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Building Community, Serving Community, In the Heart of the Community
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By Cheryl A. Steeper

The London Community Chaplaincy was born out of the unification of the Southdale and Limberlost Chaplaincies. The unification of these two organizations is the culmination of over 18 months of work by the Boards of Directors of both Boards of Directors.

In September 2012, after much preliminary work, The London Community Foundation granted funds to pay for a facilitator to lead the work of bringing the organizations together. Under the facilitation of Maria Sanchez Keane and the Centre Organizational Effectiveness, the London Community Chaplaincy began to take shape. Throughout the late winter and spring of 2013 the newly unified London Community Chaplaincy began operating. With the combined resources of the founding organizations, the LCC has been able to hire two full time staff members, as well as the Chaplain. The staff is complimented with a variety of short and long term part-time staff hired to carry out specific tasks, and lead specific programs. The LCC is now running programs at both the Limberlost and Southdale sites, focusing on school age children. Programs for adults are in the plans after there is much consolation with resident community members to determine what kinds of programs they are interested in being provided. It is their hope that this unification will ultimately see more resources available to community members, more diverse programs, and more opportunities for stronger community building activities. In a process that was grounded in prayer, reflection and discernment the London Community Chaplaincy moves forward trusting in God’s call to do a new thing .

The Limberlost Chaplaincy was founded in 1981 when Karen James Abra, wife of a local Baptist pastor, recently relocated to London and the Limberlost neighbourhood, decided to reach out to her neighbours and begin offering programs .Soon others were interested in joining her and a Board of Directors was formed and the Limberlost Chaplaincy was created as an independent, ecumenical charitable ministry. The first Chaplain was hired around 1889. With great support from area churches, the Limberlost Chaplaincy grew and was sustained in its work for over 30 years. It was a ministry that walked with people, connected them to resources, and provided programs for children and adults. Often over the years, the various Chaplains provided a voice of advocacy for the community.

The Southdale Chaplaincy was founded in 1991 after a group of community members wrote to the congregation of St. Stephen’s Memorial Anglican Church asking for a community worker. No doubt some had previously lived at Limberlost, and knew the value of a Chaplain or community workers. Stephen’s did not shy away from the challenge, and approached several other London Churches who willingly became a part of the new organization. It too, became an ecumenical ministry. The first Chaplain at Southdale, Sylvia Ruth was hired in 1991. Like the Limberlost Chaplaincy, the ministry at Southdale always sought to walk with people, connect them to resources, provide programs for children and adults, and be an advocate for the community. Like Limberlost, with the deep commitment of various churches the ministry was sustained for over twenty years.

It is upon these deep foundations of trust and goodwill that the London Community Chaplaincy begins this new chapter of its history.

Context

Both the Limberlost and Southdale sites are public housing townhouse complexes operated by the London Middlesex Housing Corporation. To live at either site, families must have children under the age of 18 living with them. As such, both sites are home to over 300 children each. Limberlost is home to approximately 155 families and Southdale to approximately 162 families.

The housing communities are diverse. Some families are new immigrants to Canada, coming from Sudan, Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan, the Balkans, and other regions where there has been conflict in the last 10 years. Some families are native, and others may have been living in public housing for more than one generation. Many of the families living in the communities are lone parent, many single mothers but also some single fathers. Some adults struggle with mental illness, addictions, and the recovery from addiction or chronic illnesses like diabetes, hepatitis, and HIV. All the families who live in the communities face daily challenges of living in poverty .Many rely on social assistance; Ontario Works or Ontario Disability Support Program.

At the London Community Chaplaincy they are seeing families who are food insecure for one, and often two weeks every month. That is, they are broke and relying on the food bank. The LCC can help with a $10 food card to a local grocery store, a bus ticket or food from their food cupboard, depending on their level of donations. A $10 food card in a week when a family is relying on the food bank can mean that they can also have some milk, bread, eggs or other fresh food.

