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Inuvialuit using Facebook to communicate.

By Adam Wightman

The Inuit communities of Inuvialuit, a wild, unforgivable region in the tundra of the western Canadian arctic, have long been isolated from the rest of the country—as well as themselves.

Prior to the 1980s, if a person in Inuvik, the largest town in the region, wanted to communicate with one of their friends or family living in any of the other six communities in Inuvialuit, they would have had to use the post.

“Before they had satellite, they wouldn’t have any telephones at all. It would be Canada Post, newspapers, and writing letters to people,” laughed Lucy Kuptana, the executive director of the Inuvialuit Regional Corporation, which works to settle Inuit land claims within the region.

The introduction of the telephone was obviously a huge step towards intercommunity communication, allowing families to keep regularly in touch. But in the past few years, there is something that is even a larger step for regional communication, a quantum leap for Inuit intercommunity interaction: The Internet and, particularly, Facebook.

“Facebook is pretty huge. It used to be like Bebel and Myspace, but everyone usages Facebook now,” Kuptana says of her people.

One of the things that has made Facebook such a game-changer in the northern life of the Inuvialuk people— the Inuit group from the region—is that it allows them immediate and intimate connection to family members who they otherwise wouldn’t see much, she said.

“With me, I have family that lives right across Canada, from BC to Ontario to New Brunswick. It is great for me because I keep updated and find out what’s going on with family and their children. It’s nice. It’s a nice way to keep in touch.”

With a population of roughly 3,000, Inuvik is the largest town in the Inuvialuit region, which has a total population of around 5,000. It is the only town in the region that one can drive into all year round. Two other communities have ice roads, and so can be accessed by vehicle during the winter months, from December to April—if one is willing to take what can be a treacherous journey. Many cars and hauling trucks have been driven through the ice. And if your vehicle shuts down on-route in a remote area of the road, there could be nothing around for hundreds of miles, leaving you stranded in arctic temperatures, a possible death sentence

But the other three communities can only be accessed by plane. This means that a major barrier for the Inuvialuk has been the howling wilderness that lies between them, unconnected by the infrastructure that us Southern Canadians take for granted everyday.

And social media is changing on that. Where the telephone allowed individuals to talk on a one-to-one basis, Facebook is much more—it provides an open forum where one’s posts and messages can be read by and responded to by anyone who uses the social media. It fosters communication between them, and so is a virtual town hall in cyberspace. It would take incredible organization and effort to bring together all of the region’s people to discuss issues in a physical building. But this is now possible at the click of the mouse and a few punches of the keyboard.

It is for this reason Kuptana’s Inuvialuit Regional Corporation is about to get a Facebook page. They hired Laura Brown as the director of corporate-public relations primarily for that purpose, to help navigate the corporation throughout the world of social media.

For Kuptana, Facebook is a way that can help to develop the human-skill capacity of the Inuvialuit people. Not only will it raise awareness with them of the issues related to the final land claim agreement with the federal government, but also it will allow them to be aware of opportunities to work with the corporation.

“It’s good to communicate and get the messages out there to people. A lot of times people don’t know that a certain job is posted, or there is this certain program is available or a scholarship is available.”

The corporation is looking to use Facebook to hire within the community, and develop the human capital of the region that way, she said.

“We have people who are beneficiaries of the land-claim agreement (those Inuit living in Inuvialuit) who are working for the organization, like myself, rather than hiring from the outside. So that is one of our goals is building capacity from within the communities.”

While Internet is widely used in the region, there are definite challenges remaining its availability. It costs a single house $80 to $90 to use, and some of the communities still have dial-up. So her corporation is pushing to get more Northwest Tel to develop more infrastructures in that regard.  But she see’s bright things for the possibilities unleashed by the new media, she said.

“It’s just a great way to communicate.”

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Beyond the Brushstrokes

By Matthew Dusenbury

Great artists sign their work.

At the New School of Colour, an art class that operates out of the Ark Aid Street Mission, a young woman is putting the finishing touches on her latest painting. It is a breathtaking landscape of lush-green foliage. A stream flanked by rocks cuts through the centre of the canvas.

