Click here to read the article on CJN website.
Stars aplenty attend Ve’ahavta’s chai anniversary fundraiser
By Ron Csillag
TORONTO — The stars shone Sunday night at Toronto’s Koerner Hall, where Ve’ahavta’s volunteers and clients paid tribute to the organization at its Tikun Olam Awards Ceremony and fundraising gala.
Starry Nights, was indeed a star-studded affair attended by more than 500 supporters to mark Ve’ahavta’s 18th year of providing relief to hunger, homelessness and poverty in Toronto and abroad, in keeping with its talmudically based mandate to spread justice and heal the world.
MCed by CBC Radio host Michael Enright, the gala heard common themes of redemption and repair associated with Ve’ahavta, the Canadian Jewish Humanitarian and Relief Committee, which runs a variety of outreach and educational programs intended to help all in need and to build bridges between Jews and others.
Toronto Mayor John Tory dropped in briefly.
Ve’ahavta chair Bernie Farber tallied the group’s many projects, including one called Briut (Hebrew for “health”), which promotes health initiatives in conjunction with seven First Nation communities in Kenora, Ont.
Beginning this year as part of its Mobile Jewish Response to the Homeless program, which delivers food and clothing on the streets of Toronto, Ve’ahavta started a “harm reduction” initiative. Encouraged by the City of Toronto, it distributes clean instruments to drug users to combat the spread of AIDS and HIV.
The “jewel in the crown,” Farber said, is the Ve’ahavta Street Academy, an eight-week program in partnership with George Brown College for people living on or near the streets of Toronto to help them access education.
The organization handed out six awards at the event. The Remembrance award went to CBC Radio producer Karen Levine, author of the acclaimed book Hana’s Suitcase; Holocaust survivor George Brady, brother of the book’s subject; and women’s rights activist Margie Wolfe.
Human rights advocate and former justice minister Irwin Cotler, Liberal MP for Mount Royal, received the award for education, while Rabbi Arthur Bielfeld, rabbi emeritus at Temple Emanu-El and a longtime social justice and anti-poverty activist, accepted the prize for humanitarianism in the name of the late social activist June Callwood.
Lianne and Bruce Leboff were given the award for outstanding achievement in community volunteerism; Dr. Gary Glassman was recognized with an award in medicine for his work in promoting oral health care in Jamaica; and the award for outstanding achievement in youth leadership went to Shane Feldman, founder of Count Me In, a student-led charity that encourages community involvement among young people.
Keynote speaker Emmanuel Jal, an award-winning hip-hop artist and humanitarian, told his harrowing tale of having been a child soldier in the new country of South Sudan during its war of secession from Sudan. Today, he leads a global campaign for peace.
Compelling stories of what Ve’ahavta does came from two of its clients. Brian Ricciardi, now 48, recalled that he had been raped as a young man and that his attacker was acquitted. Unable to rid himself of the trauma, he crawled into bed one night and “didn’t get up for the next eight years. During this time I forgot how to live.”
After receiving information on Ve’ahavta’s writing contest, he enrolled in the Street Academy, and today studies psychology and English, with his life back on track.
Jillann Mignon, 28, a former Toronto sex worker, also said she owes her life to the Ve’ahavta Street Academy.
The organization has “not only influenced me, but generations to come because the skills I learned at VSA will be passed down to my son and his future sons,” Mignon told a transfixed audience. “Ve’ahavta has given me a gift that transcends: the gift of love. This is the embodiment of Ve’ahavta: the idea that all of God’s children have value and are precious in his eyes.”
If I was a prostitute at the feet of God.
Written by Jillann Mignon
Is it possible to be a harlot, tramp, whore or prostitute and love God? I’ve asked myself this question many times…..
You see if I was a prostitute at the feet of God this is what I would do. I would grace the street corner sat night and go home alive by HIS himself wondrous grace. I would put on my high heels and feel the burn in my feet, walking aimlessly with nowhere to go. Remembering what they did to HIM, and exactly also what they did to me, the things they want nobody to know or see.
