Every summer teenagers from Canada and the U.S. arrive at The Mustard Seed in Calgary or Edmonton – for what we hope is a life-changing experience with DemoCrew. The goal is to help 13 to 17-year-olds learn about the realities of living in poverty and homelessness through a multi-day experience.
Some of that experience comes from a day spent on the street in inner-city Calgary or Edmonton. The teenagers are divided into small groups; each student is given a toonie, a transit ticket, but no cellphone, and sent out for a day on the street. Byron Bradley, The Mustard Seed’s Community Engagement Manager, says the point is "to take the students out of their comfort zone and make them think about the reality that those experiencing homelessness and poverty face in their daily lives."
The students have a list of tasks to accomplish, such as finding out where they can access social agencies, using public transit and collecting at least two dollars’ worth of bottles, cashing them in and then giving the money to someone who really needs it.
In July 2015, a group from Dawson Creek, BC, embraced the challenge. They not only found more than enough bottles, they then struck up a conversation with one of the regular bottle-pickers outside the bottle depot.
Ted, who is a self-proclaimed chronic alcoholic, regaled the students with stories, advice and jokes. The teenagers spent a long time with Ted. Afterward, 16-year-old Sammy said,
"I think he was getting joy out of having someone listen to him and I guess he doesn't get that very often."
Fifteen-year-old Landon added, "I think not a lot of people come up to him and talk to him, so when he gets that attention it makes him happy and smile – when we first ran into him he wasn't smiling."
A day on the street and a conversation with Ted taught the DemoCrew students a lot about compassion.
For more information, visit DemoCrew.ca.