Circles of Hope 2018 | Every child needs a hero

By: Sally Russell

Hi, I am Sally the Katimavik volunteer at Inn from the Cold this semester. During my time at the Inn, I am working to support the Communications and Events team as well as providing support around shelter wherever I can. Being from Ontario, I had no idea about the Inn until I got to Calgary and it has been an incredible learning experience so far. One of the projects I assisted on was the event Circles of Hope which happened this Tuesday at Winsport. All I have to say is – wow – what a day and what an incredible community! The work that is happening in Calgary, Alberta, and Canada to help children and families is truly incredible and I am feeling very proud to be a part of it all.

The event was opened by Natalie Noble, Director of Research and Development at the Calgary Drop-In Centre and emcee for the conference.

Amanda St. Laurent, the Director of Programs at the Inn, set the tone for the day and reminded everyone in the room that there have been shockingly high numbers of children and families experiencing homelessness in 2018, and it takes action from the entire community to counteract this.

Our first speaker was Steve Wigglesworth, principal at Catherine Nichols Gunn School.  He shared his well-earned insight on how best to approach children who are struggling, and the importance of letting them lead the conversation about how to achieve their own success.  His energy set the stage for the rest of the day and got everyone thinking about how they could act in small ways to become the hero that every child looks up to.

Next to present was Tapisa Killibuk, our very own Manager of Indigenous Relations here at the Inn.  She spoke about the effects of intergenerational trauma, and how she and her family have been personally affected by residential schools.  Her story about overcoming those obstacles and learning to be proud of her Indigenous heritage was both incredibly emotional and empowering.

Allan Donsky talked with us about finding the hero inside all of us, and how to help children see that they can be their own superhero.  He gave us tools to nudge children away from negative thinking and towards empowering thoughts and actions.  He also spoke on the advantages of leaning into our uncomfortable emotions and using them as a guide toward bettering ourselves and our lives, and how to teach children to do the same.

Our first keynote speaker was Sarah Austin, a lifelong advocate for children’s rights around the world.  She shared with us her story of how she came to realize that she wanted to be a hero for children everywhere, of how she worked for eight long years to pass a law at the UN that allows children to file complaints against their governments, and what she and her organization, the Sheldon Kennedy Child Advocacy Centre, are doing to help kids now and in the future.

Lunch was served as the snow kept falling outside, making the conference hall feel all the warmer and inviting. Guests had the chance to visit the booths of various other organizations and learn more about the resources available in Calgary.  These organizations included the Youth Justice Society, McMan Youth Family and Community Services Association, AHS Youth Substance Use and Mental Health, City of Calgary Youth Employment Centre, LEAD/Calgary Afterschool Program, CARYA, Big Brothers Big Sisters, Children’s Cottage, Wood’s Homes, and Youth Central.  Guests also had the opportunity to write a postcard to themselves about how they are going to continue to be a hero for themselves and for the children in their lives.  These postcards will be mailed to them at a later date to remind them of their commitment and give them an emotional boost when they need it.

After lunch, we were treated to an energizing and engaging performance from Movement with a Message.  The group, led by Connie Jakab, shared multiple raps and spoken word pieces centering on the feelings of isolation and helplessness a child without strong adult supports might experience.  Their creativity got the crowd excited and ready for the rest of the speakers that followed.

Tammy Schamuhn was our second keynote speaker of the day and had some very interesting and valuable information to share.  She talked about her work with children who have been through adverse childhood experiences, and the way that those experiences physically change the way the child’s brain works.  She explained how empathy is the best way to create healthy neural pathways in a child’s brain, and that forming strong, supportive relationships with them really is the answer to helping them grow up into happy and healthy adults.

Our next speaker was Phil Carlton, who spoke to the importance of supporting children in their first five years of life to set them up to develop the skills and tools they need to become happy adults.  He told a personal story that highlighted how having strong, healthy familial support can significantly diffuse stress in times of crisis, and thus how critical it is to help young people from those bonds.

Garret Smith challenged our idea of what a warrior is by sharing his own perception of the word from when he was young versus how he interprets it now.  As opposed to just someone who fights, he describes a warrior as someone who stands up for and supports those who need it.  He explained how residential schools tore apart Indigenous families who already knew how to care for each other and raise their own children.  Garret has transformed his peaceful protest on the lawn of the Calgary Courts Centre into a place of healing open to everyone and anyone who may need it.

The final speaker of the day was our own Louise Gallagher, Interim Executive Director at the Inn.  She shared a personal story to highlight the need for trust and understanding between children and their caregivers and encouraged everyone to find the magnificence within themselves.  She reminded us that we all have the capacity to become heroes, we just need to allow ourselves to step into the role.

We closed the day with a drum circle led by Circles of Rhythm. Everyone grabbed a drum and the lights dimmed to a relaxing half-light. We began with a heartbeat rhythm, flowed into a harmonious but experimental beat, and ended with a cacophonous and exciting finale.  When the drumming was finished, everyone shared one word they had on their mind at the end of the day.  Here are just a few that were said:

Gratitude

Support

Hope

Inspiration

Future

Family

Warmth

And truly, it was a day filled with all of those things. Thanks to everyone who came out, speakers and guests alike, for making Circles of Hope the incredible event that it was!

We will be announcing the theme and pre-sale for Circles of Hope 2019 in early 2019.


Check out the Circles of Hope gallery here: https://www.facebook.com/innfromthecold/posts/2174109532622742

Or watch the recap video here: