that causes problems,” Botten said.

Botten doesn’t advocate for a repeal of the Safe Streets Act, but does recognize that data on how the tickets are being issued could help train frontline police officers and ultimately save our courts time and money.

At the moment, all Botten is focused on is continuing to defend his clients in court and help them avoid the consequences of having minor tickets add up to thousands of dollars. The process can be slow, dealing with one person at a time, but it’s really about making a difference.

“It’s having someone stand up for them.”

 

Play challenges norms

Talking about a taboo subject matter like sexual assault is difficult – The Ghomeshi Effect takes the stories of sexual assault victims centre stage to begin a conversation.

The play opened Thursday at The Gladstone Theatre to a sold-out crowd from all walks of life. Using verbatim dance-theatre the script was formed from a series of 40 interviews done with victims of sexual assault.

For Jessica Ruano, director and creator, this moment was a long time coming.

Ruano felt passionate about putting on this play because of her own experience of sexual violence and because of the issues her friends have had when they bring their case to the legal system.

“The way the legal system handles sexual assault cases has been proven to be problematic and divisive,” Ruano said.

According to Statistics Canada, 90 per cent of sexual assault cases are not reported to the police. The play highlights why many don’t bring their case forward and how those who do endure a variety of struggles.

“I didn’t pursue charges so I could survive,” one character said referring to why they kept their assault out of the legal system.

Those who did bring their cases forward told of the struggles they endured to have their side believed amongst questions from the public and the legal system that had nothing to do with their story.

“There’s a problem with the textbook” another character said referring to the justice system.

For audience members like Patricia Hubert, the play echoed their own experiences.

“I don’t think I’ve spoke to anyone who’s had a positive experience with the police,” she said.

Ruano hopes the The Ghomeshi Effect encourages conversation around the commonly held assumptions about sexual violence and the institutions that handle the cases.

The play is just one aspect of the conversation that is beginning around sexual violence.

Throughout the 10 days the production is playing, The Ghomeshi Effect has partnered with non-violence community organizations to host panel discussions and workshops focused on education and making a difference in the legal system.

Instead of reacting out of anger or sadness to sexual violence cases and how they’re handled, Ruano hopes The Ghomeshi Effect allows people to think critically before forming a rash response.

“Our play is a response rather than a reaction,” she said.

Looking forward, the production examines ways the justice system could change to better represent victims of sexual assault, with the ultimate goal of prevention.

The Ghomeshi Effect runs until Jan. 28 at The Gladstone Theatre and plans to tour.

Youth are called to Rise Up at Vancouver conference

It was called the Rise Up conference, but it could just as easily have been called the Speak Up.

More than 600 young people from across Canada attended the annual Catholic Christian Outreach (CCO) national conference Dec. 28-Jan. 1, listening to messages from speakers that were meant to motivate and inspire them to spread God’s word.

It began with Archbishop Michael Miller on the opening night, as he reminded the 18 to 35-year-old crowd that God has a unique calling for each of them.

“You are called by name for mission,” he said, reminding them of the conference theme of “called by name” from Isaiah 49. He invited them to discover how God is calling them personally.

Speaker Jake Khym, a life counsellor, picked up on the theme by telling attendees that “there’s a God who longs to encounter us and to speak to us by name.”

Once we have been called, the next step is bringing the good news of Jesus to others. Putting that into practice was the topic of the second day of the conference.

Dr. Mary Healy, a professor of Sacred Scripture at Sacred Heart Major Seminary in Detroit and a member of the Pontifical Biblical Commission, said the time for business as usual is past because Catholic Churches are failing to evangelize. Only six per cent of Catholics make it a priority to evangelize, she said, and just three per cent of parishes believe they are actually evangelizing.

Healy urged students to become engaged with the Holy Spirit. Only by the clothing of God’s power can we accomplish the mission of bringing Him to others, she said.

“If we are proclaimers of the Kingdom of God it can’t just be words. It has to be power,” Healy said.

To use this power, we have to give Him an unqualified yes to send us out to others, she said.