If I was a prostitute at the feet of God, I would cry out against these so called new legislations, telling young girls that the government doesn’t care, go ahead, sell your body to get rich. Forget about your simple life or whether or not your soul will make it into heaven.
I would look into my customers eyes, remembering he can buy my body, but he will never own my soul. In the face of the man who came to purchase a little piece of pleasure, I would remember that my customer too, needs HIS love and carries a damaged heart looking for a prostitute sent from God to make the pain and hurt feel better.
If I was a prostitute at the feet of God, I would test myself every day. Slowly feeling the needle go in, anxiously praying that the results yet again are okay. Hoping no disease will destroy my body, what he said was HIS rightful temple.
I would call on HIM, cry for HIM, try for HIM, almost die for HIM to rescue me from this martyred life. Begging please, Come down God!!!, rescue me please, save me from being a woman of the night. I would cling to an abundant light, that I was once HIS child, not the toy I’ve become, doing any little filthy thing to get paid, just to make it through this sorry life.
If I was a prostitute at the feet of God, I would remember all the holy women, who didn’t know wrong from right, ones named Rahab, who also heard and yielded to the voice of God. Who were preserved by his mercy because they waited upon the Lord. For it’s easy to forget a dog named Rahab held up a portion of Jericho’s wall. Having saved herself, never running from HIS law.
But why would I ever call myself a prostitute, when I know because of his sacrifice my past sins are absolved. I thank HIM every day because now I can be called, not a prostitute, but sincerely a woman truly touched by the divine hands of God.
About Ve’ahavta: Ve’ahavta is a Canadian humanitarian and relief organization motivated by the Jewish values of Tikun Olam (repairing the world) and Tzedakah (justice), that assists vulnerable populations through volunteerism and education, while building bridges between Jews and other peoples.
About the Kenora Chiefs Advisory: Kenora Chiefs Advisory is committed and dedicated to providing culturally appropriate health and social services which address the needs and enhance the well being and capacity of community members in the affiliated First Nations.
Terms and Conditions: This is a paid short-term contract, offering a monthly living stipend, as well as subsidized local accommodation and transportation costs. Fellows’ flights to and from Kenora from their home community is included in the fellowship. The program will also provide a comprehensive orientation and training prior to the placement. This program is made possible through the support of the Ontario Trillium Foundation.
All applicants must complete an online application including a CV, two letters of reference and a personal statement. Suitable candidates will be contacted for an in-person interview. For further inquiry, or to receive application materials, please contact:
Leah Silverman: Project Coordinator, National & International Programs
(416) 964-7698 Ext. 225 — Fax: (416) 964-6582 — email@example.com
Applications due October 17, 2014 at 9am
Read article on Toronto Star website
By: Madhavi Acharya-Tom Yew Business Reporter, Published on Sun Sep 21 2014
Jillann Mignon always knew she had a voice. She just didn’t know if anybody wanted to hear what she had to say.
After spending 11 years as a sex-trade worker, she found the courage to tell her story in a writing contest.
On Sunday, Mignon, 28, read her winning submission “If I was a prostitute at the feet of God” and drew a standing ovation from the crowd in the packed auditorium in Daniels Spectrum, a community hub on Dundas Street E. in Regent Park.
“I feel amazing, blessed and humbled that I got chosen for this wonderful award,” Mignon said in an interview.
The writing contest, called Words from the Street, drew over 100 submissions from free creative-writing workshops held in over 20 shelters and drop-in centres throughout the Greater Toronto Area.
The contest, now in its 13th year, is geared to those in marginalized groups — the homeless, at-risk youth, victims of domestic violence, and the LGBTQ and aboriginal communities.
The workshops and contest are made possible by Ve’ahavta, a non-profit Jewish humanitarian group, and the Toronto Writers Collective.
