Making a Difference Series
Making a Difference is a series of personal stories by members of the Green Wood Coalition community captured in 2019. We thank each person for sharing their story with us.
Photos by Jeannette Breward
Turn of events was, we lost our house. I ended up renting a room that wasn’t fit for... well, I won’t say. We were just emotionally wrecked. Thank God my kids were done with high school and starting out, but they didn’t need that either, starting a new career and finding out their parents had lost everything they’d worked for. That was back in October 2010. We’re still rebuilding after eight years. It’s been a tough go. So that’s the process I’m doing now, rebuilding. It’s basically like building a house for yourself, putting the foundation down, putting your cement blocks up. I haven’t finished so I can’t explain what’s going to happen next, but I think I’m at the point where the subfloors and the walls are going up, and my foundation seems to be settled, so it’s looking really good. I have to be very proud and happy about that. The Green Wood team’s been great that way, in trying to rebuild your family and, you know, your sense of worth. They made my wife and me feel we were still part of the community, even after what happened. I’d like to say there’s a future, still have a chance of getting a place where I can have a bit of a yard, a bit of privacy, have the family over. I haven’t reached that end goal yet. Maybe never will. But as long as you can see it out there, you’re going to go for it, right?
- John Hensgens
I do spiritual care for the elderly and the dying, and when I sit with someone who is 90 and who doesn’t know who I am and can’t communicate, but has a sense that I’m in the room with them, I look at this whole life and think, wow, this person was 46, this person was 12, this person was 60, this person has experienced countless things – children, families, careers, work, love, loss, illness. Now they’re lying here in a bed. They’re moving toward dying. What can I do? Can I do anything? Is there anything to be done? And I somehow shift that into being with that one person in that moment. Even if it’s 15 minutes, simply being a witness to that life is making a difference in a life. And I feel that about the Green Wood dinner too. I’ve been sitting in the same place since I started coming. The people I’ve been sitting with, we have a bond now, and I think that’s making a difference in a life, building enough trust with a person that I trust them and they trust me and we can be ourselves together. When we connect, we are making a difference in each other’s lives. Maybe it’s a small difference, yet we don’t know what it’s going to bring. Our cultural broken bones can be healed when we eat together, talk together, get to know each other, release the fear of the other, of the different and somehow realize we’re actually not different. This is where we need to carry the vision of humanity forward if the human species wants to survive.
- Celia McBride
I come from a broken family, father and mother both alcoholics. My stepmother was an ex-prostitute, so I grew up with drugs, alcohol everywhere. I started smoking pot when I was 11, and by the time I was 15, I was smoking crack. As a kid, it was an easy way to cope with all of the stuff that was messing me up, to hide from that pain and not have to deal with it.
I met Nicole, from Green Wood Coalition, about six months ago when I was living at a shelter. She really helped me with my addiction. I was on the street for about a year-and-a-half, and I was at the stage where I wanted to quit, but not succeeding because the support wasn’t there. Once you're an addict, you're an addict. And it’s just being conscious about that that keeps me sober and having the support group I have now.
With Green Wood I have a network of people that are there with positive reinforcement and support. You’re not just a number or a case, you’re a person. It’s really a friendship you're building, relationships that I know will last. I want to get my diploma in mental health and addiction, then my undergrad and Masters. Green Wood staff have reignited that fire in me.
With recovery from addiction, there’s a very fine line and a very small window of opportunity. If there’s not someone there, right at that moment when you say, “okay, I’ve had enough, I don't want this life anymore,” you could lose them forever. Because there may not be another chance that they’ll be ready to say “I’ve had enough”.
- John Dudley
John completed his high school upgrading while living at Transition House in Cobourg. He entered college January 2019 to pursue his dream.
I don’t really think of myself as being a great artist even though I’ve liked art since I was a kid. Maybe growing up I fell out of it because I didn’t think I was any good, so I got discouraged and had a bit of low self-esteem.
But one of the things about the Art Group is that it introduced me to the idea that there’s an artistic part of you – and it doesn’t really matter if you’re a Picasso or a Da Vinci or whatever great artist you think of, you can just engage with it, and it allows you to see things in a different way or to bring things to light you didn’t know were there. Maybe it’s just a nice distraction if you’re having a rough day or if you just want to have a little fun.
Art is freeing because you can express yourself without having to care so much about the rules and what other people think in society where there are always so many rules to follow. You can just explore, experiment and sort of free yourself.
At first I guess it was a bit of challenge to go to the art group because, having social anxiety, being in a social setting can make me anxious and nervous. So that, for me, was the barrier to cross. But, like most things, the more you do it the easier it becomes.
- Jordan Appleman
Thank you to Victoria Hepburn for sharing her story, and to filmmaker, Rob Quartly, for capturing it so artfully.
When I was 10, I looked at my ‘Poppa’ and said, things have to change today. I want to be better than this. I want to make a difference. And my Poppa looked up at the sky and said, Well, kiddo, I have something to tell you, there’s your limit. The sky’s the limit, and don’t forget it. I thought, OK, I can do this. I can make a difference in life and try to make somebody else’s days better, even if I’m having a shitty day. And then it was the drugs, so then it was back to being shitty. I didn’t think I’d ever do it, but I was 28, and I said, enough’s enough. I went back to school to get my Grade 12. I don’t know how I got it. I don’t have a clue. I told all the teachers, listen, if I don’t graduate by the time I’m 30, I’m done. Finished. The way I see it, the way I rose above the bullshit, from growing up with violence in the house, the way I said I never wanted to treat people like my family treated me, That was the 'pre' girl.
Where I’m at now is in the middle. I want to become a developmental social worker to work with the developmentally challenged because they have a right to reach out and know the sky’s the limit. I’ve been judged my whole life, and I feel like people judge them. A few times at the Green Wood dinner, I’ve sat at the back table and just watched. There could be somebody that gets all nicely dressed, they could be homeless. We don’t know. They could be in hard core addiction. We don’t know. We don’t know their story.
- Cheryl Scott