During a night of worship and prayer, students were invited to pray for deliverance from a fear that’s holding them back from God. Students were encouraged to text two friends and set a time in the coming weeks to share with them what God has done for them at this conference.

“God took ordinary people who had profound encounters with His Son Jesus and sent them out,” said Christy Dupuis, a former CCO missionary. She said we must not give into the fear that comes from God’s mission, but rather must hold fast to what they know is true.

CCO hosts this annual national conference for its campus ministries across Canada. Its mission is to evangelize students and help them become leaders for the renewal of the world.

The conference is known for kicking off the New Year with a praise and worship concert at the stroke of midnight after a dinner dance.

Next year’s conference will be held in Ottawa.

Harsh Realities: Ontario youth unemployment isn’t getting better

Young people are being left out of the workforce.

Across Ontario, young people are the last to get hired and first get fired. Hannah Vervoort knows exactly what this feels like.

The 18-year-old currently studies political science at Carleton University and is jobless. Like many other young people in the province is unemployed and facing many struggles to find and keep a job.

Lacking a job in a new city and living on her own for the first time, Vervoort needs help from home.

She had a job in her hometown of Thunder Bay, but was forced to leave her position when she came to Ottawa for school. That job at Shoppers Drug Mart took her three years to find and now after nearly four months in Ottawa she’s facing the same issue.

Vervoort is looking for something that fits her school schedule, is accessible by transit and somewhere in line with her interests. None of these things are the problem.

Experience was the problem and Vervoort did not have any.

“Everywhere wanted at least a year or two of experience,” she said.

Hannah Vervoort is part of an ongoing trend of the struggle of young people to find and keep a job. Unemployment numbers suggest many young people are being shut out of the workforce.

Statistics Canada puts Ontario’s unemployment rate for those 15 and older at 6.3 per cent. That’s better than the rebound after the 2008 financial crisis when it stood at 9.6 per cent in June 2009.

The troubling statistic for many is Ontario lags behind the national unemployment rate for 15 to 24 year olds sitting at 13.5 per cent compared to the national average of 12.9 per cent.

Sean Geobey expected to see the unemployment rates climb for everyone after the 2008 crisis, but did not predict that the rates for young people would not recover.

“This isn’t a problem we expect to be going away,” he said.

Geobey is a professor at the University of Waterloo and researches how the workforce and the labour market are changing. He attributes the lack of employment recovery for youth in Ontario to the shift away from the manufacturing industry. Then there’s the fact that people also aren’t retiring as early as they used to. Cutback in social spending is another factor.

It turns out, the issue isn’t a lack of jobs, it’s the result of a gap between skills employers are looking for and what students are taught in school. Students are expected to come out of school with a fresh degree and know specialized skills employers are looking for.

Focused on their own bottom line employers have dramatically cut back on training costs over the past 20 years. “When employers decide they are not going to invest in that (training) no one benefits,” Geobey said.

Vervoort is unsure of the job she will land after she graduates, but she can be sure that without a change she will have to learn how to do her job without any training from her employer.

Noticing this shift in investment, educators are now doing their best to prepare students for a changing work environment.

Ontario’s colleges develop, change and lose programs based on advice from industry advisors and data from the labour market. These programs are developed and tailored to specific industries to help students develop specific skills.

Invented to fill a gap from universities, colleges aim to give everyone an opportunity at a job.

“The purpose of college is to make sure kids get trained for jobs when they graduate,” said Linda Franklin, President of Colleges Ontario.

For Franklin, experiential learning is critical to helping students develop specialized skills and get jobs. Almost 70 per cent of college programs have one form of experiential learning to provide students with training they will not receive in the workplace and provide them with definable hands-on skills.

While experiential learning may be of incredible value for students, Franklin says apprenticeships, while still valuable, are difficult to begin with.

“It’s really hard to figure out how to be an apprentice in this province. Almost impossible,” Franklin said.

Students face large obstacles; finding an employer and dealing with tremendous bureaucracy.

With cut backs on training and focus on the bottom line, companies are more hesitant to take on an apprentice. It has become expensive for a company to teach someone how to become a skilled trades person.

Bringing young people into the labour force does not just rest on investment from educators and employers, but from all segments of the population.