“It’s not just writing. The whole program has enabled them to express themselves, acknowledge themselves, and honour their voice,” said Susan Turk, executive director Toronto Writers Collective. “Finding your voice creates huge positive changes. It creates a huge amount of strength.”
The top entries were judged by an acclaimed panel of writers and publishers that included Giller Prize winner Joseph Boyden.
Ken Rosser took fifth place with a piece called “Interpretation.”
“Finally people are listening to me,” said Rosser, who is homeless. “It gives me time to think and write and hopefully get off disability and contribute to society.”
Mignon was living in a homeless shelter, trying to turn her life around when signed up for the creative-writing class.
“They wanted to hear from us and they didn’t want us to sugar coat it. I think I already had my voice, but this organization gave us the place to scream it from the rooftops,” she said.
“When you live in these marginalized communities, you carry such a huge burden on your shoulders. Writing is the healthiest way to express yourself. I’m so proud that I made it out alive.”
Mignon attended the Ve’ahavta Street Academy, an eight-week program, that’s designed to help people who are homeless return to school.
She’s now studying to be a community development worker through a program at Centennial College.
Mignon, who has a young son, plans to use the $2,000 prize money from the writing contest to help with a down payment on a place to live. “It means a lot to me,” she said. “It feels like $2 million.”
If I was a prostitute at the feet of God
Is it possible to be a harlot, tramp, whore or prostitute and love God?
I’ve asked myself this question many times . . .
You see if I was a prostitute at the feet of God this is what I would do.
I would grace the street corners at night and go home alive by HIS himself wondrous grace.
I would put on my high heels and feel the burn in my feet, walking aimlessly with nowhere to go.
Remembering what they did to HIM, and exactly also what they did to me, the things they want nobody to know or see …
(an excerpt from the poem written by Jillann Mignon, grand prize winner in the 13th annual Words from the Street writing contest)
Read on Toronto Star website here.
Sitting on the patio of café in downtown Toronto, Emmanuel Jal subconsciously drums on the table when he wants to emphasize a point, punctuating his words with a beat. Perhaps it’s restless energy as the rapper/singer, author and now actor prepare for a very busy few months ahead.
Now a Toronto resident, the Sudanese artist releases his sixth album next week, The Key, and stars alongside Reese Witherspoon in The Good Lie, which debuts at TIFF Sunday Sept. 7, before its wider release in October.
Despite the culmination of the past year’s work about to be available for the world to see, Jal has learned from life not to expect anything until is has actually occurred. So he is cautious about celebrating the two pieces of art that are likely only going to continue raise his profile.
“Coming from a war-torn country, where you look like tomorrow is going to be bright, and then something comes out of nowhere and hell appears in front of your face, then you have to swim out of fire,” he says. “So whenever there’s something good happening, I don’t tend to put all my heart into it, because if anything happens, I don’t want to deal with the pain. So I celebrate when the thing is done.”
Jal is one of the Lost Boys of Sudan, a former child soldier who was smuggled to Kenya and has lived a peripatetic life as he found art to depict his struggle. In 2009, he wrote his autobiography, War Child: A Child’s Soldier’s Story, and through his music and humanitarian work has tried to shed light on the conflict in his home country. The Good Lie is a fictionalized take on the story of the many other children who were displaced due to the war in his homeland.
Jal stars in the film as Paul, one of four Sudanese refugees who make it to the U.S. and start to build new lives there. He says the film shoot brought up painful memories.
“It wasn’t really flashbacks, really more nightmares, because you have to try to relive it. When you’re acting, that’s how they tell you to do it,” he says.
But he loved the communal part of acting, particularly in this film, which also stars other former Sudanese refugees in the starring roles.
“I loved the experience and getting to know the actors, Reese, and the other South Sudanese involved. It was like a little village of its own,” he says. “That’s how the movie industry is. You wake up, you do the film, you eat together, you become like one family, one big box moving together.”
