United Church of Canada’s GO Project comes to Stratford

 

 

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United Church GO Project members including, from left, Jacob Robertson, Rick Gunn and Hillary MacDonald lend a hand at Stratford House of Blessing Wednesday. SCOTT WISHART The Beacon HeraldBy Mike Beitz, The Beacon Herald



By Mike Beitz, The Beacon Herald

August 1, 2013Thursday, August 1, 2013

Broaden your horizons. Deepen your faith. Serve the community. Make a difference.

It’s GO time.

Some 22 young people from the across Canada are in Stratford this week for a unique 11-day summer program with mission and outreach at its core.

Participants in the United Church of Canada’s GO Project are volunteering at local food banks, participating in clean-up efforts, visiting people with disabilities, touring area farms, and even entertaining local seniors.

When they’re not at mission sites, they’re worshipping, sharing experiences, attending workshops, writing in journals, or just reflecting. There’s even some time set aside for fun.

“It’s busy, and it’s awesome and it’s really transformational for the youth to come alive and engage in the local community,” said Hillary MacDonald, Stratford site co-ordinator for the GO Project.

St. John’s United is the host church and home base for the participants in Stratford, but they spend a good portion of their day around the city.

Wednesday, they were at the House of Blessing, where one group was helping to organize shelves, arrange cutlery and wrap glassware in sheets of newspaper.

Another group provided some entertainment for residents at Spruce Lodge.

Earlier this week, they participated in a food justice bread-baking session, and toured the downtown core to consider the importance of local products.

“It’s exciting, because we’re learning about the community and it’s learning about us,” said MacDonald.

Indeed, one of the key elements of the initiative is encouraging participants to think about how they can take what they’ve learned back to their own communities, noted Michael Shewburg, minister to the GO Project.

He helped launch the first one in Toronto six years ago, and it has since spread to Halifax, Vancouver and St. John’s.

Stratford is the newest GO site, offered for the first time in partnership with the Huron Perth Presbytery, and it was chosen for a reason, said Shewburg.

“We wanted the project to have a strong rural focus,” he said, noting that the city’s location in the middle of an agricultural community make it an ideal spot to examine food and social justice issues.

Fifteen-year-old Jacob Robertson, of Bedford, Nova Scotia, participated in a GO Project in Newfoundland, and chose to come to Stratford specifically for that rural experience.

Big city or a small, the benefits are the same, he suggested.

“It’s a chance to give back to communities across Canada,” said Robertson.

Ruvimbo Musiyiwa, 17, who moved to Canada from Zimbabwe only a few years ago, got involved in the GO Project through her church in Toronto.

“It seemed like a great idea to make new friends and build my faith,” she said.

Musiyiwa said she has been struck by Stratford’s “small-town, friendly feel,” but noted that, like any city, there are challenges.

“You don’t think of it when you drive by. You see a lot of beauty, but you don’t see the poverty. You don’t see the depression,” she said.

The GO Project is an opportunity to learn, and to help, added Musiyiwa.

Only a few days into the 11-day program, the young people are already making an impression in the community.

“It’s so good to see youth involved in a cause,” said Spruce Lodge volunteer co-ordinator Susan Bray Wednesday after the group staged a talent show for residents at the long term care facility.

She was hoping for an “intergenerational experience” and a good connection between the young people and the residents, and that’s exactly what happened, said Bray.

GO Project participants will be in Stratford until the middle of next week, and this Sunday they will lead the worship service at St. John’s United Church in Stratford.

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