Programs

At both sites for the summer of 2013 they have operated a summer evening recreation program. For two hours each, two nights a week, the staff led registered children in co-operative games. High energy, intense physical activity and lots of fun are the hallmarks of this program; in its 5th season at Southdale and 1st at Limberlost. Also for the summer, they have offered a Reading Buddies Program, aimed at helping children in the community retain or improve their reading levels. Carefully screened volunteers come once or twice a week to read one on one with children, and to help them become stronger readers. Teachers have told LCC that this program has made a difference in the reading retention and level of the children who participate.

Throughout the academic year, they offer After School Programs five nights a week at both sites; a vocal program, a drumming/rhythm program, a Homework program, a Jr. After School program and a Sr. After School program.

The LCC also provides summer camp sponsorships and volunteer drivers to take children to a variety of camps. They host a community Christmas party at Southdale and hope to begin providing one at Limberlost for 2013. They host community events and BBQs in the summer, and other special events in partnership with other organizations, agencies and churches.

The LCC and its staff also act as an advocate from time to time for community members when invited. Whether it is advocating with a community member, or for a community member with another agency, school or authority, sometimes having a third party involved helps to resolve misunderstandings or conflicts.

Rev. Kate-Ballagh-Steeper is the Chaplain of London Community Chaplaincy. Kate has been the Chaplain at Southdale for the past five years, and is excited by the new possibilities brought by this unification. She is quick to point out that she views her position as a "calling" and that she "was in the right place, at the right time", "the success of the organization is a joint effort". Kate has been an ordain-ed minister in The Presbyterian Church in Canada. Her experience working in congregations has helped the Chaplaincy connect more closely with the churches that support this ministry. Kate was recently honoured with the Paul Harris Fellowship Award recognizing her work from the London-Lambeth Rotary Club. She has also been nominated for a Pillar Non Profit Leadership Award. Kate is available to speak to congregations, church groups, service clubs or other organizations. She is also an accredited Family Mediator (OAFM )and applies her mediation skills regularly in her work with the Chaplaincy.

The new Program Director, Yordanos Woldemariam, is responsible for the children’s programing on both sites. Yordanos brings experience from the Boys and Girls Club, the Center of Hope, and a year of training in South Korea. She has a degree in Health and Global Studies from the University of Western Ontario.

The new Community Builder is Crystal Hudson. Crystal is responsible for developing adult programs on both sites, as well as managing basic needs supplies and distribution as well as other community building activities. She brings experience from Western Area Youth Services, London Inter Community Health Agency, as well as the Boys and Girls Club. Crystal has a degree in Community Development and Global Studies from UWO.

The Project SING Conductor is Barb McGill. Barb brings many years of working with the Preschool of the Arts, and work as the Church School Co-ordinator at Wesley Knox United Church, and has a has a degree in Music. She has led the Southdale Childrens Choir to two wins in their class at the annual Kiwanis Music Festival.

The London Community Chaplaincy is funded by a broad network of churches across the city, individuals, foundations and service clubs. They do not receive any government funding, and believe the faith community in London is committed to this ministry and has the resources to sustain it. They don't anticipate needing government funding but always welcome new churches and individuals who wish to support this ministry.

The London Community Chaplaincy identifies itself as a faith based organization. It is their faith that leads them to this ministry. It is their faith ethic which leads to how they do this work. However, the work they do is not "religious". Both organizations have never had an evangelical mandate and neither has the London Community Chaplaincy. They believe that in walking alongside community members, mentoring healthy relationships, and connecting people to resources, that they are proclaiming the Good News of Jesus’ love. All community members are welcome to participate in their programs regardless of religion, creed, ethnicity, orientation or social status. Indeed, they are confident in saying that they are trusted by community members, other agencies and London Middlesex Housing Corporation because they are open and welcoming to everyone and do not seek to convert.

As the LCC looks to the future, they are beginning to explore ways that they might work more closely with the Muslim, native and other faith traditions. They know that they would not function without their dedicated volunteers regardless of their level of involvement. It is one of the great joys of their ministry to meet and connect with so many wonderful people, who give so generously of their time and talent. They are also grateful for all of the hard work of those who previously served the Chaplaincies as well as all of the individuals, churches, foundations who share so generously. Their prayer is that they may continue to grow the ministry of the London Community, and ask for your prayers to help them do that.

Contact Information

kbs@londoncommunitychaplaincy.com

www.londoncommunitychaplaincy.com