Even though it is fictionalized, there are truly aspects of life imitating art. For instance, the lack of documentation for many affected by the war in the Sudan is something Jal has had to deal with, and in fact, that has led to him settle in Toronto.
“Yeah, it’s been difficult for me to settle in any place because I never had proper documents to stay since I was smuggled to Kenya,” he says.
Through his performances and humanitarian work, he made some contacts with Canadians, and applied for residency here, and says he was shocked when he was accepted. He has been here for two years, but much of that time has been spent travelling for his music and to shoot the film. He loves Toronto’s multiculturalism and the accepting environment.
“If you have something to offer here, people will give it back 10 times,” he says.
His new album, The Key walks a fine line between poppy dance tracks and darker-tinged material recounting aspects of his story, and features guests turns on two tracks from Nelly Furtado and legendary funk producer, Nile Rodgers, who along with Chic is featured on the single, “My Power.”
Jal says that he came up with an album because he kept offering up songs for The Good Lie soundtrack that didn’t make the cut. Eventually, two songs were chosen for the soundtrack, and also appear on The Key.
As for the split nature of the songs, he says that’s all just part of him.
“From story telling to jumping around and dancing, that’s what I do,” he says.
“I feel like I’ve been holding myself down, because I like to dance and the music that I have been making in the past, I have to work with it to perform and dance,” he says. “But I like something that I can move around, something where the beat goes and I just go crazy. So that’s why those kinds of songs you can dance too are on here.”
By: Gloria Galloway
Read this article on The Globe and Mail website here
A Toronto doctor who received money from the sale of his father’s generic drug company has given $10-million toward improving the health of Canada’s indigenous people.
The University of Toronto announced on Friday, National Aboriginal Day, that Michael Dan and his wife, Amira, made the donation to its Dalla Lana School of Public Health to create an institute that will study the health issues among the country’s aboriginal population.
“This is the single most important issue facing my generation, and if people like me don’t do something about it, then I wouldn’t be able to sleep well at night,” Dr. Dan said in a telephone call from Bosnia, where he was visiting his in-laws.
“The opportunity to do something about it is here,” he said. “The university is ready to tackle something like this.”
Dr. Dan, a former neurosurgeon, shared in the proceeds of the sale of Novopharm Ltd., a generic drug company founded by his father, Leslie. He used $17-million to create the Paloma Foundation in 2002, and has given millions to charities around Toronto.
The institute created by the Dans will operate with the input of indigenous people and will bring together scholars in public health, medicine, nursing, social work, education, law, anthropology and many other disciplines. It will tackle a complex and difficult issue.
The life expectancy of First Nations people is five to seven years shorter than that of the general population. Among the Inuit, it is 15 years shorter. Indigenous newborns have a mortality rate that is 1.5 times that of babies in the rest of Canada, and they have more birth defects.
People living on reserves are 31 times more likely than other Canadians to contract tuberculosis. They are three to five times as likely to develop diabetes. They bear a disproportionate risk of traumatic injury. And their rates of infectious disease and suicide are significantly higher.
“If you look at it in totality, it’s completely overwhelming,” Dr. Dan said. “But I think it’s possible, working on a community-by-community basis, to just make a little dent in some of these big issues. You’ll never achieve anything unless you sit down with a community and ask, ‘What are your health problems, how can we help you?’”
The University of Toronto will host Canada’s first indigenous health conference later this year.
Among Dr. Dan’s other philanthropic ventures was the creation in 2006 of Gemini Power, a hydroelectric corporation that finances the construction of power stations that are turned over to First Nations to operate.
By Kim Hughes | www.samaritanmag.com
Read the full article on SamaritanMag here.
The transformative power of education has inspired many great quotes from many great minds. Don’t be surprised when Theresa Schrader – and other previously marginalized people from Toronto – one day add their own heartfelt aphorisms to that list.
