I grew up in a manse, the house a church provides for its pastor.
My father was a United Church minister and since our house was right behind the church, in the small town where we lived, it was easily identified as the place where “the preacher lived.”
This meant that it was not uncommon for someone who was down on their luck, looking for a meal or a bus ticket home to knock on our door.
The hungry, the homeless, the poor were very real to me. I saw their faces and heard their stories. I also saw my father make arrangements for a hot meal at the local bowling alley or for a room at a nearby boarding house. With a phone call he could arrange a bus ticket to be paid for. He was able to do this because of the generous support of people who were willing to share what they had with those in need. Somehow, just by watching the respectful way my dad listened and dealt with those at our door, I learned that there was no difference between them and me. Dad would say: “There, but by the grace of God, go I.”
I thought of those words recently while watching a video on the United Way website. The video told the story of Hilary, a woman about my age, who had lived a rough life. She dropped out of school and found herself living as a prostitute and fighting a drug and alcohol addiction.
I don’t know what triggered Hilary’s trouble when she was young, but in reading her story, I wondered if it might have been an undiagnosed learning disability. You see, I have dyslexia. Fortunately, it was diagnosed when I was six years old, back in the 1960s, when it was uncommon to talk about a learning disability. I was acting out at school, my teachers were frustrated and my parents were worried. They took me to see a doctor who, fortunately for me, took the trouble to have me assessed and my condition was identified. It made all the difference. Teachers were told how to react to my frustration with learning and I was supported, not ostracized. I have done well with two post secondary degrees and a successful career. But, I can’t help but wonder what would have happened if my condition hadn’t been diagnosed. I could have easily followed Hilary’s path.
Fortunately, Hilary has found the help she needs to turn her life around through a number of agencies supported by The United Way of Greater Victoria, including Bridges for Women and Peers.
She is now at Camosun College studying to become a social worker. She’s getting a second chance because people in this community are willing to give. At this time of year it is good to count our blessings and to remember that we all have a role to play in supporting each other in whatever way we can.
I am grateful for so much in my life and I have been taught to share what I have with others – that’s why I give.
Jo-Ann Roberts is an award-winning, veteran journalist who is host of CBC Radio’s All Points West, 3-6 pm weekday afternoons, 90.5 fm.