There’s just one problem. The woman is unsure where to sign her name, or if she even should at all, as the painting is actually a replica copied from an instructional book.

It’s at that moment of uncertainty that Marshall Custus, a 49-year-old with ink-covered fingertips, pokes his head over her shoulder, and points to one rock in the lower right corner of the painting.

“There,” he tells her. “Hold on.”

Custus disappears for a moment, re-emerging a minute later with a fine-tipped brush. He hands it to the woman, who signs her name on the rock in green oil paint.

“Over time, your work will become unique,” Custus tells her. “And this,” he says, pointing to the signature, “is important for identity.”

Marshall Custus
Photo by Matt Dusenbury
Marshall Custus holds up a drawing of the kitchen where he works.

For Custus, the bi-weekly art sessions are as much about the people as they are about painting. The relationships are an invaluable asset for someone like him who has spent much of his life on the street, on the move, and in disarray.

The New School of Colour was founded by Jeremy Jeresky in 2010 as a way of using art to reach those living with homelessness in the city.

Custus has thrived at the school. So much so, in fact, that Jeresky now considers him his “second-in-command.” It was a place where Custus could not only be artistic, but also help others who had the same aspirations, and life experiences, as himself.

“This place has been so incredibly awesome. For instance, a lot of people here have self-esteem problems. But they leave here with a greater sense of value.”

Custus’ journey to the school was a long one. A self-described army brat with an affinity for music and drawing, Custus spent his childhood following his father for his military career, moving every few years to cities in Ontario, Quebec, and Alberta.

“After a while, you learn not to dread (the constant moving),” he said. “And it gave me a sense of adventure.”

This pattern continued, and Custus ended up in Germany where he began acting out and got into “an awful lot of trouble, mostly out of boredom.” He was then sent to a private school in Belleville, Ont. but was expelled after the first year. When his parents told him not to call home, he had nowhere to go.

So, Custus then came to London where he spent his first few nights in the city on the street.

“When I first came to London, I lived in a cardboard box in Harris Park. It was okay, it was warm,” he recalled. “But I had to get a job. I had to get a place to live.”

Custus spent the next few years in the service sector, working as a dishwasher and then a short-order cook in kitchens around the city. In 1985, he got a job with London Machinery.

Just two years later, however, the company was restructured and Custus was laid off.

“Financially, I didn’t survive that,” he said. “And I lost the drive to do anything.”

For years, Custus was caught in a vicious cycle of poverty, living under bridges, doing anything he could to get by. He lost contact with his daughter and slept on friends’ couches.

The worst blow, said Custus, was to his self-esteem.

“I just sort of existed.”

But despite the years of hardship, Custus never lost his creativity. Even while living on the street, he would draw little sketches of things he saw.

“Because everything was falling apart, I had free time on my hands. And drawing was my interest,” he said.

Custus’ harsh living conditions lasted years and eventually took their toll. What he thought was just a bad cough turned out to be a case of pneumonia, and he went to the Men’s Mission for help. It was there he met a woman who encouraged him to pursue his artistry and told him about the New School of Colour.

“‘There’s this guy doing a grassroots thing at a soup kitchen,’ she told me. “It’ll do you some good.'”

Intrigued, Custus decided to visit the small art studio where he met Jeresky.

Jeremy Jeresky
Photo courtesy of The New School of Colour
Jeremy Jeresky, the program facilitator for the New School of Colour.

A graduate of Western University with a Master of Fine Arts, Jeresky founded the New School of Colour in 2010 as a way of using art to reach those living with homelessness in the city.

“Many art schools are closed off, not social,” said Jeresky. “I take exception to that. With this (the New School of Colour), it’s open to everyone.”

Jeresky imbued the school with a philosophy of social engagement, making it a space where people can be themselves, and feel safe from criticism.

“It’s actually like a family,” he said. “This is a space that’s non-judgmental.”

Beyond the brushstrokes, that sense of community is the real power behind the New School of Colour. For Abe Oudshoorn, an assistant professor at Western University and founder of the London Homelessness Outreach Network, the school provides people with a way to define themselves outside of their living conditions.

“The arts are a way for people to connect, a way they feel they’re adding to society and culture,” said Oudshoorn. “For a lot of people, everything else is just survival, but life is art.”

