Union Gospel Mission
One of the most incredible things about working at Union Gospel Mission is the stories you hear. Whether it’s a story of challenge and transformation, a story of brokenness and restoration, or a story of loss and hope, we have the privilege of participating in some incredible life stories here at UGM. Each spring I am reminded that these stories are meaningful glimpses into God’s redemptive plan.
As I look around Vancouver, I see signposts of this plan at work: crocuses bloom, garden grounds thaw, and early seeds are planted. The hope of God’s restoration is illustrated in our natural world and in turn, I am reminded of the ways in which He restores His people each and every day. Sometimes this process of restorative transformation starts small. In fact, it could be as small—but as significant—as someone coming into UGM for our Easter meal, only to learn about a life-changing program like Gateway.
I’m thrilled to provide you with the story behind Gateway in this issue of Gratitude. The latest Outreach initiative, Gateway is an example of our staff’s gifted passion and incisive insight coming together to create lasting change—one life at a time. Born last summer, Gateway has already proved to be a life-changing success. This program is an entry point out of the cold and onto our transformative continuum of care. And not unlike spring, our continuum of care is a tangible picture of restoration, transformation, and new life! As you read about Mike and Johnny’s work in Gateway, remember that they’re cultivating that first step towards new life, and that they’re doing so in such significant ways.
It is my deepest hope that this Easter, those who struggle will be able to take that first small step towards new life. That’s why we’re so grateful for your partnership and support. Without you, we couldn’t point our guests towards new life—one life at a time.
William B. Mollard
Gateway Workers Mike and Johnny help others to believe in themselves every day.
When Johnny found his way to Union Gospel Mission years ago, Mike was there for him. “We were tight from the get-go,” says Mike, fondly. “Right from the beginning, we were like brothers.” Johnny was struggling to break free from his own addiction when Mike—a fairly new Outreach Worker at the time—came alongside with hope and support, pointing Johnny towards UGM’s Alcohol & Drug Recovery Program. “We did bible studies together, we’d have recovery meetings,” Mike explains. “And eventually, over time, I started noticing that this brother of mine, Johnny, was an exceptional speaker.” After Johnny graduated from recovery and had been clean and sober for several years, he committed to the training and education required to become an Outreach Worker. He wanted to help others find the joy and healing that he’d found at UGM. That’s when more and more people started identifying Johnny’s unique gifts. Inspired, Johnny began to recognize this gift in himself. “I would often say, Johnny, you’re speaking today!” Mike recalls. “Everything he said came from the heart. He could take a hard topic and break it down so that people who were lost, broken, and confused could chew on it, digest it, understand it, and be able to put it into practice.”
Today, Mike and Johnny’s gifts have developed beyond what anyone could have initially imagined—and their friendship has evolved significantly along the way. Now colleagues, this pair of senior Outreach Workers are a dynamic team. Mike’s relational skills give him an unparalleled ability to connect with people one-on-one. Johnny’s thoughtful insight and caring demeanor propel his gifts as a teacher, speaker, and friend. These are just a few reasons why Mike and Johnny have been appointed to lead our most recent initiative in Outreach: UGM’s Gateway Program.
Gateway was born out of a desire to fill the gaps in the early stages of recovery. Every day, Outreach Workers like Mike and Johnny connect with people as they struggle with the barriers that hold them back. Gateway removes these barriers, making recovery seem far more accessible. In order to provide this vital support, UGM re-purposed 10 beds to create a protected, dignified experience where men could reflect and prepare. These beds give men the essential time and necessary space required to process their next steps. The program itself provides stabilization, security, and education during what could otherwise be a chaotic transition. Distractions are stripped away while Gateway participants meet with Outreach Workers, set attainable goals, and start taking steps towards those goals. “When it comes down to it, Gateway builds an essential bridge between addiction and freedom,” Mike and Johnny explain.
