The Gathering Place, a community health centre that focuses on helping vulnerable people in St. John’s, has been a local mainstay since 1994
Originally started by the Sisters of Mercy and the Presentation Sisters as a way to help people who were in need of food, the organization has exponentially grown into a charity providing food, shelter, medical services, counselling, clothing and much more to its guests (Which is what they choose to call the people in their community) – all for a three dollar annual fee.
Part of a community
Much of the services provided come from the generosity of the community.
The Gathering Place is designed for people over the age of 26 who have fallen through the cracks of most community support systems, whether that be their own family and friends or government provided services. They work with those less-fortunate, many of whom have complex issues, in order to work on their personal growth. They currently have over 2,000 guests at this current time.
Joanne Thompson, the executive director, has been volunteering there for over a decade and has been in her current position for four years. She believes very strongly in the community that is The Gathering Place, and the inclusion that people feel when they have a place to go that accepts them.
“You are not being served, you are part of a community,” said Thompson. “You can access any of the services here. You belong, you have a right to be here in the sense that this is your space. All that was ever asked is when you enter this space you respect yourself, and that’s around language and behaviour, respect everyone who comes here, and you respect the place – because if we start to beat this up, what do we have left?”
To Thompson, a big reward is the happiness and belonging that the organization brings people.
“People say hello, and they’ll smile and it’s really quite wonderful,” said Thompson. “I think it really demonstrates that if you can bring services to a place where people feel comfortable, that they feel connected.”
The Gathering Place would not be where it is today without the help of all the volunteers that selflessly spend their days making it a place people can call home. They serve over 600 meals a day at three meals every day.
“It’s just absolutely amazing. That number of volunteers really shaped and changed the whole landscape here. In the day, we have 100 to 150 volunteers. It isn’t just staff and volunteer and guests – it’s the community.”
At the core of The Gathering Place’s program is its empowerment program, which started about four years ago. Whether it be through gardening, writing groups, art, computer literacy, or so much more – guests are afforded the ability to achieve a higher version of themselves, whatever that may be, according to Thompson.
Something she’s really excited about is the bike repair program currently taking shape within their walls, where guests who are able are trained to repair bicycles for The Gathering Place community.
“That started because somebody donated bike repair equipment to us and some bikes, and we thought ‘let’s just do this,’” said Thompson. “We put a call out, and people started to bring bikes in. We have a staff member who was very good with bikes, and he started the program and realized the guests were incredibly talented and it was a huge gift for someone to be given a bike that they could be made street worthy.”
The Gathering Place is currently working on a place where guests who are interested can perform bike repairs year-round. They intend to open their services to the community at large.
Despite all the incredible services offered at The Gathering Place, they’re always looking for help from the community to keep things moving. The number one thing they can always use more of is funding. Other than money, they’re always looking for spare clothes, bedding and household items.
On top of that, they’re always looking for more volunteers to help with their day-to-day operations.
When thinking about those at The Gathering Place, Thompson wants people to keep in mind that their guests are people with feelings as well, and they shouldn’t be forgotten by society.
“They started somewhere,” said Thompson. “These are still relatives. This is still someone’s friend. This is still the person from your hometown. No child sits in school and says, ‘Oh I want to grow up and be at The Gathering Place.’ A lot of things go wrong to get here and it takes the strong circle of support to start the right steps to put some pieces back together.”
Anyone looking to help out The Gathering Place can find more information at kindnesswanted.ca or can stop by their location on Military Road.