Though statistics vary, Oudshoorn estimates that on any given night, there are about 2,000 homeless in London, including those in temporary arrangements. And although political solutions are necessary, a big issue is reversing the stigma that people in poverty or on the street are there by their own doing.

Community programs like the New School of Colour are in a unique position to change that.

“I think it does a lot to change people’s perception (of homelessness). Art is a brilliant way to capture imagination and change the stigma.”

Abe Oudshoorn
Photo by Matt Dusenbury
Abe Oudshoorn believes art programs like the New School of Colour provide a sense of community for the homeless.

“This is a one-of-a-kind place,” added another participant at the school, who wished to remain anonymous. “The opportunity to create and learn with other people – it’s incredible.”

By providing a space for creativity and community for people living with homelessness, people regain their sense of value. At least, that’s how Custus sees it.

“It’s not like the street down here,” he said. “Being in this environment, it helps you.”

Now, two years after he first connected with the school, Custus is looking to jumpstart a new career. He is working as a cook at a hotel and beginning a chef apprenticeship at Fanshawe College in the fall.

But, he said, he will make time to come back to the New School of Colour each week, to work on his drawings and catch up with friends. The school has been an instrumental force in his life, and he’s determined to keep it.

“It’s a big change from a few years ago, when I thought I didn’t have a lot of worth,” he said.

“Sure, I need a job. But I plan to get to the point where I have a day job and art is the real focus. That’s my signature.”

Dying on welfare

By Aaron Rathbone
arathbon@uwo.ca

Susan Eagle, a minister and former London city councillor, remembers a time when she officiated over a funeral for someone who couldn’t afford the costs.

“We did the funeral with the dollars that (the city) provided. When I went to the funeral home to set up the funeral, I was informed that the money did not include visitation.”

The woman who died was young and left behind three little children. Eagle told the people at funeral home that it was terribly important that there be a visitation for the sake of the children so they could have some closure. “At the time, I remember thinking who sets the rules that says visitation isn’t included as part of the basic package because isn’t that stupid.”

The funeral home agreed to her suggestion.

Rev. Susan Eagle says it’s important for the poor to be treated fairly in their last rites. (Photo courtesy of ISARC).

In Canada, dying can be an expensive affair. For those who are financially unstable, a funeral can be a daunting expense. But poor families are not without options when it comes to saying goodbye to loved ones, as municipalities offer financial assistance to those in need.

According to Statistics Canada, the funeral business in 2010 was worth approximately $1.66 billion. In that same year, Ontario accounted for nearly half of that total. The Registered Persons Database for the Ontario ministry of health and long-term care indicates the annual death total in the province to be more than 80,000 people.

The costs of a funeral vary greatly depending on the type of service a family asks for and the associated items selected. For example, caskets can range from $1,000 to more than $10,000, and the average costs for a full service funeral are just under $5,000, says Doug Manners, funeral director at Donohue Funeral Home in London, Ont. If you add those prices together and include taxes, the cost of a funeral can be considerable.

From 2008 to 2011, London provided funding for between 170 and 190 individual funerals each year, says Jackie Van Ryswyk, manager of intake and discretionary benefits.

The amount of money provided for funerals varies between municipalities, but in London $3,605, excluding taxes, is granted to eligible families, in addition to the cost of the burial or cremation, which can cost another $1,000. The $3,605 covers the removal of the body and the basic care of the deceased, a two-hour visitation, a service – with the possibility of a member of the clergy – a newspaper notice and other documentation, says Van Ryswyk.

Manners has been a licensed funeral director for 20 years. For as long as he has been in that job, municipalities have provided assistance for people who cannot afford a funeral. Manners estimates Donohue Funeral Home served about eight or 12 families through the funeral program offered by discretionary benefits last year.

“With any family we don’t make any assumptions or considerations from a financial standpoint,” says Manners. “Our first priority is looking after that family.”

Before a person can receive funding, discretionary benefits must deduce that the person is eligible. “We look at assets and bank accounts. We need to verify that type of information,” says Van Ryswyk. “If they’re receiving assistance we know that, and they may be approved right over the phone.”