A recent A&D graduate named Sheldon* remembers what encouraged him to apply to Gateway. “When I came to UGM for the first time, Johnny was speaking,” he explains. “I thought I’d just have a cup of coffee and leave but what he said, well, it really hit me. I heard him say ‘Recovery’ and immediately knew I had to talk to someone.” Sheldon applied for Gateway that same day. “I saw that they were serious—I knew that they wanted to help me,” he recalls. “There was no sense of condemnation. Just a sense of belonging.” Because Johnny believed in Sheldon, Sheldon was able to believe in himself. As he went through the stages of Gateway—thoughtful interviews, one-on-one counseling, group class work, and medical testing—Sheldon realized that he had the support he needed to free himself from his addiction. “Without Gateway, I never would have gone into UGM’S A&D Recovery,” he says.
“I remember my first day,” Sheldon continues. “I remember Johnny sat four of us guys down in the classroom. He went up on the white board and drew a person. Then he drew a line from their head to their heart. That’s when he started teaching me stuff that I’d never learned before about who I am and why I couldn’t stop drinking. It actually prepared me, this new knowledge. It was what empowered me every day. If I had known before, I think I could’ve avoided a lot of problems. But what I didn’t know, I learned here.” After six months in UGM’s A&D Recovery Program, Sheldon graduated. Today, he lives in our supportive housing units, volunteers, and has found meaningful work through UGM’s employment services. His journey is just beginning, but with the help of his newfound community of support, Sheldon is moving forward.
Johnny thinks he knows what inspires him to help men like Sheldon transform their circumstances. Mike and Johnny’s own journeys of recovery gave them an empathetic sense of compassion as well as the critical insight required to help men on the road to recovery. “My own journey has given me passion,” says Johnny. “But I think the key thing it gave me is hope. Our stories give other people hope. When you tell them how far you slid down when they’re there, when they’re in the thick of it…. Well, they can understand. They know your story word for word because they’re living it. But when they see the transformation that you’ve gone through…” he says, pausing. “We can give these men an opportunity to see that all hope is not lost—that’s why they can believe in themselves. Because we believe in them.”
*Due to recent graduation from UGM’s A&D Recovery, Sheldon’s name has been changed to protect his identity.
Roger serves hearty, nutritious meals with a smile as big as his heart.
We all know how good it feels when we’re treated with a sense of dignity. We feel confident, capable, maybe even empowered to reach our potential. Imagine how significant this feeling is for someone who’s used to being cast off—something that, sadly, too many of our guests experience on a daily basis. That’s why people like Roger make a significant difference in UGM’s community. If you walk into UGM New Westminster on any given weekday, you’ll see Roger pouring soup, cracking jokes, and greeting guests with a smile as big as his heart.
“Roger! Where have you been?” a guest named Joseph exclaims as the two exchange a hug. “I missed you!” he continues. Roger just returned from a trip overseas where he was working with his church to equip vision-impaired people with the gift of glasses. Watching as he interacts with guests in New West, it’s clear that this man is an integral part of their day-to-day. So much so that guests take eager turns walking his golden lab, Isla, while Roger chops veggies, makes coffee, and sets the table. “She loves people,” he explains. “And people love her. Many of these folks need someone to talk to, and well, if they’re not ready to talk to me, or the staff here, Isla here is a good start.”
Roger is a man who recognizes the importance of community. And the relationships he’s formed at UGM have simply reinforced this conviction. He knows everyone by name and isn’t afraid to ask them about their life, its struggles and its joys. “I think the single most important thing that you can do for someone is look them in the eye, say good morning, and smile,” he says. “Too many people don’t have these basic human needs met. But it’s important. It breaks down barriers. And if we don’t break down those barriers, we’re not treating people like people.”
Roger’s optimistic personality spreads to everyone he meets. He chooses to see hope on a regular basis. In fact, he explains that he sees hope in abundance at UGM, particularly in the lives of our guests. “There’s always the hope that people can turn their lives around,” he explains. “Well, I’ve seen it time and time again. Just three weeks ago, a former guest here visited to tell us all about her new job, her new marriage, and her new baby girl. So yes, I always see hope here, but it really shines when you see someone transform their life.”
