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Tag team: New Westminster resident and pup unique volunteers at UGM, find purpose

Vancouver, BC—While you might entrust your car keys and your pooch to a neighbour, it’s unlikely you’d give a homeless person the same opportunity—unless of course you’re Rodger Konkle. A retired government worker, faithful volunteer and recovering alcoholic, Konkle frequently enlists the help of Union Gospel Mission in New Westminster guests to walk his golden lab Isla, allowing them both to help UGM guests in their own unique ways.

Konkle, 64 and Isla, 11 arrive at UGM daily at 7:00am. Konkle, who knows most guests by name, helps UGM prepare and serve over 150 hot breakfasts and over 200 bowls of lunchtime soup while Isla has a special knack for counseling.

“Some guests won’t talk to you or me, but they’ll talk to Isla,” explains Konkle. “They will sit on a curb, tears coming down their face, and share their story with her. She’s an outlet where they can get it out. Isla is an amazing therapy dog. She listens. If you talk to her, she cocks her head.”

Isla used to spend her mornings tied up outside UGM where lingering guests interacted with her, but New Westminster’s anti-tethering law now prevents it. Instead, Isla waits in Konkle’s car until a canine-friendly guests retrieves Konkle’s keys and takes her for a walk, often to Queens Park. “I haven’t lost my dog or van yet,” says Konkle with a smile, who knows that value of being given a chance.

Four years ago, Konkle says he was purposeless, struggling to stay clean and to just get up every morning. One day he emerged from an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting in New Westminster, took a wrong turn, and found himself at the doors of UGM. He decided on the spot to volunteer, but wasn’t sure if he’d be accepted.

“I waited six weeks after submitting my application and got discouraged,” he explains. “When you’re an alcoholic, you feel like you’re not acceptable to other people. We often feel we’re not good enough to do something.”

But that couldn’t have been further from the truth. Konkle got approved and his life hasn’t been the same since.

“Volunteering at UGM gives me purpose that I didn’t have before,” he says. “When I was recovering from alcoholism, I didn’t want to get up in the morning. Today, I’m at peace with myself. I sincerely love interacting with people and showing them that they are loved.”

Three years ago, after learning the ropes at UGM, Konkle noticed a need he was skilled to fill and started UGM New Westminster’s first Alcoholics Anonymous program. It’s a tight-knit group where people are known and can share their problems—“an important step in the recovery and healing journey,” he says.

Another vital part is being known by name—something Konkle is extremely intentional about at the UGM Centre. “So many people fee l lost when they come here,” he says. “Being known helps people connect and come out of their shell. It gives us all a sense of belonging.”

Union Gospel Mission has been feeding hope and changing the lives of men, women, and children for over 70 years. Through its 9 locations in Metro Vancouver and the city of Mission, UGM provides counseling, education, safe housing, and alcohol and drug recovery to those struggling with poverty, homelessness, and addiction. The heart of the mission is to demonstrate God’s transforming love, ease the burden of the most vulnerable, rebuild the lives of the broken, and offer dignity to those who feel cast aside. UGM is a proud member of the Canadian Council of Christian Charities and the Association of Gospel Rescue Missions. To find out more, visit www.ugm.ca.

12/04/2012

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