The Creation of Global Gathering Place
Global Gathering Place is a place close to my heart. Back in the 90s when I was the Refugee Program Coordinator for Mennonite Central Committee Saskatchewan, our Board of Directors started the whole thing off by asking program staff a final question at a visioning weekend for MCCS. The question was, “If you had all the resources you needed, no holds barred, what would you do with it?” It caught all of us off guard, but because of the long days and nights I and others working in this area were putting in, I responded by saying I would start a drop-in centre for newcomers where they could get a cup of coffee and share stories. The idea of engaging volunteers to offer friendship and welcome had percolated among a few of us for a while, but no one had the time or resources to begin the process.
That very next week, I was invited to a local Mennonite church to speak about my work, and I invited Belma to come with me to share her experiences. It was there that the wife of an MCCS Board member came up to us and said she had heard about the dream to start a drop-in centre for newcomers and asked what she and their church could do to help.
With Belma as an excellent spokesperson, we were able to explain how many newcomers were falling between the cracks, not eligible for mainstream services, and even those that were still felt isolated and alone and not able to fully participate in their new community. A drop-in centre would link them to volunteers in the community who would talk and perhaps walk with them in their journey to resettle.
After further discussions with that church, we (Belma and I) invited volunteers and staff linked to other local churches and organizations we were working with to help us think through the idea and after several gatherings, Global Gathering Place was born!
MCCS was the organization that was an established charity who took Global Gathering Place under its umbrella until it could get its own charitable status. The connection has remained strong between MCCS, local Mennonite churches, and GGP, and of course to me personally. Belma was Global Gathering Place’s first staff person whose leadership has spirited Global Gathering Place to its current status in Saskatoon. It was not an easy path through those early years and Belma and the Board fought valiantly to get GGP recognized as an organization who provided a valuable service to newcomers in our community.
We scrimped and saved, grateful for bits and pieces of funding here and there, and took advantage of community connections that offered us space and equipment free or at least a reasonable cost for the first years. There were highs and many lows, cheers and tears, but it has been such a delight to see how GGP has grown to be a significant settlement agency in our community helping newcomers in many more ways than what mainstream services can offer.
I am so proud of Belma and the GGP team who are so creative and caring, and who give so much to help newcomers make the transitions to a new land, and a new home. GGP is truly a grassroots organization, growing out of a specific need, engaged and still engaging community volunteers in their delivery of services. Bravo to all!
Mount Royal Mennonite Church: Being Good Neighbours and Welcoming Newcomers
Mount Royal Mennonite Church is located on the border between the Westmount and Mount Royal communities. As part of our community we understand that we gather with unique stories and gifts to share. For us this means linking our faith with being good neighbours, and welcoming the stranger.
Mount Royal has a long history of supporting refugees through private sponsorship, and in volunteering with local settlement agencies. Supporting refugees falls under one of our ministries, Missions and Service, the focus of which is to help our church members understand and connect to local community needs and the service organizations and groups who support those needs.
We are a small congregation with big hearts. Many of our members are involved as volunteers in a variety of activities and organizations (like GGP) throughout the city. We try to encourage our members to be aware of the services that exist in our community, and to help those around our church get to know us as well. Once a year, we host a Community Day in the Park, inviting our neighbors to share in some entertainment, fun activities, and food.
Through our members and their connections to the wider community and church we were and are able to respond to specific needs that come to our attention, and where we think we can be of assistance. Through these connections we are able to assist groups like the Saskatoon Food Bank, Friendship Inn, and local schools, as well as to encourage our members and neighbours in the community to take advantage of programs such as pickleball and Forever in Motion, which support physical health.
Each year, we look at services in our community that may be scrambling to address the well being of their clients and evaluate how or if we as a church can be helpful in addressing those needs. Since we were not involved in sponsoring a refugee family this year, we wanted to continue to support newcomers in some way and reached out to GGP to find out what pressing needs there might be. We took this information back to our congregation who immediately responded with some financial assistance so that GGP could purchase an age-appropriate wheelchair for a young lad, as well as providing mitts, toques, blankets and some first aid goods, which we hope helped fill service gaps for the influx of refugees GGP was seeing.
We are blessed to have many connections, and this year, a sister organization of Mennonite churches in Canada, Mennonite Disaster Service (MDS), invited churches to apply for assistance through their Spirit of MDS fund. MDS uses volunteers to go into disaster stricken areas in North America to help with clean-up and rebuilding. During the pandemic they have been unable to use volunteers, but they have faithfully shared their financial resources with churches who are also assisting groups struggling during the pandemic. It was perfect timing—Mount Royal applied and was successful in receiving $5,000 from the fund to help GGP with providing necessary assistance to clients.
As a church, we are very blessed and happy to do our part in helping newcomers make the transition to our community as seamlessly as possible. We are most grateful to MDS for their assistance in support of our efforts to help our community through this difficult time. We are also so thankful for Global Gathering Place, its caring and creative staff who provide expertise and welcome refugees who resettle in our community. Thank you!