Unity Project to fill budget holes and warm hearts with Home for the Holidays

Unity holidays-1127-sm
Helping the Unity Project launch its Home for the Holidays campaign are (from left) Rick (resident), Chris Bowden of Cambia Development Foundation, Rob (resident), Ross Mortimer and Julia Haggerty of Carols by Candlelight (wearing Raising the Roof mittens).

For the past six, Unity Project invited Londoners to hear the telling of Charles Dickens classic yuletide tale, A Christmas Carol, with the assistance of the now defunct Orchestra London.

The event was an important fundraiser for the shelter with thousands of people from all walks of life enjoying the show by donation at the door.

Unfortunately, last year’s event was also Orchestra London’s final concert on Dec. 10, 2014.

“The loss was a significant blow,” said Silvia Langer, Unity Project’s development director. “It left a deep hole in London’s heart and a $30,000 hole in Unity Project’s budget.”

Now, the emergency shelter (719 Dundas St.) is making an urgent appeal, telling the tale of the crisis of homelessness and inspiring support to help those experiencing it to have a home for the holidays.

“Unity Project supports one-sixth of London’s 333 shelter beds in London, but is probably Canada’s largest home-like, participatory program. We are always working to improve the best practices we employ,” said Chuck Lazenby, Unity Project’s executive director. “We have 45 to 50 people a night here and multiple episodes of drop-in crisis support daily. We have a high staff to resident ratio and wrap our services around each person. What we lack in an economy of scale, we gain in the economy of better outcomes for the people we serve and the community that sustains us.”

Unity’s Home for the Holidays campaign will offer meaningful giving opportunities.

  • Philanthropic Friendsy. Each gift made now to end of Giving Tuesday on Dec. 1 earns a matching gift from Lina and Chris Bowden of the Cambia Development Foundation, up to $5,000. To donate visit www.unityproject.ca and click on the Giving Tuesday image.
  • Giving Tuesday Open House. Dec. 1, from 3:30-6:30 p.m., Unity Project welcomes the public to drop off donations, tour the facility, and enjoy a duet from #WePlayOnMusicians Joe Lanza and Jennifer Short from 3:30-4:30 p.m. Donations can include anything from socks, underwear, hats, mitts, coats, or financial contributions.
  • Santa Sacks. Help put something special under the tree for those without a home or family of their own. Eighty-five backpacks donated by Debco Solutions will be stuffed full of practical, fun, and luxury items. Individuals, families, church/employee/sports groups are invited to host donation drives to collect bulk items. To get involved and for more details visit www.unityproject.ca/donate.
  • 3rd Annual Carols by Candlelight. Set for the Wolf Performance Hall on Sunday Dec. 20, beginning at 3 p.m. (doors open at 2 p.m. for the Silent Auction). Advance tickets: adults $20, seniors and arts workers $15, students $10. Visit tickets.grandtheatre.com and click the date for more info and to purchase tickets.
  • Raising the Roof to End Homelessness. For the second year Unity Project is Raising the Roof’s local London partner, joining corporate partners Paul Davis and Intact Financial in this campaign to end homelessness in Canada. Buy a toque and get ready for Toque Tuesday on Feb. 2, 2016. For more, phone 519-433-8700 ext 2.

“Homelessness is a crisis that a person experiences; not an adjective to define a person,” Lazenby said. “Unity Project works to stabilize people in their moment of crisis and to engage them in their own processes toward stability utilizing all available community resources. People experiencing homelessness need our community’s respect, compassion and help. Please give.”


Pillar again celebrates London’s spirit of community innovation

The greatness that is the very heart of London was in full view at the ninth annual Pillar Community Innovation Awards.

Taking place before over 800 guests on Nov. 25 at London Convention Centre, the room was a buzz with excitement in the presence of the 12 finalists whose commitment to their community was heard and felt by the crowd.

“Personally seeing many of these finalists’ in action and reminded again by the video stories, brings me back to the roots of why we started down this road,” said Michelle Baldwin, executive director of the Pillar Nonprofit Network. “All of our 108 finalists over the nine years of these awards solidifies the fact that the London community is composed of so many remarkable individuals and organizations that are making a significant, lasting impact.”

The highlight of the evening was the announcement of this year’s Pillar Community Innovation Award recipients.

Awards were presented in four categories, including community innovation, community leadership, community impact, and community collaboration.

Community Innovation: Dr. Felicia Otchet

Publicly accessible mental health counselling services in London can have up to a yearlong wait list.

The Wait List Clinic (WLC) offers an innovative solution in a way that complements and supports existing services. It arose from Dr. Felicia Otchet’s concern for those struggling in isolation while they wait long periods of time for mental health services.

