I honestly never thought I'd be here.
I'm an artist. A singer. A fiction writer. A stay-at-home mom. Once upon a time I was a teacher. But a "social worker"? I never would have guessed it.
I say that in quotes because I still don't really see what I do as social work. Or work, really. And that has taught me the most about the roles we play in life and those feelings of being unqualified or less-than.
Not so long ago, I had an uncomfortable but necessary conflict with a friend. She pushed away my attempt to reconcile with her afterward, saying, "I guess my life just isn't all rainbows and unicorns."
I went away with mixed feelings. I felt like she was trying to get a dig in there, trying to tell me that I was out of touch and privileged. For one, my life definitely hasn't always been wonderful. I've had my own private struggles and hardships. But then I started thinking about rainbows and unicorns and I came up with some realizations.
Today, for Earth Day, we have an insightful guest post by 17 year old Elijah Kent, a multi-talented scholar, athlete, and musician and all-around good guy. If you recognize his last name, it's because he's Tim and Rhonda's eldest son.
Last year, my school took a day in the spring to go out into the city and pick up trash in the downtown area. We cleaned parks, sidewalks, gardens, and parking lots; collected cigarette butts, beer cans, wrappers, old McDonald’s coffee cups, and all other manner of waste (some that one hopes never to encounter)! While we were in one of the downtown parks, I noticed a large, middle-aged woman sitting on a park bench. This woman had clearly experienced devastating loss that had left her in a state of hopelessness. She was, as we say, homeless.
Now, the thing about homelessness is that it is a societal issue that ranks right up there with gender and race inequality and world hunger. Some of the world’s most brilliant minds and compassionate hearts have worked tirelessly to completely eliminate the issue of homelessness but to date, have fallen short. But, I believe that this is because homelessness is not actually the problem, but rather the symptom of a much deeper problem: lack of community.
Written by Rhonda Kent. Photo credit May Borchert.
Each November for the last few years, Dani Strong has put on a concert to benefit Redwood Park Communities. And at each concert she has asked me to stand up and say a few words about what it is that we do at Redwood. This year was no exception only this time, instead of it being a small concert, it was the CD release party for Dani’s debut album Time to Breathe. And instead of it being attended by a few of our friends, relatives, and donors gathered in a small but beautiful local art space, it was 400 people in a huge concert venue in downtown Barrie! Under the lights on the stage at Mavericks!
As I thought about what I could say in a few moments between bands that would help people understand what it is we do, I thought about the fact that at Redwood Park Communities, we provide safe, affordable, hopeful housing and supportive community in partnership with local agencies. I thought about how, when we began this adventure, we renovated a rundown century duplex into 5 beautiful, fully furnished apartments. We filled them with furniture and bedding and toiletries and diapers.
And we hoped that meeting those basic needs would help women fleeing domestic violence make a new start.
But as we began to meet families, as we talked over coffee and drove people to appointments and connected them with services and agencies, and as we got to know them and they got to know us… we realized that the space we provided was a great start, but what seemed to really make a difference in people’s lives (both ours and our new friends’) was community.
People grow best in community.
I wondered how I would help concert-goers understand this idea of supportive community. And then it dawned on me. The people standing in front of me understood it perfectly well already! Afterall, how does an independent artist go to #1 in her genre and #2 overall on the iTunes charts on the day her CD is released? How is that possible?
I believe it takes three things: Dani is an amazing musician and brilliant songwriter. She is also a beautiful person. But there are many great musicians who are lovely people, but they don't rise to the top of the charts alone.
The third factor, Dani’s secret… supportive community! Looking around the crowd I saw people who babysat Dani’s kids so she could practice for hours and hours, people who picked up lights and dropped off speakers, people who followed her to gigs and posted on social media, who shared their lives and inspired song lyrics, and a whole lot of people who bought albums and tickets to shows.
And that’s what I think we do at Redwood Park Communities. You see, when a woman makes the incredibly difficult and brave decision to leave an abusive situation, that is her strength and hers alone. Just like it’s Dani who makes such beautiful music. None of us can take credit for that. But we get to be along for the journey. Crying together when things are hard, celebrating the victories, connecting and sharing and growing and learning. Together. And of all the many things we do at Redwood, my favourite by far is when we get see someone discover who they are and what makes them come alive.
Last Friday night we got to see Dani’s passion and be present as she did the thing she was created for. It was beautiful and inspiring, and a rockin’ good time was had by all! And as a nice side benefit, $5200 was raised for Redwood Park Communities! Thank you Dani, for everything you do to support RPC. And thank you to everyone who came out to the concert. It was a night to remember.
And while we are on the topic, have I thanked you lately? Thank you to all of you who support our families day in and day out. Thanks for giving your time and resources and being part of our community. We appreciate you!
Erin Hatton is a mom of 4, fiction author, and family support worker at Redwood Park Communities.