Every year during Advent we attempt to take some of the generosity that’s inspired by Christmas and point it at those we can help in meaningful ways. This year we hope to raise $50,000 to invest in four specific projects, and we want to give you some information about each of them.

1. Louise Dean School

Louise Dean is a unique expression in the city. It’s the only school in the city that’s work as a partnership between the Calgary Board of Education and the Uplift Foundation which is part of Catholic Family Services. CBE does the education and CFS provides the social supports for young moms who are finishing they High School education.

There are nursery services at the school. There are food services at the school. There are social supports at the school, and there is incredible education happening through the school at the same time.

We have been involved over the last few years supporting crisis needs. Last Advent we raised funds that provided a year's worth of pharmacy gift cards to ensure that these more could access prescription drugs for themselves and their children.

This year an elegant opportunity has emerged. Louise Dean lost a significant donor and at the same time a donor here came forward to suggest a plan. We have made a $40,000 commitment to Louise Dean that will provide the existing gift cards we have done over the last few years, will add to that 1000 hot meals per year for students who need access to food, and create a new four year scholarship for a student that excels in her studies despite coming our a situation that would otherwise limit her post-secondary options.

Now what’s amazing is that someone in the community already donated half of that $40,000 before we even started the Advent campaign. That donation will provide the base for this Commons Scholarship that we hope will become a permanent fixture at Louise Dean as Commons pours into it.

One of the wonderful things about this partnership is that Louise Dean is literally across the street from us. In fact, most us probably park on their property regularly when we come to church. And so for us to give back directly to our neighbours, this is a beautiful expression of the Christian ethic and the Christmas spirit.

2. Local Partners

In Kensington, we are investing in Aurora on the Park where your generosity enables a First Nations Elder to regularly meet with and support the tenants of that accessible housing complex near us.

Through Highbanks Society we are helping to provide specialized programming to young moms raising their children on their own.

We are assisting Made by Momma to provide wholesome nourishment to mothers and young children facing adversity in our neighbourhood.

And we are providing the resources for the Fresh Food Basket at Hillhurst Community Association to meet the needs of families through the winter months when the program is stretched to capacity.

All of these organizations are existing partners, and we continue to be blown away by the work they do to create a stronger more vibrant Kensington

But this year we are also investing in Inglewood. Commons is providing new resources to Carya and the YWCA who are working to support families in the neighbourhood, particularly women exposed to domestic violence and the elderly suffering from abuse or isolation and depression. And we are excited about how we can lean into these partnerships

That said, one of the critical things is understanding why we partner with local agencies. Why don’t we do these things ourselves?

And really it comes down to expertise. Rather than bringing every project in-house, we can multiply the effectiveness of our generosity by coming alongside those who already know more than us, already have more experience than us, and can teach us about the types of justice work we want to participate in across the city.

3. Refugee Resettlement

In the past three years, Commons has become deeply invested in the well being of the truly most vulnerable in our world.

In 2015 we responded to the crisis in Syria by bringing our first family to Canada, and over the past three years, it has been incredible to see the Al Hador family arrive, and struggle, and learn, and work to get their feet under them here in Canada. We are so thankful for the progress they have made and are excited to say that the family is planning to apply for Canadian citizenship in the coming year.

Since then we have been involved with a number of different families, both ones we have sponsored directly and families that have needed support upon arriving in Canada, and frankly, it’s been hard at times.

The cultural and language and sensitivity issues have been challenging to navigate, and relationships have been stretched thin but what has been remarkable has been the transformative effect those struggles have had not just on the families we support but on us.

In sticking with it, and not giving up, and continuing to invest and listen we have learned a lot over these past three years about helping — and about ourselves.

And this year we have a new and familiar challenge in front of us. Because so far the families we have sponsored have been Syrian. Our latest family is Eritrean, but they come from Sudan. And so we are learning about a new culture, and new history and we trust that we learn more about ourselves in this process as well.

Nagat and her four children arrived earlier this month, but our teams have already been at work for some time preparing and margin sure we were ready for their arrival.

Our work includes housing and expenses but it also includes documentation and education, and childcare and transportation and it is a considerable investment in both dollars and time that goes into making sure these families are given everything they need to establish themselves in a new world and culture here in Canada.

4. Benevolent Care

Finally, we are gathering the resources for the coming year of benevolent care that Commons does throughout the year.

Now it’s essential that we maintain the dignity and privacy of individuals within our community, but I do want to highlight some of the ways we as a community have been able to come alongside and support each other.

This year we were to help families at risk of eviction pay rent that ensured they remained in stable housing. We have been able to negotiate and pay for utility bills where disconnection was being threatened. We have been able to intervene and help where health issues have created short-term financial crisis for people for people here in this room.

At the same time, we’ve also been able to provide mental health support for those without benefits, we’ve had the resources to rent trucks and bring in volunteers to help people in vulnerable situations move, and we’ve been able to provide Christmas support for a significant number of families stretched thin at this time of year.

And all of this takes considerable effort, and investment not only write cheques but to hear stories, and to listen well, and to develop strategic plans as to how we can best intervene and support in appropriate ways.

The work that our teams do, not only to help but to honestly hear how we can help is extraordinary, and I’m very proud of the work that all of us do together.

Contribute

Our goal is to raise an additional $50,000 this Christmas on top of what we’ve been doing all year, and we are already about halfway there.

And so we to thank you for how you have already given and for considering how you can contribute to these projects this year.

Thank you for your continued generosity this Christmas. It is a beautiful expression of Christ in us.