Community Leadership: Theresa Carriere

Motivated by her own experience, Theresa Carriere wanted to give back to a community that supported her during her time with breast cancer.

That desire led to the creation of ONERUN, a 100km event that invites anyone from the community to join.

By involving over 40,000 students, she has been able to spread her message of healthy living and community involvement. Together they have raised $780,000 to benefit breast cancer patients.

Community Impact: Pride London Festival

Pride London Festival Pride London Festival has grown from a small picnic in a city park 35 years ago to what is now, a 10-day festival with over 30 events.

This annual festival succeeds in sparking celebration around the LGBTQ community and promotes unity, inclusion, and awareness of sexual and gender diversity. Pride London Festival organizers believe in education as a way to change the stigmas present in society and to achieve a future that is healthy, inclusive, and diverse.

Community Collaboration: The Naloxone Program

Opioid overdose is a leading cause of unintentional death in Ontario, with an estimated 400-500 deaths in the province annually and 41 deaths in London alone in 2012.

Naloxone is a safe medication that reverses the effects of an opioid overdose.

Different experiences contributed to an initiative that makes use of everyone’s strengths, from the nurses’ medical knowledge to the outreach workers’ ability to connect with people at street level. The collaboration of the Naloxone program in London is what makes it unique and a valuable tool to save lives.

In addition to a custom award designed by Metal In Fusion, award recipients received $2,500 to be directed to the registered charity of their choice.



Leader of award-winning youth mental health program steps aside

The leading voice of the trailblazing Mindyourmind youth mental health program is moving on from the initiative she helped launch.

In a media release on Nov. 23 from Family Service Thames Valley (FSTV), which operates Mindyourmind, Maria Luisa Contursi announced she is stepping down from her role as program director.

Contursi has put in a 10-year career with Mindyourmind and 18 years with FSTV.

In the statement, Contursi said it has been her “great pleasure” to lead the growth and development of a social innovation that has helped hundreds of thousands of young people over the past decade.

“As many of you know the program currently faces an important milestone and in support of achieving its objectives the team and I have been working closely with key stakeholders,” Contursi said. “As I prepare to leave it is evident that Mindyourmind remains as strong as ever with a passionate team, focused leadership and a group of committed youth working together to support the next chapter of this invaluable resource.”

In her nearly two decades with FSTV, Contursi has worked with youth and young adults in varying clinical capacities.

In 2003, she began to explore the role of technology in engaging youth towards better help seeking.

In 2005, the Mindyourmind website was launched.

By 2009, through Contursi’s leadership, Mindyourmind had grown into an intervention, a model for best practice in youth engagement where mental health, co-creation and technology intersect.

Under the Contursi’s leadership, the program received many awards including the Social Good Design Award this year for the Be Safe app, an emergency diversion tool for youth struggling with mental health issues, which has now been adapted in 13 regions across the province.

Contursi leaves behind a legacy of igniting youth’s imagination and sense of power as change agents for themselves, their peers and their communities, working to make the health system better.

“I am thankful for the many lessons I’ve learned working with youth at Mindyourmind,” Contursi said. “In the New Year, I will carry with me what they taught me about creativity and co-creation and apply it in my work with emerging artists and community stakeholders in the non-profit performing arts sector. In this new role I will continue to explore the same question that many of us have been examining for decades — how can meaningful engagement help create and sustain vibrant and healthy communities?”

On behalf of the FSTV staff and board of directors, executive director Louise Pitre said she is extending her “deep gratitude” to Contursi for her passionate and courageous leadership.

“Maria Luisa’s contributions run deeper than merely the establishment of a program,” Pitre said. “She has been a fierce advocate for, and a mentor to, young people and has inspired us to believe that mental health system transformation is possible when youth are at the heart of engagement.”

Contursi, Pitre went on to say, has created a “strong foundation” to help Mindyourmind reach the next phase of its evolution.

“True to her nature, she has helped to craft, in partnership with the Mindyourmind team, community partners and youth and young adults, a new, exciting path for the Mindyourmind program which is rooted in collective community ownership,” Pitre said. “We are exploring a new business model that will ensure the program has a long future and that the voices of youth can continue to influence systems change.”

In her role as executive director, Pitre will lead the Mindyourmind’s ongoing evolution.

Melissa Taylor Gates, who will step into the role of program manager, will support her efforts.




Mayor appoints Ward 7 councillor as budget special advisor

As city council prepares for their first ever multi-year budget process Mayor Matt Brown has asked Ward 7 Coun. Josh Morgan to serve as his special advisor.

