Cold weather, warm hearts

Community

When the temperatures plummet, we can’t seem to think beyond a hot cup of cocoa, a warm blanket and a cozy fire burning in our hearth.

While that’s the reality for many, it’s just a dream for some in our community who have no place to go to get out of the cold.

You can help make a difference for those people by participating in the annual Coldest Night of the Year Walk to aid Pictou County Roots for Youth.

The event is being held Feb. 23 in New Glasgow and Roots for Youth’s Stacey Dlamini encourages us to get out our thermal under garments, hats, mitts and winter coat to do our part to end youth homelessness.

CNOY Walk begins again this year at Christian Fellowship Church with registration at 4 p.m. An opening ceremony will take place at 5 p.m. and the walk will commence sharply at 5:15 p.m.

The event is organized by the three staff members of Roots House plus the board members. “We have an active team of about a dozen people who are organizing this and in terms of volunteers on the night, we need about 40 people,” Dlamini says.

For the past number of years, more than 300 walkers don warm winter clothing, collect pledges and set off to walk distances of two, five and 10 kilometers, all with the aim of raising money for and awareness of youth homelessness.

“It’s a fun, feel-good, family oriented event,” Dlamini explains.

The route remains the same as in previous years. Participants leave the church on Abercrombie Road and head towards the New Glasgow Farmer’s Market which is the turnaround point. From the market back to the church is five kilometers. A shorter, two-kilometer trek takes participants to West Side Sobeys and back to the church. Anyone wanting to brave the elements and walk for 10 kilometers completes that distance twice.

“We want teams. We want people to sign up a team. It’s very easy to do. Just visit our website, CNOY.org/newglasgow. You can also sign up to volunteer or make donations through the site.”

Participants receive a tuque for the walk and a light, hot meal upon their return to the church.

The financial goal this year is $50,000. Last year, they had a goal of $45,000 and surpassed it by bringing in more than $46,000.

Funds raised from Coldest Night of the Year allow Roots House to keep the doors open for youth.

“There is no single donor that has come on board to say we are going to fund what it costs to run Roots House,” Dlamini explains. “The cost of running Roots House itself — things like groceries and food and heat and lights — all gets funded by donations we raise through events like Coldest Night of the Year, and also through proposals that I write.”

In 2018, Roots House helped 27 youth end their homelessness. Staff offer daily drop-in sessions where a hot meal is served and typically, five to eight young people attend those sessions. There are also two transition houses in New Glasgow “so there is somewhere for youth to graduate to from Roots House, where they’ll still receive a level of support from us.”

The transition houses allow the youth to pay subsidized rent as they get back on their feet, but they have to show a commitment to Roots for Youth. “We work on an individual plan with each of them that often involves going back to school or finding a job, and we support them in that plan. But there has to be progress for them to stay at a transition house.”

Roots House is more than “just a shelter,” Dlamini says. “We are an organization that is concerned with the development of young people, particularly those from vulnerable situations, tough realities.”

What does it mean to help a youth end their homelessness? “It’s about helping them to procure an income, to access treatment for their mental health challenges and addictions, helping them to have an attractive resume, to apply for jobs, do mock interviews, help them get a job and retain it. To us, it all contributes to helping them end their homelessness. We’re not about housing, we’re about progression in life.”

On average, Dlamini says youth will stay at Roots House for 10 weeks. “We’re committed to walking a road with these young people. It takes some time to help them access the services they need to move forward. And the results speak for themselves.”

Roots for Youth has many success stories. Dlamini says last year, a young woman who was going through a time of personal crisis was accepted into the female transition house. “She was on income assistance at that time but during the period she was in the transition house she got two jobs, managed to break her addiction and really made some great gains and got to the point where she was ready to live on her own. She left the transition house, got an apartment for herself, procured some furniture and she’s OK. She’s doing it; she’s working and living her life. She’s healthy and happy and she’s in a good spot. And that’s definitely what we want to see.”

It’s examples like this that illustrate CNOY’s importance to the group. “It’s important to us; it’s our biggest fundraiser of the year. It’s a big deal for us. It’s unrestricted funding that we can use for what we need when we need it. And that’s invaluable.”