Dare boldly

A blog by Louise Gallagher


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Can education end poverty, homelessness and discrimination?

I am at a dinner party. The people around the table are all successful by society’s norms. They have achieved status, good jobs, make contributions to their organizations, families, communities, society.

One of the guests states they know how to resolve the problem for Canada’s Indigenous people. “Give them goals,” they say with conviction, “and hold them to the outcomes.”

The other guests murmur in agreement. Yes. Yes. It’s what’s needed. They need to stop whining and start doing more to be productive members of society. Sure, we messed up, someone mentions, we treated them unfairly, but that’s in the past. It’s time to move on.

I chime in and ask if anyone around the table has read the Truth and Reconciliation Report. There’s a lot of head shaking, No.

So, we can sit here with answers when no one has read a report that provides clear directions on how to move forward in addressing the inequities and injustices that have created the trauma and crisis today.

Good point, someone says. But they still need to be held accountable to goals. They need to progress.

And who are we to say what that looks like I ask, when we don’t understand the people, culture, history and our role in creating the issues today?

I ask one man, the CEO of a large multi-national corporation how he would respond if a consultant, hired to help fix a problem in the organization, walked in and said, I know the answers. Here’s what you have to do. Yet, the consultant had not even looked at the organization’s balance sheet, annual report, strategic plan or interviewed leadership, etc.

The man laughed and replied, “I’d throw him out.”

Yet, it’s okay to act like that consultant about a situation you have not spent any time understanding.

There was a long silence and the conversation changed to another topic.

 

Yesterday, a reader commented on my post that education is vital. “… the answer is education. It lifts people, it lifts families, it lifts communities. And, while it is lifting people out of chronic cyclical poverty and its attendant problems, it lifts spirit, self-esteem/pride and empowers more accomplishment.”

I agree.

But it’s not just those experiencing homelessness, or poverty, or other social injustices who need education. It is all of us.

Recently, a man told me of his experience looking for a place to live. He arranged for a viewing of an apartment and when he got there, it was mysteriously, suddenly, unavailable.

You can’t tell the colour of my skin on the phone, he told me. But I could see his [the landlord’s] revulsion by the look on his face when he opened the door.

The man is Blackfoot.

It happens all the time, he told me. Sometimes, people don’t even bother to pretend. They just say, “I don’t rent to Indians.”

It doesn’t just happen to indigenous people, but to immigrants too.

Someone sees the colour of their skin, and doors close in their face.

Education is needed.

For everyone.

Discrimination hurts all of us. It fosters resentment, disillusionment, despair; entitlement, injustice, disrespect.

It creates Us and Them communities where the ‘have’s’ deny the ‘have not’s’ access to the resources and supports they need to be able to live without feeling the burden of poverty pressing them down.

It is not up to those who are being discriminated against to prove to the rest of us that they are equal, worthy or deserving. It’s up to each of us to let go of our thinking that someone else is not equal, worthy or deserving of our consideration, fair treatment, justice, dignity.

When we tear down the barriers we have erected to keep ‘them’ out of where we live, work, play and create communities, we create a world where tolerance, understanding, justice, and consideration for all has room to flow in all directions.

And that requires a willingness to learn — about the impact of our thinking we have all the answers for those we judge to be less than, other than, outside of our human experience.

We need to educate ourselves on the injustices we create because of our privileged thinking and belief that ‘they’ are the one’s who need to educate themselves to do better.

We are a planet of diverse cultures, faith, traditions, ways of being on this earth.

What we share in common is our human condition. And that is all we need to be equal to one another.

The rest… it comes with educating ourselves about the beauty in our differences, and learning to become compassionate in our view of how those differences make us each unique and richer in the experience of sharing our world in ways that create better, not just for the few, but for everyone.

Namaste.

 


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Preparing for the storm

Outside, the wind is picking up speed, the sky is darkening and the temperature is dropping.

A storm is forecast to move through today and with it, bring high winds and lots of rain. Already, it has blown blossoms off the apple tree in our backyard to carpet the grass like snow.

Like so many things in life, I can’t avoid the storm. I can prepare for it and take precautions.

Last night, I moved the umbrella off the deck and laid it on its side. I re-positioned some of the pots I’d planted with flowers this past weekend closer to the house, out of the direct line of the wind. I removed the lantern from where it hung and tucked it under the eaves where it wouldn’t get damaged and did what I could to ensure nothing would go flying around on the deck.

It’s all I can do to be ready for the storm.

