There are plenty of quotes & sentiments that invite us to think upon the issue of ‘taking care of our children”. Community….society .. churches….schools.. Children intersect our lives in all kinds of places and spaces . Many of us even have our own children. When we go the distance to offer children safe places to play ..to eat….to socialize .. to build competencies .. And continue to do this largely through volunteering, it is more about listening to an inner voice, calling a person to action. And that is precisely what Heather Nisbett and Nancy Cardiff are expressing in their dedication and warmth for the children who attend at their after-school programme in a church hall at St.John the Evangelist Anglican Church. They are living their faith by freely expressing a Christian call to action. This call to action involves supporting children in a neighbourhood which has seen its’ share of marginalization.
Back to Basics (B2B) is an after-school programme where 23 energetic youngsters find refuge on any given school day between 3 and 6 pm. B2B seeks to build a productive link for children aged 4 – 11 yrs. who would be enriched by attending there, including backgrounds where socio-economic vulnerabilities create hardship for families . Families are not expected to pay any fees for the programming, and B2B operates almost completely through community donations in the hall at St. John the Evangelist Anglican Church on John St., Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario.
The children arrive by bus from Northern Heights Public School sometime after 3 p.m. Many of the kids were attending Etienne Brule School which has now closed . In 2007, Heather and Nancy embarked on the course of action required for use of space in a church- owned property. In the case of the Anglican Church, a formal request is made to the Parish. Heather and Nancy were given the ‘thumbs up’, and the Parish encouraged them to ‘go for it ‘ That was in Spring 2007, and by the fall 2007, B2B was open for children to attend.
The Church hall is also used for other important activities in the life of a Church. At St. John the Evangelist, when the hall is needed for Christmas Cheer Depot day, or the annual Church Tea & Bazaar for example, the after-school programme is disassembled, moved to storage, to make room for these activities . I can only imagine how much fun that is. Nancy and Heather share an optimistic view-point, and take all of this in stride.
The goal of B2B is to create a safe and productive place for the children they welcome. When the children first arrive from school, they head immediately downstairs and get into their slippers. All of the slippers are donated. .Some slippers are even hand made. Heather and Nancy express to me that slippers are an ongoing necessity as “children’s feet do tend to grow “. “This item would be a terrific donation for an individual or group to consider undertaking.” said Heather. “The kids use them while they’re here, especially when we head upstairs for the meal”. Nancy said. “We want the children to feel at home here, “and slippers are a part of that component”.
After the children have settled in for a bit in the various organized play areas of the hall basement, they head upstairs for the meal. On the day I was there, hot dogs, fresh fruit, veggie sticks, milk and Pringles potatoe chips were on the menu. There was plenty for everyone. On the day I was visiting, Heather had recruited her sister to help cook and prepare the meal. The children are invited to sit at tables in the upper hall where they follow the expectations set out for them, as evidenced by their tremendously good manners. Heather and Nancy encourage good manners, and the children seem to understand that this is part of any good meal.
While the kids were enjoying their meal, I got a chance to sit with them, and chat about life in general . Apparently, it’s almost Christmas time. School will mercifully be out for a while, and Santa is only several sleeps away. I do, in fact, have a fairly comprehensive list that was shared with me involving barbies, playstations, pokemons, art supplies, modelling clay,walkie-talkies and yes, a lap-top & I-phone were mentioned.
All of the children expressed that they enjoyed coming to B2B. They spoke about playing with friends both inside and outside. They were actively engaged in stories , cooperative play, sharing their day which includes a highlight reel about school. Without fail, the kids thought that the meal was one of their most favourite things about coming to B2B. The provisions for the meal are garnered from donations that have come in to support the programme. Heather and Nancy expressed the gratitude they have for the ongoing donations, and encourage people to think about ways they may be able to help . Gift cards to Metro, Walmart, Food Basics, and other grocery stores are especially helpful. Food donations go a long way to offset costs associated with the daily meal . The women try to provide healthy meals with lots of fellowship time for the children.
Heather shared a wonderful story with me about a time when she needed brown paper bags for an activity at B2B. She was startled to see, that, on her kitchen table, when arriving home, she found a donation of brown paper bags . “ This, was when I knew I was doing what God had called me to do”. Said Heather. Sometime between thinking about the necessary item and her drive home, a donation had magnificently appeared on her kitchen table. Divine intervention indeed.
One more example of the mysteries of life happened on the same Friday of my visit to B2B. On the evening of Dec. 12th., John Wesley United Church held its’ final Chrsitmas Concert ever to be shared in the church Sanctuary on John St. It is slated for closing sometime this spring/,summer 2015. Rev. Larry Burton, announced that the proceeds from the christmas concert on the 12th were being split between A.R.C.H. and Back to Basics After-School Programme. I was blessed to be a part of the choir for this concert, which included Rev, Larry Burton and many more terrific chorusters and music leaders within Sault Ste. Marie’s communities of faith. When Rev.Larry Burton announced that the free-will offering from the concert would go to A.R.C>H> and B2B, I was immediately reminded that The Lord does indeed work .. in mysterious ways.
December 12th, 2014. The John Wesley (and friends) United Church Christmas Concert. I am also a proud church lady… in The United Church of Canada. I was part of this final Christmas Concert and have the view from the choir pews looking out into the large congregation, assembled for this truly remarkable .. joyful .. emotional .. concert.
Back 2 Basics has a facebook page, and the link provided below will help you navigate ways that you may be able to offer support . Financial contributions , groceries, toys, computers, arts and craft supplies are all pieces that make up the big picture for B2B. Tax receipts can be issued.
Two church lady /child advocates, named Heather Nisbett and Nancy Cardiff, are living examples of how our society could take care of those most vulnerable amongst us. Living their faith through a call to action. It doesn’t get more ‘back to basics’ than that. “Go make a difference in your corner of the world”. That is the message Nancy & Heather heeded , and will continue to live, as long as God willing,.. they can.
Thank you to Nancy & Heather … for inspiring this church lady.
Thankyou to all of the kids at B2B. You’re a hoot.