Schrader is the program coordinator with the Ve’ahavta Street Academy (VSA) which uses a unique eight-week program (now in partnership with George Brown College) to elevate those living on the streets, in shelters or in otherwise challenging circumstances through education, serving as a gateway to formal academic study.
More than that, the VSA offers its students hope.
As the VSA site says, “This program is for everyone who thought they would like to go back to school, but didn’t think it was possible. The Street Academy is designed to motivate and empower individuals to explore education as a way out of poverty or off the street. We believe that post-secondary education in a city such as Toronto opens the door for the future.
“VSA offers communication skills, life skills, diversity training, conflict resolution, self-awareness, leadership workshop, career exploration, volunteerism, as well as actual academic lectures. The purpose of the program is to bridge students to other programs and show them the way to post-secondary education.”
Nobody knows more about building bridges to successful new lives than the 38-year-old Schrader, who — as a former homeless crack addict — is VSA’s most vocal champion. She is also its lifeblood.
As Schrader explains to Samaritanmag, “In 2005, I won a creative writing contest for the homeless held by Ve’ahavta,” the Canadian humanitarian and relief organization, “motivated by the Jewish value of ‘tzedakah’ (justice), that assists the needy at home and abroad through volunteerism, education, and acts of kindness, while building bridges between Jews and other peoples,” according to its site.
Schrader continues: “I stayed in touch with the organization after that. I started moving forward with my life. In 2009 I started college studying social work, and after my first year I had to go back on welfare, which was pretty daunting. So I called Avrum (Ve’ahavta president and CEO Avrum Rosensweig) and asked him if he had any jobs. He said no.
“I cajoled him and he finally said he always had this idea of starting philosophy classes on the streets of Toronto which was already happening in New York. I said, ‘Why don’t we have a school for the homeless but indoors, not outdoors?’ He liked the idea and suggested I put together a proposal with a budget. I had no clue how to do that, but I outlined the idea, Avrum took the proposal to his board and they approved a pilot of the project.”
In summer 2010, the Ve’ahavta Street Academy was born. Since then, 65 students have gone through the program with 23 percent (or about 15 students) going onto further schooling.
Word of mouth is key to the program’s outreach. “We hand out flyers at social service organizations plus I network with social service workers I have connections with in the community,” Schrader says, adding that “Funding is always an issue.”
The VSA receives no government assistance, relying exclusively on private foundations and donor dollars. “We feel if we had the resources to do better follow-up support we would have higher numbers. But with the marginalized population we’re working with, 23 percent is still really good.”
As Schrader explains, the curriculum – led by working professors and professionals from various fields who volunteer their services — focuses on skills that will make assimilation into a classroom setting easier.
“The first week is about communication,” she says. “The second week is about life skills or problem-solving behaviour in your everyday living. The third week is about awareness about oneself and the community around you.
“Week four is career exploration. Week five is diversity. Weeks six and seven are academic — actual academic classes such as mapping out and writing an essay, social policy, creative writing, leadership and world religion — and week eight is hope and inspiration.”
Carlos Lopes knows just how impactful the VSA program can be. Though he doesn’t elaborate, 38-year-old Lopes — who completed the program last summer after seeing a poster for it at the Daily Bread Food Bank where he was volunteering — tells Samaritanmag, “Considering the state I was in at the time, the course couldn’t have come at a better time.
“I wasn’t homeless but I was close it, and down and out for sure,” he says, noting that he also served as an assistant to Schrader. “I had been very anxious to get back into a classroom setting and to see how I would perform. This seemed like a good place to start.”
This fall, Lopes — who is currently building lighting consoles for a company that supplies lights to the movie industry — hopes to attend Bridges to Ryerson, “a one-year, part-time transitional program for mature students who have the motivation, potential, and stability required to be successful at post-secondary education, but who have foundational educational gaps and lack the formal admissions requirements,” according to the Ryerson site.
