Continuing the Journey Together Toward Truth and Reconciliation: Better Together ~ Sharing Our Stories
What Is The Lastest Community Project at SNJ Associates?
The Destination Church in St. Thomas Ontario under the leadership of Beth Fellinger, the church’s Senior Minister has come forward in our community of St. Thomas Elgin to offer space, refreshment, and support to help create opportunities where listening and sharing with people in the Indigenous community can take place right here in our community. Beth is dedicated to providing a Family Friendship Centre that is Indigenous-led and where everyone who wants to participate can come, listen, share experiences and have time together.
This innovative project is supported by Christian Reformed Church of North America. Beth Fellinger, the staff along with many volunteers at the Destination Church in St. Thomas will begin in September of 2018 providing a physical location where members of the Indigenous community can gather, share time together, eat together in a space that is easily accessible to those who would like to come and take part. Importantly, Beth’s vision is to create the space and off activities, guest speakers and programs at little to no cost for the community.
This project is very important to Beth as she was an early and ongoing community partner in the original Journey Together St. Thomas Elgin Truth and Reconciliation (JTSTE) initiative. The original project took place in the summer of 2017, where the City of St. Thomas and Sarena McLean of SNJ Associates prepared a grant application to the Ministry of Education of Ontario to enhance access to off-reserve culturally relevant, Indigenous-led early years child and family programs with the St. Thomas-Elgin Indigenous community.
Unfortunately, after extensive listening, sharing and work to prepare the grant application last year, the grant application was not successful. Throughout the original project in 2017, the project team at that time along with volunteers were sincerely dedicated and committed to the principles of truth and reconciliation. The JTSTE project community was engaged and the efforts of many people directly led to the development of the grant application. The voices of the local Indigenous community members, who shared their stories and participated in a myriad of ways was the crucial piece in putting the grant application together.
When the application was not successful, it was a significant disappointment and importantly, a setback; however, it did not deter the spirit of our community in continuing to move forward and remain dedicated to listening and working with all people in our community to honour what many members of the Indigenous community had shared during the original work that was important to them as individuals, for their children and families.
Beginning in the early winter of 2018, Beth and Sarena worked together for several months searching for other resources to help keep the spirit of the Journey Together St. Thomas Elgin project going. This is very important not only to Beth and Sarena but many individuals, organizations, and community members across our region. The original grant application was the result of the voices and ideas the Indigenous community said were important. Beth and Sarena needed to find a way to try again…and here we are!
An important message we heard repeatedly was that many people in St. Thomas Elgin did not want or could not travel to London, for example, to N’Amerind to the friendship centre to participate in Indigenous community-focused activities and sharing. Many people expressed that it was important to have space in the community where they lived.
The St. Thomas Elgin community remains committed to connecting and growing respectful and considerate relationships throughout our community. Originally, 5 areas were identified where the Indigenous community of St. Thomas-Elgin stated they wanted and needed change to improve their experiences and community for individuals, children, and families.
The 5 areas where the St Thomas Elgin Indigenous Community Members Wanted to See Change Were:
- Aboriginal Culture, Learning & Celebration
- Recreational Activities (including outdoor/nature activities)
- Skill Building
- Child & Youth Mental Health Support
- Educational Support and Tutoring
Some of the specific activities that were requested were Indigenous cooking classes, drop-in coffee time, children’s activities, and other health and wellness items just to name a few. The Destination Church Family Friendship Centre initiative will provide the space and resources to get these started in our community. Importantly, Beth will work with people from the Indigenous community, who would like to share their ideas, create activities, lead programs or volunteer with Destination Church to ensure that all ideas and resources create what is important to those members of the Indigenous community who live right here in St. Thomas Elgin.
Sarena has waived her professional fee and offered to work for our community’s living wage in order to join Beth this summer and through the fall of 2018. Beth and Sarena are dedicated to Continuing the Journey. Right now it’s all about getting the word out and connecting with as many people as possible who would also like to take part. In late August, Beth and Sarena will have a calendar of events and activities available for everyone to see so that we can all save the date for things we would like to attend. Also during this time, Bev and Sarena are looking for community organizations and partnerships to help and support this process. Shortly, a date will be announced for a 1/2 day working lunch at Destination Church in the fall for all individuals, organizations, and community leaders to join us.