Coming Undone

When I walked into the Monday Drop-In last week I did not have the capacity to manage the barrage of questions and comments that came my way. Just the day before I had received the news of the death of a friend. Couple that with lack of sleep/general busy-ness/mounting concerns and it equalled me: the one coming undone.

My teammate Joanna maneuvered me into the washroom where we prayed. Actually, with her arm slung around me, she prayed. I became a puddle of tears. In order to catch my breath I left the building for a short walk. As soon as I exited the front doors I saw two of my friends: Chaz and Steve. {Sidebar: I don’t often use people’s actual names in my writing. For this post they are, used with permission and because I think they ought to be publicly thanked}. Chaz and Steve admittedly live life very hard and it shows. “How are you doing girl?” said Chaz. “Crappy”, I responded.

Chaz picked up where Joanna left off: he put his arm around me and said he understood. You know how sometimes people say that and you want to shout, “NO, you don’t!”? This was not one of those times. Chaz showed a depth of empathy that I believed. He then dug around his pockets, pulled out a stack of brown paper towel and provided what I needed to dry my tears.

Steve quietly stood by with his head down. It wasn’t until later in the day that he ushered me over for a hug. He said, “Erinn, I couldn’t eye-ball you earlier because I felt your pain. I know what it’s like. I don’t like seeing you cry because I love ya”. Steve has buried nearly every one of his family members. He thinks he has more than the nine lives of a cat because he just keeps surviving things he likely shouldn’t. I am completely honoured that he cares about me the way he does and chose to express it.

Throughout the day I was supported by Joanna, Chaz, Steve and countless others in the Drop-In who gently slowed my spiral down through a word, a hug or even just a knowing look. This is community. What a relief to be a part of it.

frayed rope



Campfire Songs with a Happy Throng

I’d like to introduce you all to Daniel Pearce, The Dale’s Summer Student! Daniel is currently studying Film at Humber College. He is a lover of comedy: films, traditional stand-up and definitely Monty Python. Daniel enjoys all kinds of music, especially Punk Rock and Folk and is an avid reader, including poetry. Daniel recently turned 19. He calls Milton, Ontario home.

I am excited that Daniel has agreed to guest blog here during his summer with The Dale. He is quickly becoming a part of the fabric of our community and will have, I’m sure, stories to tell.

Daniel, serenading one of our youngest community members.
Daniel, serenading one of our youngest community members.

A campsite full of energetic kids and mosquitos may not sound like a fun few days to most Torontonians, but The Dale’s three night retreat to Camp Koinonia ended with an entire bus full of folks who didn’t want to go back home. And if you look at all the activities that were crammed into just a few days up at camp, it’s not hard to understand why most people would rather live in their cabin the rest of summer. From campfire stories to canoe escapades, between archery lessons, jam sessions, and enough ping-pong to make it Canada’s national sport, saying Camp Koinonia was a good time would be an understatement.

It is pretty close quarters in the Koinonia lodge, which is a very good thing, because just about everybody had a chance to interact with each other at some point. Every mealtime different people were sitting at different tables, but no matter who was sitting with whom, there was some good conversation going on. We had relatively good weather for our visit, save for a ton of rain on Tuesday. On the plus side, most people spent Tuesday together in the lodge, playing card games and catching up on World Cup soccer. It was so nice to watch people make the best out of a bad situation!

A big part of the entire trip was music, as is usually a big part of the The Dale. There were various instruments brought to the Monday night campfire, such as an acoustic guitar, harmonica, and even a ukulele! Of course, there were also a ton of voices joining in for classic campfire songs. During the day, almost any point of the day, music could be heard from the lodge. Various people tried out playing a few songs on the keyboard and guitar, but the biggest musical highlight was a big group sing-along, with a full songbook and different people playing guitar, keys and percussion!

Of course, the trip wouldn’t have even been possible without the Camp Koinonia staff, which was phenomenal the entire time we were there. Each meal was better than the last, culminating in a birthday cake served right before boarding the bus home! Staff was very friendly to all of us, and a few of them even joined some Parkdale musicians for a jam session, playing hits such as “House of the Rising Sun” and “Sweet Home Alabama”.