“I want to thank Coun. Morgan for agreeing to take on this task,” said Brown, who chairs the full council committee that will deliberate over the plan. “As we prepare for council’s first ever multi-year budget, I am asking Coun. Morgan to take on a role that I believe will add value to the process.”

The city’s new multi-year budget process will cover the span of four years (2016-19).

If any financial adjustments are needed, according to the Nov. 23 media release, they will be considered on an annual basis.

Brown has said in the past the multi-year budget will provide the funding mechanism to support council’s vision and strategic plan.

In addition, Brown has said the new budget approach will allow council and funded agencies to plan services and programs for the longer term.

“Mayor Brown and I have a long and positive history of working together. When I was the chair of the Library Board, he introduced the concept of value for money audits for boards and commissions,” Morgan said. “We worked together to ensure the library was the first board to participate and saw many positive results. I am looking forward to providing my advice, experience and support to him in his role as budget chief.”

Multi-year budgets aren’t common, but two other large municipalities; Calgary and York Region have them.

Morgan has experience with budget processes as he holds a combined honours degree in Economics and Political Science and a Master’s degree in Political Science from Western University.

He has worked on budget processes in both current and previous roles, including as board chair of the London Public Library and a member of the Western University Pension Board, which has assets totalling over $1.3 billion.

As winter nears, See and Be Seen the message from London police

Most Londoners woke up on this past Sunday morning to a blanket of snow outside.

As the winter months move forward with cold temperatures and short days, London Police Service is reminding the public about using two important safety features on motor vehicles: headlights and taillights.

According to a media release on Nov. 23 from Sgt. Amanda Pfeffer, Traffic Management Unit, Uniformed Division, the idea of “See and Been Seen” accurately captures what a vehicle’s lighting system enables the public to do.

In low light situations, before dawn and after dusk, it is imperative that drivers utilize more than just their daylight running lights. Drivers need to ensure that both taillights and headlights are activated.

Vehicles approaching from in front and from behind need to see these lights in order to see the vehicle.

The Highway Traffic Act requires all motorists using Ontario’s roadways to ensure adequate lighting is in use at all times when on the road.

Specifically, “when on a highway at any time from one-half hour before sunset to one-half hour after sunrise and at any other time when, due to insufficient light or unfavourable atmospheric conditions, person and vehicles on the highway are not clearly discernible at a distance of 150 metres of less, every motor vehicle shall carry three lighted lamps in a conspicuous position.”

Unfavourable atmospheric conditions are very common during the fall and winter seasons.

Rainstorms, hailstorms and snowstorms would all classify and thus, require the use of headlights and taillights despite occurring through daytime hours.

For everyone’s safety, London police are asking everyone to “see and be seen” while operating motor vehicles on local roadways


Community focus group continues conversation on eliminating poverty

The Northeast Community Conversations (NECC) group is continuing the conversation around poverty.

At NECC’s People’s Forum on Eliminating Poverty on Oct.17, many Londoners committed to continuing the call to action to eliminate poverty in London.

As a continuation of this collective community commitment, NECC has been invited to work with the Mayor’s Advisory Panel on Poverty (MAPOP).

NECC will engage with residents, service providers/agencies, business owners and community leaders to assist the panel in capturing stories of lived experiences and enabling residents to share ideas or recommendations on ways to bring an end to poverty in London.

NECC has committed to hosting and facilitating several community focus group meetings in various neighbourhoods, including Crouch/Hamilton Road/Glen Cairn, Whitehills/Oakridge, and Huron Heights, Kipps Lane, and Carling.

The first NECC Community Focus Group Meeting will be held in Northeast London on Thursday, Nov. 26, at the Beacock Branch Library, Room A (1280 Huron St.). Doors open at 5:45 p.m. and the event runs 6:30-8:30 p.m.

A complimentary dinner and refreshments are served at 6 p.m. and free child-minding and free parking will be provided.


Secret Stiches Quilt Show to give glimpse into woman abuse

As part of the month long Shine the Light on Woman Abuse campaign the London Abused Women’s Centre is hosting a two-day quilt show titled Secret Stiches.

The show will feature the work of a woman who endured abuse for the entire length of her 58-year marriage.

As a result of the abuse by her husband the woman lost contact with her children. Her way of escaping the pain of both the abuse and the loss of her children was to create 14 unique and beautiful quilts to send her children and grandchildren — a poignant message of love.

The quilts were discovered after the woman passed away earlier this year.

The show will be held at two different locations over two days: Friday, Nov. 20, 5:30-7:30 p.m. at Hassan Law (142 Dundas St.), and Saturday, Nov. 21, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. at East Lions Artisan Centre (1731 Churchill Ave.).