Coldest Night walk raising money, awareness

Community Featured

Declining temperatures the past few days have many of us holed up inside our nice warm houses, snuggled under a blanket. A good book and a cup of tea seem to be in order.

How many of us have given pause to think about those who have no place to go to get out of the cold?

That is a reality for some in our own community.

And that message will be brought home this year during the Coldest Night of the Year Walk coming up February 24.

Stacey Dlamini is ready to pull on her long johns, a woollen tuque and mitts and a warm winter coat to talk the talk while she walks the walk.

The executive director of Pictou County Roots for Youth sees the CNOY Walk as an opportunity to engage and educate the community about youth homelessness.

“The idea is that just for those few hours all of us as Canadians have the opportunity to experience our winter elements and just to think about what it would be like to not have a home or a shelter to go back to that you can call yours,” she says. “So the awareness primarily is driven amongst the participants and those who support them. But because it is such a large group and because the Coldest Night of the Year is gaining in prominence, we certainly do hope to continue to shine a light on the issue of homelessness, particularly in rural communities.”

This is the second year the walk will benefit Pictou County Roots for Youth. And Dlamini could not be happier to be the recipient of the funds.

“Forty per cent of people who are homeless in Canada are in rural communities so we think of it as primarily an urban issue but it’s not; it’s just that in rural areas typically it looks different, you don’t see people typically sleeping on park benches – they are couch surfing or staying with a friend … It’s more in your face in urban areas.”

Last year’s event generated $43,000 locally.

“Our goal was $30,000 so we really smashed our goal,” Dlamini smiled. “So this year our goal is $40,000.”

Last year was the first year in which the event benefited Roots for Youth; it had run for several years prior and Life Centre was the beneficiary.

There was lots of traffic during the 2016 walk, Dlamini said, making the event visible to the community. There were plenty of cars honking their horns at seeing hundreds of people in a sea of blue tuques walking together for a common goal.

“We had over 300 walkers last year. It’s a big group and they’re going to get noticed. They’re typically all wearing the same hat.”

As in previous years, participants will leave from Christian Fellowship Church in Abercrombie and make their way to New Glasgow Farmers Market and downtown New Glasgow then back again. There were lots of cars honking their horns at seeing hundreds of people in a sea of blue tuques walking together. Participants have the option of a 2-, 5- or 10- kilometre walk. And the route remains the same: 2 k is from CFC to Sobeys West Side, 5 k is to the NG farmers Market and back and the 10 K is the 5K route twice. The route is very well marked and very well signed, Dlamini said.

“In Pictou County, when we think of the issue of youth homelessness which is our particular focus, when young people cannot be at home, when they don’t have a safe place to be, they typically will be with that ‘guy that lets kids hang out’, they will gravitate towards situations which are unsafe, in which they are very vulnerable, where they don’t have the power to negotiate their own safety. And that is of particular concern to us. So we want every young person to have a safe place to call home in this community,” Dlamini said.

The CNOY fundraiser is the group’s largest fundraiser. “Essentially, last year, it kept our doors open. It provides a significant portion of our annual operating budget, so it allows us to keep ourselves operational. We helped 17 young people in 2017 in their homelessness; the average stay for those young people is 10 weeks; we have a process we go through to help them find sustainable solutions to end their homelessness. So that money went towards our programming, to making sure that we have food in the fridge and our lights on and that Roots House continues to be a safe and welcoming environment for youth. We simply couldn’t do it if we didn’t have this Coldest Night walk,” Dlamini explains.

Roots House has never had consistent regular funding from any source, she adds; it’s always been whatever funds they could raise.

“The only consistent support we have had over the years has been the United Way of Pictou County. We get a lot of support from the community, too, so a lot of different community service groups and organizations would undertake benefits on our behalf but it was very unstable and difficult to plan. We were always six to eight weeks away from closing our doors; we were perpetually in that state. So the Coldest Night has given us some stability.”

Dlamini said she thinks people are surprised at how much fun they have participating in the walk.

“There is a great vibe associated with the Coldest Night.” Organizers have a bit of a launch prior to the commencement of the walk and share a little bit about what they do.

“That gets them excited because they are bringing about real change in their own community and we want them to recognize that.”

Then there’s the walk with a lot of excited laughter and chatter along the route — some people get dressed up in costumes and it’s a very family-friendly event. At the end of the walk everybody gathers for a meal so the opportunity to connect with others in the community is extended through that.

“You get to affect positive change at a local level while having fun.”

CNOY: Get involved

• Registration opens — 4 p.m.

• Opening Ceremonies — 5 p.m.

• Walk begins — 5:15 p.m.

• Registration closes — 6 p.m.

• Route Closed — 8 p.m.

Get involved:

Stacey Dlamini gets ready for the Coldest Night of the Year Walk to benefit Pictou County Roots for Youth. (Jardine photo)

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