Sometimes, the storms of life blow in so hard, we are unprepared to withstand their onslaught. Sometimes, we don’t have the resources, skills, resilience to handle their fierceness and must take cover from the storm.

And that’s where places like Inn from the Cold come in. They stand-by, ready to provide shelter, sanctuary, healing for those swept up by life’s unpredictability. Because, no matter the weather, in times of distress, we all need a safe place to land, a harbour to lay anchor in until the winds subside and the seas are calm once again.

From the sanctuary of that safe haven, we regroup. Take stock, learn new skills, repair what’s broken, build resiliency so that we can go back out into the flow of life and set sail once again towards our dreams. Stronger. More-prepared. Better provisioned to withstand storms and other unforeseen mishaps.

I had a great first day. It felt like coming ‘home’. Home to a place where the focus is on holding space for children and families to grow through life’s mishaps to be able to weather storms without crashing into the rocks again and again.

It felt like coming home to a team whose every act is imbued with deep, heartfelt passion and compassion to serve families in distress and ensure they can move on to better times, quickly and with grace, so that children can grow up strong and not become homeless statistics of the future.

It was a great first day.

I am content. Excited. Happy.

And I even got flowers!  An unexpected guest dropped in to wish me well on my first day, and with her, she brought a beautiful bouquet of flowers. Thank you KGB!

I am so blessed.

Namaste.

 


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A new job. New beginning. New everything!

Today I begin a new adventure. Today, I join the team at Inn from the Calgary, a not-for-profit whose vision is to build, “a community where no child or family is homeless.”

I feel excited. Nervous. Curious. Calm.

I am excited to be returning to the front-lines of homelessness. To be moving away from communicating from the ‘system planner’ perspective to being able to tell the stories of the amazing work the Inn does that has direct impact on children and families experiencing homelessness in our city.

I am nervous to be meeting new people. To be connecting with a new team who do not know me, and with whom I have had very little contact. I am nervous about ‘what to wear’ for my first day. About the little things that once the threshold is crossed, become commonplace — but until then, create fissures of unease, uncertainty because they represent the unknown. Parking. Coffee. Lunch. What will my office look like? Should I take all my stuff today, or wait a day or so? (You know, the photos and paraphernalia that make a space ‘mine’. 🙂 )

I am curious to be taking on a new role, to be discovering what makes the Inn tick. What makes it such an exceptional place. What creates such passion amidst those who work with and for the Inn.

And I am calm. Whatever will be, it will be what it is. As long as I stay present to my intentions of being open, curious and humble, as long as I stay centered within my core self, as long as I am committed to being and bringing the best of me with me, I have nothing to be nervous about.

Life is an ever flowing river. It moves and changes and bridges opportunities, new experiences, different perspectives. It constantly brings with it interesting ways of engaging, learning, becoming aware of what I don’t know, while also becoming aware of how to apply what I do know in new ways.

I am going back to work tomorrow after a two week ‘break’.

It has been two weeks filled with creativity, with opportunities to take a break and moments to get fully engaged in the wonders of what fills my life today.

And, in the process, I have passed an anniversary of sorts once again — only to discover — I had completely missed the significance of the date — until FB Memories pointed out that on May 21, 2013 I had written a post that marked the date called — Ten Years. I am Grateful.

I am so grateful for time. It moves with the flow of life’s river, carrying us further from one moment to the next and in its flow, we leave behind the moments that no longer serve our journey.

In my case, forgetting the significance that Sunday was May 21st is a gift. It is a blessing. It is a testament to how I continue to flow into life’s healing waters, immersed in the joy and wonder of all that my world is today.

I start a new job today. The work I know. What I don’t know, yet, are the people I will be working with, and the people they serve. What I don’t know, yet, are the stories. Of those I will be working with, and those we serve.

What I don’t know, yet, is how much I don’t know…

And that’s what makes me excited. I like to know before I leap.

Tomorrow I leap knowing I have much to learn, much to offer and much to share in and with.

I am excited. I am a story-teller by nature, and at Inn from the Cold, the stories I will be telling all begin at that place where families find themselves at home.

Namaste.

 


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Time to say good-bye.

Today is my last day at the Foundation where I have worked for the past 4+ years.

It is time to say good-bye.

I am sad. I am excited.

Both emotions co-exist in a field of possibility that opens up whenever we begin to step through a portal from one threshold to the next.

Life will change. It will keep flowing. It will adapt. Fill in the spaces behind. Open up the spaces in front.

And I move on. Along. Through. Stepping across this threshold into a new space.

The unknown beckons. The known is carried with me.

For 4+ years I have worked alongside incredibly talented and passionate people. In that time, people have changed, moved on, moved into the Foundation. Yet, no matter the faces at the table, the passion and commitment to ending homelessness has remained constant.

It has been 4 years of growth, of learning new things, of stretching my talents and gifts, of stretching my capacity to lead, to inspire, to collaborate, to share, to listen, to step back, to step forward.

It has been 4 years of being inspired by those I work with, for and amongst. Of building community where every voice matters, of working within a community where every act counts and is valued.

I move on and already the space I held is being filled in by the passion, talent, commitment and brilliance of those who remain.

It is what I love most about this point in time where I stand at the edge of the doorway leading into a new portal. Behind me are the infinite possibilities of change, just as there are before me. Where I stood can never remain the same. It is physically impossibly. As it changes and as I step out of it, it becomes part of the changing spaces behind me that others are creating through illuminating it with their brilliance and passion.  The possibilities of what they can do and create are limitless.

The spaces I move into have been created by others just as committed, just as brilliant in their passion to end homelessness. As I move into that new space, it too will be changed as we find our way together to create a space that is illuminated by our different voices, ideas, passion and creativity.  Informed by the past. Steeped in limitless possibility.

And so life continues.

We move from one space to another, leaving behind the possibilities of change for others to pick up, creating in front of us new possibilities for change for us to enter into.

I have been so incredibly honoured and blessed to work with amazing people. To Andrea, Kayleigh, Aaron, Wendy, Sharon B., Paul, Darcy, Kelsey, Joel, Ben, Sharon D., Teresa, Kara, over the years you have all played a role in creating an amazing space to be a part of and to work within. You have all touched my heart and made a difference in my life.  I carry you with me.

Throughout my tenure at CHF I have worked alongside incredible leadership. John R., Gerrad, Diana, thank you for sharing your brilliance.

To the team at CHF. WOW!  Your passion, commitment, willingness to learn and adapt and take risk to create better continually inspires me to do the same. Thank you.

To the CAC, your courage, commitment, humility and honesty have touched my heart deeply.

I am stepping through one doorway into the next today.

I am excited. I am sad. I am grateful.

Namaste.


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The ending of one thing is the beginning of the next.

I handed in my resignation last week. I will be saying good-bye to the Foundation where I’ve worked for the past 4.5 years and moving on.

I am excited.

I am sad.

Sad to be leaving the amazing people I work with. People who inspire and challenge me every day to do my best, to give my all and to be committed to do what it takes to make a difference in the world of ending homelessness.

I’m excited because I’m going back to the front lines. Back to an agency that works directly with families impacted by homelessness, where I will be able to tell the stories that touch my heart and awaken my spirit every day to the amazing capacity we humans have to survive and move through life — in darkness and in light.

It is what inspired me so much when I worked at the adult shelter for six years prior to joining the Foundation. Every morning 1,000 people awoke, people whose lives were in tatters. People for whom life had not always been kind, who struggled to find themselves in this world somewhere other than homeless, and yet, despite the hardships, who still woke up every morning and took another step and another.

I may not always have been aligned with the steps they took, but I was always in awe of the power and will of the human spirit to see beyond the darkness to find the light of possibility.

On May 4th, a chapter in my life will end and on the 16th, I will begin another page.

The ending of one thing is the beginning of the next. 

My decision to stay in the sector was inspired by a very wise woman who asked me where I wanted to land for the final portion of this part of my working career.  In a place where you aren’t telling the stories you love, or at the front lines where you know the stories you tell make a real and lasting impact?

I don’t want to end this part of my working career feeling like I wasn’t 100% immersed, committed, intentional in what I’m doing. When my beloved, C.C., and I talked about my next move, I told him I don’t really want to retire yet. I want to end my career on a high note, not on a ‘ho hum’.

I enjoy my work at the Foundation, (really love the people) but the work does not engage my heart entirely. And when my heart is not 100% engaged, I am not 100% in my life. My life is always better when I am 100% in.

The ending of one thing is the beginning of the next.

On May 4th, I shall end working in a place that has provided me a sense of belonging, of being part of something bigger than myself, of knowing what I’m doing is making a difference.

On May 16th, I shall be joining Inn from the Cold as their Director of Communications and Stakeholder Relations. In my new role I’ll be working with a team of committed, passionate people who believe, ending family homelessness is possible.

