Hope—a Gift from the Sanctuary
By Rita Button
The basement actually feels like a sanctuary. It should. That’s what it’s called on the colorful door just off Humboldt. Inside is a labyrinth of spaces—an office for Darin, a storage area, a clothes rack with space for shoes—but once you move into the wide open area with its nooks and crannies appealing to various proclivities, you’ll feel as if you’re home, even if it’s the first time you’ve visited.
Bill was in the kitchen the Friday I went over; he was just finishing the prep for the Greek salad that would be shared later that afternoon. A colander of cherries donated by Mustard Seed was in the sink, and I was set to work washing and sorting them. While I was working on the cherries, XXX came into the kitchen. He leaves work early every Friday to help with serving.
Both men have a goal of helping young people find the paths they need to make their ways in the world. Bill, who is retired, initially worked as an office manager at Sanctuary since it was most in need of some extensive organization. When the office was running smoothly, Bill switched to the kitchen. He’d always enjoyed cooking, and here was a chance to put his talents to good use. For the two hours I was there, he never stopped working. After the food was prepared, he started organizing certain areas of the kitchen.
Andy came a little later; he showed me a picture on his phone of a person dressed in a Star Wars costume who had returned to Victoria to find settings for a Star Wars movie—he’s now one of the directors—and had dropped in to Sanctuary to visit his friends and mentors who had given him a hopeful beginning when he was without hope.
Erica and Alex, two counsellors at the Sanctuary, have a relaxed connection with the youth who drop in. Both were waiting for the campers to show up for the imminent camping trip so they could leave. I enjoyed the ease with which they talked to anyone who entered the space. They are obviously well suited to the work, for they enjoy people and are eager to help—but with the attitude of discussing and pointing out the challenges and rewards of different choices. It was a great place to be.
Darin Reimer, the executive director of Cornerstone Youth Society, has an office in the Sanctuary. He doesn’t look like the stereotypical button-down executive director. He looks like a guy who’s interested in people. And after you talk to him for awhile, you’ll realize that he’s interested in younger people, generally between the ages of 14 and 22 who have had a few challenges in life and who need a place to hang, someone to talk to, some food, and maybe a computer or a book or a chance to play some sort of sport or just sit and think.
On the day I was there, he hung out in the big room where people come to check out the scene. Two young people moved over to the computer where they worked together. Next, he talked to the younger counsellors, reviewing the plans for camping and making sure that they were prepared.
Believing that people need love and care, especially young people, Darin has organized meals for each day of the weekend—Friday, Saturday, and Sunday from 3:00 till 6:00—the times that many other facilities are unavailable. People who come to eat are invited to take food along with them when they leave, a concrete sign of love and care. Mustard Seed and Planet Organic are the two big supporters. Because many of the people who come to share food are vegans, Darin appreciates Planet Organic’s involvement.
Along with food, Sanctuary provides a place for people to shower as well as to wash their clothes. Darin proudly showed me the washing machine and dryer that looked as if they had been newly installed. If there’s too much laundry for the washing machine at Sanctuary, the Church of Our Lord on the main floor will pitch in with their laundry facilities.
Drum sets, boxing gloves, a small library are also a part of what Sanctuary has to offer. However, much of the work depends on volunteers. Although guitars and drums are available, a coach or teacher who can show people how to make the music has yet to be found. Volunteers are always needed, and while Darin is pleased that a retired Canada Revenue auditor is their bookkeeper, and many volunteers such as Bill and Andy help immensely, Darin is looking for tutors who are able to help with literacy. Some of the adolescents are unable to read and write with confidence. But Darin is pleased that volunteers at Sanctuary believe in the work and are willing to dig in and go deep. The spiritual element of Sanctuary contributes to the longevity of volunteers, Darin emphasized.
I observed the spiritual element in action. Before the camping trip started, Darin called everyone together to pray. It was heartfelt and honest. No one was required to contribute orally, but most did. Darin explained the format at the beginning—anyone could start, but he would finish. The thoughtfulness and sincerity of the prayers suggested a need was being fulfilled.
Darin thinks about the nature of help society gives to vulnerable youth. Using Tent City as an example, he wonders about the people who lived there and if they feel safe indoors or if we feel safe because they are indoors. 30 – 50% of the vulnerable people Darin has encountered are from different provinces where many have a diagnosis and sometimes also a record. But it is possible to change lives. Darin’s smile was as big as all outdoors when he talked about a woman who had been addicted, finally obtaining custody of her child and whose career goal is to become an outreach worker. Another former street person has learned how to drive a car and volunteers at the Centre. As we all know, when the “go-to” person is someone who has been there, that person becomes particularly effective.
That is not to deny the volumes of help good-hearted volunteers continue to contribute. Darin appreciates each one. He also appreciates the value of patience and choice, the chance to weigh possibilities with others before the challenge is met in a way that makes sense to the seeker.
A fund raising event, Ride for Refuge will occur on October 5. It’s a national event in which people create teams and register to ride or walk. Any level of physical fitness is welcomed, for the idea is to participate and to become a part of the hope for vulnerable people. If you’re interested, check out the website rideforrefuge.org. Or you might want to email Darin email@example.com if you’d like to volunteer.
Sanctuary is safety, and when people feel safe, there’s no telling how far their abilities will take them. The hope for growth through caring is palpable at Sanctuary.