Stake members spur renovation of homeless shelter in Calgary

Christ's words, "I was a stranger and ye took me in," whispered to Karl Bodon; hundreds of lives were touched at a Calgary shelter as a result.

Brother Bodon, a high councilor in the Calgary Alberta South Stake, had been asked to speak at a ward Christmas party in 1995. It would have been simple to find something warm and reassuring, steeped in tradition, but Karl felt moved to take a different track."The scripture from Matthew came to me instantly," he said. "There are so many in need. I knew I had to speak on that topic."

As Brother Bodon prayed for inspiration, another man prayed for help. Dermot Baldwin, director of the Calgary Drop-in Centre in Calgary's east-central district, was worried. There was a growing need for a place for the homeless to spend the night, find a meal or just retreat to a safe haven. Usage of the centre had doubled within a few years, and there were plans to expand to a second site.

But now, federal funding had been withdrawn. Mr. Baldwin was looking at a hole of $825,000 that all the good intentions of the centre's volunteers could not fill. He and his staff would need a miracle to get them through the crisis, and they prayed repeatedly for heavenly intervention.

That's when Brother Bodon, a businessman, was prompted to come and look around. Impressed by what he saw, he spoke the simple words more beautiful than a Christmas carol to Dermot Baldwin's ears: "How can I help?"

The need was laid out before him, and he did not hesitate. "See us as a resource," he told Mr. Baldwin.

Inviting families to come serve dinners was the first step. Brother Bodon and his wife, Anita, summoned a group that prepared dinner for 160 people. The project seemed to take wing from there.

"It was a revelation to our daughter and to us," said one sister. "We expected to see down-and-outers. They were there, but there were also others that looked just like us, people that just had nowhere else to go."

Hugh Vance, a former member of the Calgary South Stake presidency, noting that the kitchen was full of help, decided to circulate among the centre's patrons. Wearing a bright Santa cap, he joked and talked with them, making everyone feel at ease. Suffering a terminal illness, he knew he was nearing the end of his life, yet chose to spend his time lifting others. He has since died.

The meal was needed at the centre, but there was still the critical issue of funding. Brother Bodon decided to contact some good friends, Church members, for donations. One of the first to donate was Rod Christensen, who also requested the opportunity to raise funds himself. He contacted his father-in-law, Gordon Sivertson, who enthusiastically joined the effort. Then, Brother Bodon approached Brian Bullock, a businessman and Church member, who had just been reading a book on the "weightier matters" of service to mankind. The four men became a fund-raising nucleus for the centre, raising the needed amount in donations, matching funds, donated materials and labor.

Stake Pres. Donald Hansen said, "It was so inspiring to see Church members taking the initiative to help and to see the priesthood supporting the community. This was a continuing commitment that seemed like such a big hill to overcome, but it gained momentum as they stayed with it."

It was an uplifting experience for the four businessmen, and their enthusiasm was contagious, ultimately involving many individuals and companies. Jim Grey, chief executive officer of Canadian Hunter, an oil and gas firm, challenged executives of similar firms to dig deep and give. Thousands of dollars "came out of the woodwork" as a result, he said.

Centre director Baldwin observed: "Fund raising is a task that most people shy away from. Here these gentlemen rolled up their sleeves and not only did a great job but seemed to have such a good time as well."

Fund raising was carried out during the spring of 1996. By April 1997, the centre was re-roofed and renovated, complete with a new staircase. Wishing women to have "dignity and privacy," the developers included cubicles with 6-foot walls surrounding individual beds. Ward Relief Societies were invited to decorate the cubicles, including quilts sewn at homemaking meetings.

On Jan. 26 of this year, Mr. Baldwin credited Church members as being the largest contributor to the cause.

The needs of the centre are so widely known now that Church members have pinched hit in other areas. A few times since the project's genesis, Mr. Baldwin realized the centre was running dangerously short of sandwiches, a necessary staple. All it took was one telephone call, and Church members in the stake and even citywide were putting together bread and cold meat to feed the homeless. "It was amazing how fast they responded," the director said.

Is this city different from any other in the outrush of Church and corporate support for the project? "I don't think so," Brother Bodon said. "I think all it takes is one person to take the initiative."

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