Do your little bit of good where you are; it’s those little bits of good put together that overwhelm the world. -Desmond Tutu.
January brought serious retrospection for me – what a year we’ve weathered together. We continue to serve hurting people and hurting communities, despite heightened demands and challenging circumstances.
As I write this, Ottawa is navigating the presence of a group of Canadians feeling unheard by political leaders, and I’ve been bewildered by the polarized conversations on social media by friends surrounding the event. Besides these headlines, I have on my desk the most recent mental health statistics from the Angus Reid Institute, sharing that 1 in 3 Canadians now identifying having mental health concerns, up from 1 in 5 pre-pandemic. While not a surprise, it underlines how deeply we are individually struggling as Canadians, and while some communities have pulled together, the pandemic has heightened conflict and isolation for many of us.
All of this makes the work done at Shalem more important than ever. If you are a supporter, thank you so much for assisting our work. We are striving to meet the demand before us, and your support makes our work possible. If you are a partner with us in service delivery as a church leader, CAP therapist, or RP practitioner, thank you so much for your partnership and excellent work – and onward we go!
Let me highlight some of the major themes and changes from 2021. In addition to the major transition in leadership after Mark’s retirement last January, we had many other changes:
Like our entire field, Shalem has continued to be creative in delivering care safely during this pandemic, offering sessions, trainings, events and art studio time virtually. I’m often asked how this has gone. While a few people have struggled with this change, the vast majority of clients and staff have reported this working well, with our workers finding creative ways to make good connections over zoom. That said, we are all very much looking forward to the return to in-person work, with our waiting room bustling and its coffee cart fully stocked, and seeing our community face to face!
I believe the counselling update speaks to changes in our counselling team, but I’d like to highlight changes to the leadership in this program. Early last year Susan Winter Fledderus stepped into the role of Student Placement Coordinator, overseeing this important team of students, and building our capacity to train up new clinicians. This team has been critical in helping us meet the heightened demand this past year, and we’re so grateful Susan’s leadership and for their learning with us.
I’m also grateful for Jennifer Myrie stepping into the role of Clinical Director this year. A supervisor, professor and life-long learner, Jennifer came to Shalem with years of experience, and deep wisdom on themes of diversity and inclusion. She has shared an appreciation for our restorative culture and clinical values, making her a fitting addition to our team, and leading the growth of the program in the next chapter of its life.
The other addition I’d like to highlight is Kailin Murfin joining our team in the role of Wrap Leader. We are partnering with Catholic Children’s Aid Society of Hamilton, and offering WrapAround services to a group of their families. It has been a very exciting year of seeing this model come to life in that setting, creating a significant impact to those she is working with. We were thrilled that the program was renewed for a second year, and much of its success is in Kailin’s enthusiasm for both the families she is walking alongside and her love of the Wrap Around model which emphasizes hope and resilience.
Diversity and inclusion
We joined our community in some needed introspection on the issue of diversity, inclusion and equity. We formed a working group, composed of board, staff and community members, and have started a project of reviewing and improving our practices. We jointly did a tour of the Woodland Cultural Centre’s Residential School, and together grieved the stories of children in Residentials Schools in Canada. We reflected on how we as members of the helping professions have been complicit in years past when ‘helping’ without understating.
We gathered in Confederation Park with Tim Tang from Tyndale Intercultural Ministry program who had us do experiential exercises to help us feel the discomfort of not-belonging and not understating the cultural rules of a community. One main insight expressed by the staff last year is that safety in community does not mean that everyone is comfortable – it means that we need to tolerate some discomfort so folk who need to speak up can do so. We also agreed that this learning project will be ongoing, as we all learn to listen to stories different from our own.
RP listening circles
One of the projects I’m most excited about is our Restorative Practice Listening Circles. Responding to the growing conflict and polarity in our community conversations, our Restorative Practice team developed a training to equip church leaders and members to lead listening circles in their communities, allowing time for members to hear each other and learn to hold difference in healthy ways.
At a time when studies are predicting that churches may lose 20% of their members , and congregations are divided almost in half over vaccinations and masking mandates, churches are reaching out to us for support in navigating these conversations. Our goal is to support peace-building through allowing congregations to listen to each other and build a vision for moving forward together. Anne Martin writes about this project and other work being done in Shalem’s Restorative Practice in this newsletter – you can find that article here.
During one of those precious pandemic windows where gatherings were allowed in 2021, we held a wonderful art event in support of our RE-create program and youth. RE-create is an outreach art studio for street-involved youth, and it regularly invites community members, partners and others to participate in fundraisers. This November, RE-create ran an Art Lottery, and it was a hoot! Ticket holders came to a wonderful space at the Gasworks in Hamilton, munched on wonderful treats, enjoyed a drink from Collective Arts and were able to choose art off the wall as their numbers were called throughout the evening. There were some happy hoots and hollers as the evening progressed. It was equally meaningful and fun, and raised $5,700 for this important program.
If art and youth weave into your own mission, we have another fun event this Spring. We will again be hosting our Battle of the Brushes, where artists paint live in a venue and their work is auctioned throughout the night. Check our website in coming weeks for more details!
If I’m honest, much of my first year was spent as one would speak of their time during the first hear of home ownership: getting to know the foundations and plumbing, noticing spots on the roof that need attention, and watching the mysterious garden sprout out of the soil. I’ve enjoyed a year of looking at our processes and underlying infrastructure and working out our needs for coming years. This translates into deepening understanding of HR material, board function, financial models and scenario planning. It’s been a productive year. I see the timing of this housekeeping as a wonderful sign of Shalem’s growth, as we work to support the breadth of work-
Board update, introductions, highlighting board strengths
Our board had a dramatic transformation this past year. Wilma Scherloski, Sandra Williams and Hector Acero Ferrer all concluded their 6 year terms with us last summer, and Cameron Klapwyk also ended his term last Fall. All four made deep and significant contributions of their time and talents, ushering Shalem on our path forward, we remain deeply grateful for how they invested in us.
We’ve had 4 new board members join us this past year– Chris Wignall, Amila Driese, Karen Cornies and Louisa Drost. Each bring great experience and insight into governance, community need and organizational health. I’m so grateful for how collaborative and passionate they each are for what we do and who we serve.
We are always looking for new members of the community to join our board of directors. If you feel you have a passion and mission for healthy organizations, mental health and good governance, please reach out to us.
I’m so deeply grateful for my first year of learning, able to support this remarkable organization. While deeply challenging, it has been equally rewarding, witnessing healing in our community, and God’s hope in dark places. If you are interested in partnering with us around any of what I’ve described, or are moving on a similar journey, please reach out! I’d love to connect.
Jennifer Bowen, M.Div., RMFT, RP, is the Executive Director of Shalem Mental Health Network.
 Rick Hiemstra, Evangelic Fellowship of Canada, November 2021.