I’m excited.

I believe that with the right programs, right housing and right people, we can do it. End family homelessness.

We’ll do it together. We’ll do it as partners in a bigger system of care that ensures everyone has access to the right resources, right housing and supports that are targetted to ensure ending homelessness in their lives, and in particular their children’s lives, is possible.

And what can be more important than that? To ensure every child grows up knowing they have a home to begin a new story of their life. To ensure every child has the opportunity to grow resilient and strong, in the place where they belong, home.

I am excited.

_____

About the Painting:  

I created the painting above sometime last year using a gelli print pad. I printed the bird on polka-dot tissue paper and collaged it onto the canvas.  I have been playing with PicMonkey, trying to learn its many possibilities — learning new software is challenging, and fun. It can also sometimes be frustrating. But, it’s always worth trying.  🙂

 

 

 


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Courage. Curiosity. Humility.

Yesterday, I was interviewed by a university student involved with Engineers without Borders. His group have undertaken a project at the university to understand homelessness and poverty, and then, to create a project that raises awareness, and funding, for Calgary’s efforts to end homelessness.

During our conversation, he told me that they would be walking around campus asking fellow-students questions to gain an understanding of what they know about homelessness. He read me some of his questions and asked, “Can you suggest any other questions?”

“As people to name the words they can think of to describe people who are experiencing homelessness,” I suggested. “You will get words like poor, lonely, lost, addict, bum, scum, lazy, good-for-nothing, scary, dirty, and a host of others. I’m curious if you’ll get the word, ‘human’.” In all my years of asking people that question, I have never heard anyone call someone experiencing homelessness a human, or human being, I told him.

I hope he gets it. I hope someone can see beyond the labels deeply enough to know, people experiencing homelessness are human beings, just like you and me. It’s just the circumstances of their lives have lead them somewhere they never once imagined they would be.

At the Foundation where I work, we recently created an impact video to kick-off an I Heart Home —  3 Things initiative we’re launching to inspire people to get involved with the vision of ending homelessness. We showed the video for the first time on Tuesday morning to the Board Chairs and CEOs of agencies working in the homeless-serving sector. Yesterday, we showed it to members of the Client Action Committee (CAC), a group of individuals with lived experience of homelessness who provide insight and guidance on our practices and programs towards ending homelessness.

The individuals in the video are all members of CAC. Sometime ago, I read that the 3 key attributes of a leader are Courage. Curiosity. Humility. Each of the 8 people in this video demonstrated great courage in sharing their story. They also demonstrated curiosity because they didn’t know what the final piece would look like, they just trusted in the process and were humble in their belief that in doing it, they would be making a difference.

They are right. They are making a difference. This video impacts. Deeply.

Thank you Lorne, Darren, Nigel, Phil, Theresa, Randy, Horse, Lynette. Your courage inspires each of us.

Thank you also to Paul, Brent and Mike the crew from Corkscrew Media who helped bring an idea into beautiful expression.

Making a difference with this video is as easy as sharing it widely with your social media networks. Please share.

Thank you.

 


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What is home?

I have started a series of art journal entries on the theme of “Home”.

It was inspired by my work in the homeless-serving sector where ‘What is Home?’ is a question that is asked everyday. It also stems from my passion to stand at the intersection of art and writing to explore my creative essence and how/where they intersect with the things I am passionate and curious about in life.

Creativity connects me to my essence; that divine space within each of us that speaks to who we are when fear, worry, habit, our pasts and our experiences do not interfere with our natural expression of who we are.  I was listening to Elizabeth Gilbert talking with guest Brene Brown in one of her Magic Lessons podcasts and Brene Brown said that before she started her shame research, and before she wrote The Gift of Imperfection, she would have said she was not creative. “I have a job.” Since researching shame, and how to live whole-heartedly, she has uncovered startling research that speaks to how many of us (in the research 56% of those she interviewed) were shamed as children about our creativity.

These are the first two paintings in the series. I have no idea how long the series will be, or where it will take me. The joy is in the exploration, the uncovering, the allowing what is calling out to be heard, and what is chasing me to appear, to be brought into the light of creative expression.

No matter where your story begins, it's never too late to begin again to create a new story.

No matter where your story begins, it’s never too late to begin again to create a new story.

 

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Home is that place where no matter how bad your day, you always know you have somewhere to lay your head to dream of better days ahead.