Many non-profit groups, and social programs attempt to combat the problem of youth unemployment. None of them have helped Vervoort. These programs target segments of the population that were already on the fringes.

Last year, HireUp launched in the Toronto area with the goal of ending youth homelessness and getting jobs for disadvantaged youths. Although the program only helped two youth find jobs, the job portal has learned several valuable lessons.

The job portal is not simply enough. Knowing now that employers want youth coming to them with skills HireUp is planning to develop resources that train youth in particular industries. These skills can then be transferred to a job.

Because they have partnered with 36 other youth organizations across Canada including the Youth Services Bureau in Ottawa, they recognize the need for all parties to work together.

“If everyone works in isolation we are never going to move the needle on this,” Cameron Voyame, project coordinator at HireUp, said.

This ensures everyone is working towards the same goal and bridging the gaps youth face when trying to get a job.

With a particular focus on vulnerable youth the Expert Panel on Youth Unemployment hopes to provide recommendations to government to help end youth unemployment. By travelling across the country, the panel will engage with Canadian youth to hear about their struggles and ways the government could help them.

Panel Chair Vasiliki Bednar, says, the final report is due in March 2017, and it may not help a young person find a job next year. But, it may propose budgetary changes, or reform of the Canada Summer Jobs Program.

Back at Carleton, Vervoort isn’t aware of the many programs that could be helping her get a job. She wants more help and is hopeful this panel can do something for her.

“One of the biggest things is just to reach out to those who are unemployed,” she said. Helping those who are unemployed proves to be more productive for our entire economy.

With a member of her family being laid off a couple of years ago she knows the detrimental effects being unemployed has on everyone. She now wonders if her degree will actually be productive in providing her with a job that allows her to enjoy a stable income.

For now, like the many other young people in the province, she continues looking for a job and waits. Vervoort knows that without a dramatic shift she will be the last one hired.

Waiting Works

Patience is difficult.

‘Light the advent candle one, now the waiting has begun.’

I remember singing that song titled “Light the Advent Candle” every year in elementary school. On the first Sunday of Advent I always think about that line and every year it annoys me more and more.

Getting through Advent today means wishing exams were over and immersing myself in our consumerist culture.

The fact is I never really liked waiting. I have little patience for red lights, long lineups or anything that tries to interrupt my day. But the thing is, Jesus gives us this time to wait for Him so we can prepare to welcome Him at Christmas. We are not waiting for Him, He is waiting for us.

I remember in elementary school getting excited as the weeks went on looking forward to Christmas Day, the gifts I would receive and the time away from school.
Back then, Advent was nothing more than a chocolate calendar. Opening a cardboard door each day meant that I was one day closer to big meals, hot chocolate and shortbread cookies. I wasn’t waiting for a King. I was waiting for all the fun that comes with Christmas morning.

This Advent I plan on waiting for Jesus. Amidst my various commitments, I look forward to finding stillness. This time of quiet will allow me to spend time with our King and truly welcome him on Christmas morning. Instead of being excited to get away from school and open that door of chocolate, my excitement will rest in our coming Messiah.

One of the easiest ways I prepare my heart for Jesus is through some email subscriptions I have. Dynamic Catholic, Redeemed Online and Word of Fire send daily reflections that allow me to stay centred during the season.

At university, it is the time of final projects, reviews and exams. It’s all keeping me very busy. The daily reminders make it so easy to just take a minute each day. There is no excuse to not fit them in. Each day, great speakers inspire me and challenge me to live out the fullness of my Christian faith.

By the time I get to Christmas morning this year, I will have still struggled with patience, but I will have made a commitment to welcome Jesus. All He is asking of me is to be ready for His triumphant arrival into the world. By making room for Jesus this Advent, I will be ready to receive the greatest gift on Christmas morning and carry that with me throughout the rest of the year.

This year, I will sing the last verse of “Light the Advent Candle” song with renewed meaning and hope found only in our Messiah.

‘Light the Christmas candle now; Sing of donkey, sheep, and cow; Birthday candles for the King, Let the Alleluias ring.’