While everyone’s gift of time is incredibly valuable, Roger’s commitment to UGM New Westminster allows him to make a unique investment in our community. He’s been volunteering for five years every weekday from 8am – 1pm. He sees his role as two-fold. On the one hand, he’s responsible for making sure there’s food on the table. But on the other hand, Roger says he strives to provide guests with a “sense of community, wellbeing, and safety– and the knowledge that someone cares for you.” But this humble man doesn’t see his gift as sacrificial. “The way I see it,” he explains. “The more you give away, the more you get back. And I’ve received so much here.”
Every year, Wheelin’ Mobility removes barriers at UGM’s Summer Connect.
If you walked into Union Gospel Mission during our Summer Connect event, you’d see Matt Pregent and the Wheelin’ Mobility team working away, rifling through tools, and engaging with residents from the Downtown Eastside. For almost two years, Wheelin’ Mobility has provided essential wheelchair repair services to guests at UGM. “By helping those living in UGM’s community, we hope to give people the opportunity to live a more mobile and productive life,” Matt explains.
Founded by people with disabilities for people with disabilities, Wheelin’ Mobility is the Lower Mainland's only mobile 24-hour on-call repair service for people using wheelchairs or scooters. Since Matt and his wife Sarah launched this initiative in 2010, Wheelin’ Mobility has grown significantly, allowing them to make an even greater impact.
Matt first brought his team and tools to UGM’s Summer Connect event in 2012. From that point on, Wheelin’ Mobility became a vital part of feeding hope and changing lives—not only at UGM, but everywhere in the Downtown Eastside. “I’ll never forget the first time I caught Matt fixing wheelchairs inside First United Church for absolutely free,” says Jeff Baergen, UGM’s Community Engagement Coordinator. “Or the time he came and rescued one of UGM’s guests, whose electric wheelchair had broken down in Oppenheimer Park in the middle of night. Matt’s own wheelchair could be a barrier of his own, but instead, it’s the most incredible, selfless spark. It’s a catalyst for his extraordinary commitment to transform lives,” says Jeff, pausing. “Honestly. He is without a doubt one of the most selfless men I know.”
A high percentage of community members in the DTES rely on wheelchairs and mobility devices. If their chair breaks down, most people in our community can’t afford the necessary repairs. A lack of mobility means an increase in isolation. All of this becomes a detrimental obstacle for someone already facing a host of other challenges. “Matt removes those barriers,” says Jeff. “And he does so without expecting anything in return. That’s why UGM will do anything we can to support him.”
When Pam McHugh, Manager of Projects and Communications at BC Rehab, learned about Wheelin’ Mobility’s life-changing work she knew she needed to get involved. Pam contacted UGM’s Community Engagement team to see what could be done. With a desire to provide partnership and support, she helped Matt fill out an application for funding from BC Rehab. “BC Rehab recognized that if Matt was going to be able to continue helping the DTES community on such a significant level, he needed extra support,” Pam explains.
Union Gospel Mission worked with Wheelin’ Mobility and BC Rehab to get Matt the funding he deserved. “This one request became a much bigger conversation about the need to help the DTES,” Matt says, unpacking his vision to come alongside our community with BC Rehab. In March 2013, Wheelin’ Mobility received significant funding from BC Rehab so that they could continue to help our neighbours for no cost at all. The more each organization talked to the others, it became clear that this venture could not only change individual lives—but that it could transform an entire community. Since then, BC Rehab has become an active participant in Matt’s work. Today, they provide engaged partnership and support, accompanying Matt to several events at UGM and in the DTES.
“I would’ve been totally lost without Jeff and the Community Engagement team at UGM,” says Pam. “The advocacy and support provided by UGM was, in my mind, what lead to this even getting started. UGM has such an incredible pulse on the needs of their community and I really think that’s why this got off the ground so quickly. Jeff was so good at providing insight. And since UGM is such a reputable organization, BC Rehab’s board was instantly interested in this endeavor.” Pam explains that the partnership was three-fold: “BC Rehab is the active, involved funder. UGM provides incredible advocacy and awareness about what can be done. And Wheelin’ Mobility offers life-changing work to people with mobility limitations. None of us could have done it without the other.”