When you live in a city like Toronto, constantly rushing through subway platforms full of sharpened elbows and breathing in air that would make a tailpipe cough, it’s a blessing to have a few days of peace and quiet in the great outdoors. Everyone I’ve talked to was grateful for the opportunity to get away from the big city, and we’re all looking forward to another great trip to Koinonia next year!


My friend Diana Fong died yesterday. It is a strange feeling when death comes: for me it is equal parts familiar and foreign, because though I have lost people before, each person leaves a unique hole.

I got to know Diana first as “Princess”- her name at Koinonia, the camp she worked for and also, in many ways, called home. Through friends we were introduced to the camp built on a hill beside a pretty lake called Haines. For years we’ve spent a week as a family there. Camp Koinonia was host to The Dale at the beginning of July and where Cate and two of her friends went yesterday to stay for a week. I imagine that it is somehow fitting that Diana died on the first day of Kids Camp, the place bustling with people. I think I will always look for her sitting in her spot in the lodge, overseeing the comings and goings of campers. She loved that place.

In 2012 The Dale (at that time PNC) needed help. We were rapidly running out of financial resources and needed to re-jig much of what we were doing as an organization. I put out an impassioned plea for bookkeeping assistance. Diana responded immediately. Until she fell ill just a short time ago Diana remained The Dale’s volunteer bookkeeper. It is not an overstatement to say I’m not sure what I would have done without her.

Diana and I did not always see eye-to-eye on things. We quite often had debates about the direction something like The Dale’s fundraising efforts should take. One of the things I will always appreciate about our friendship was the way we knew when the disagreement had gone too far. Diana and I learned how to talk things through and apologize to one another. There was something deeply real and good about our relationship.

Diana will be missed by many people. It was not unusual for Diana to respond as quickly as she did when I needed help at The Dale. Diana loved to help and was generous with her time. There was an abundance to Diana exhibited in her desire to support others, including the many children who she became a surrogate-like parent to. My condolences extend to her family, her friends and the many communities that she touched.

You will be missed Princess.



Charity Remixed

I’m not always sure how to describe a Monday Drop-In, other to say it is most often a wonderful riot of activity. There is a large crew of people who show up first thing to get the room set up and the food underway. People chop vegetables. The same woman always cooks the meat. Coffee is put on. Souad, our Kitchen Coordinator, describes what the meal is for the day and reminds all of her “munchkins” and “angels” that she loves them. A small group of people gather in the corner opposite to the kitchen to make music: sometimes rather ambient, sometimes a mix of Beatles and Dylan, sometimes an Italian aria. On this day people danced to “This Little Light of Mine”.

Throughout a Monday people drop by to say hello or ask for a token. Some come (including me) to share their challenges and maybe ask for help. Others sit quietly in the same spot every week, drinking tea or coffee. Many people enjoy chatting. While there is more often than not a general sense of calm of Mondays, there are most certainly moments that are anything but, such as heated exchanges that need to be de-escalated. The thing that I love about the drop-in is that it belongs to the community. The lunch happens because of them. Even conflict resolution is shared.

At around 1:00 pm this past Monday 45 young people from around Ontario and Michigan showed up to experience the drop-in. I met them outside and suggested that people enter incrementally in smaller groups, look for a spot to sit and enjoy lunch. As I surveyed the full room I was struck by the beauty of the hospitality of The Dale community. One visiting group member turned to me and said, “you don’t need to serve me, let me do it.” To which I and others responded, “no, enjoy letting us serve you.” At one point I noticed large groups of youth scattered around the room, surrounding individuals telling their stories. Though our visitors could have easily and capably taken on the work of the lunch (getting it ready, serving and cleaning-up) they instead were hosted by us.

At The Dale we are playing with and trying to turn on its head the idea of “charity”. Many of us are accustomed to being on the receiving end of charity: others have what we need and give it to us. The problem is that too often this robs people of the opportunity to give. In other words, too often charity is a one way street. We believe that every person, regardless of their circumstances has something to offer. As humans we need to both give and receive. Monday was an opportunity to model this with 100+ people. For me, it was like charity remixed.