“Prior to the VSA I might have been qualified to do lots of jobs physically but not mentally,” Lopes says. “I mean, my self-esteem was so low that I would keep forgetting what I could do. The program reminded me of my self-worth and allowed me to go forward,” he says, citing the VSA’s creative writing class as especially inspiring.
“And not only was the program free to attend, they gave us no reason not to go. They provided transportation, lunch, a weekly honorarium. We started with 13 students and finished with nine,” Lopes says. “It was difficult – there were some personality clashes and people going through very difficult times.”
Schrader confirms that the Ve’ahavta Street Academy is a pioneering program, and although it’s her full-time job — she serves as a “one-woman show” with “a colleague helping with the follow-up two days a week” — it is also clearly a passion project.
“For 10 years of my life I lived on the street and was addicted to drugs. It was very difficult for me to change my life but once I did, I did it through education,” Schrader says. “I know I am a darn-tooting smart girl. And I know there are a lot of smart people on the streets. If I can help other people like me to see they have talent and gifts and the ability to move forward with their life, I think that’s amazing.
“I look at each homeless person as a wealth of opportunities. I tell potential students that I am not asking them to do anything I haven’t done myself. We want to give people an opportunity to change their lives, and to show them there is a better way.”
Providing housing to people who are homeless and suffering mental illness improves outcomes — and saves money, a Toronto study suggests.
The At Home/Chez Soi research project tracked nearly 600 people in Toronto over two years. Roughly half received treatment as usual, relying on the city’s network of services, while the other half received “housing first” treatment.
“Intervention can make a real, tangible difference,” said Dr. Vicky Stergiopoulos, one of the lead researchers. “The quality of service and the coordination of service made all the difference.”
Those in the Housing First treatment stream received help finding a place to live, as well as subsidies to cover rent. Once the person was securely housed, an intervention team worked closely with them to attend to other needs, such as medical care or mental health treatment.
Those who received Housing First were, after two years, stably housed 80 per cent of the time, compared to 54 per cent of those who had treatment as usual.
The Housing First model costs just over $21,000 per year to treat a person with high needs, and about $14,700 for someone with moderate needs. When researchers calculated the reduction in hospitalizations, shelter use, criminal justice issues and other publicly funded services, the method resulted in savings of more than $31,000 for high needs people and $4,200 for moderate needs.
“What I hope is that governments at various levels will really, really take this to heart . . . and look at how to implement the principles of Housing First into their communities and really realistically think about what they’re spending now on Band-Aids,” said Faye More, co-ordinator for the Toronto study site.
“The answers are in front of us and now we have the evidence base.”
About 5,000 people are homeless in Toronto on any given night.
The study also measured participants’ quality of life and community functioning and found it improved significantly in those who were provided housing.
“When the problem is solved for them of where they’re going to sleep that night, then they begin to think about other things, then they can begin the journey and they very much want to,” said More.
Otis, a 42-year-old participant in the study who received Housing First treatment, spent about four years on the streets, living under a bridge and going to Union Station to wash up. Referred to the study through CAMH, his case workers helped him find an apartment near Bathurst St. and St. Clair Ave. W. where he’s lived for the past two years.
Having a place to stay has helped him get treatment for physical and mental issues, said Otis.
“You need a place to stay to get treated,” he said. “You got privacy, you got a shower every day, you know where food is coming from.”
The majority of study participants were males and 93 per cent were absolutely homeless. Nearly half were immigrants; two-thirds had two or more mental illnesses or substance abuse disorders.
Toronto was one of five cities across Canada where the impact of using a Housing First approach was studied in the project funded by the Mental Health Commission of Canada.
David A. Balfour Park (Yonge/St.
60 Dixon Road
Celebrate National Aboriginal Day with the National Film Board of Canada
36 Brentwood Road North
National Aboriginal Day- Sunrise Ceremony and Flag Raising
City Hall Podium roof