Once a person is approved, discretionary benefits provides a funeral home of the family’s choice with a funeral order number. After this stage, the family is left to decide how the funeral will be carried out. “We provide the funeral home with the order number and then the bill will come to us,” says Van Ryswyk.

Eagle, who now lives in Barrie, remembers there being a showdown between the city and the funeral homes in her last year on council in 2010.  She says the funeral homes sent a joint letter demanding an increase in the amount of money the city offered for assisted funerals. “They were basically demanding that there be an increase or they were going to refuse to do funerals on behalf of people in the community.”

This past February, the city raised the amount of funding it will provide to the current $3,605. Before then the city paid up to $2,270, a price that was set in 2004, according to numbers provided by John Donohue, manager of Donohue Funeral Home. Before then the amount was $1,823, a price that had been around since 1992.

Van Ryswyk believes providing funeral assistance is an important aspect of discretionary benefits. “We deal with a very vulnerable population that doesn’t have a lot of resources. So I think it’s important that we provide that service for families like that in their time of need.”

“People need closure, they need the opportunity to deal with death,” adds Eagle, who has been a minister in the United Church for 30 years. “Most of us know that a funeral is not for the person that died; it’s for the family.”

Manners believes it’s the duty of the funeral home to look after each family no matter their individual financial situations. He says he knows of many times when the funeral home would provide a service that was not part of what was provided through social assistance, including additional time for visitation or transportation.

Doug Manners believes that every family in need should be treated the same. (Photo courtesy of Donohue Funeral Home).

In broaching the topic of expenses Manners says experience counts. “You learn a lot about people in spending a bit of time with them,” he says. “People make comments, or they may have a look on their face, or they may ask, ‘you know, how do you want to be paid, or when do we have to pay, or I don’t really know how we can do this.’”

“The last thing I’d want anyone to do is to find themselves in financial hardship to provide a funeral for a member of their family,” he says.

But the discrepancies between the actual cost and government provisions are significant. By providing the exact same level of service for families receiving assistance, the funeral homes operate at what ends up being a financial loss, says Manners.

“Our concern is not the quality of service or the level of service. We’re here always to look after the families that come to ask us for help, regardless of their financial situation and regardless for who is paying,” he says.

The rates and terms of assistance for families who cannot afford to pay for a funeral varies between municipalities. In London, the city does not dictate to families what they are entitled to but offers a base level from which the family can upgrade at their own expense. This differs from the GTA for example, where Manners also worked, where the cities decide what the family gets and does not allow for variation.

When Eagle was still in London, she was at odds with the policy of setting restrictions on what was provided by the city. “Most of our clergy are willing to volunteer to do something. But on the other hand here’s the government expecting that everybody else will pick up the pieces,” she says. “There’s a little bit of thought there, like, what’s in it for the government to make it that undignified for people. It makes it a different funeral than a regular funeral.”

It’s difficult to define just what a dignified funeral is, because it’s all based on the impression or opinion of the individual, says Manners.

In his opinion, it shouldn’t matter whether the family is receiving assistance or is paying $10,000 or more — everyone is entitled to the same treatment.

“What I know for certain is the way that things are done here, regardless of the type of funeral someone is having, our approach to provide that dignity is the same. So everyone in my mind receives a dignified funeral.”

Echo Boomers: One Good Reason

By Phillip Parsons

A recent study found that eight out of ten people are dissatisfied with their job.  But people still cling to them. Be it the need of money, fear of the unknown, or just simply not to be labeled a quitter. But Daniel Gulati, a business entreprenuer and writer in the Harvard Business Review, believes quitting and career change is an essential part of life. Phillip Parsons got in touch with Gulati to see what stops people from quitting their jobs. For Gulati, all it takes is one good reason….

ECHO BOOMERS: On the Horn

By Billy Courtice

A group of paralegals in Deerfield, Fla. gets fired for wearing orange to work. Could it happen to you? And just what could you do about it?

Western University journalist Billy Courtice gets on the horn to find out.

BELOW: Experts featured on “On the Horn”

April 5th, 2012 Aggregator Update

Aggregator Jenn here!

We just aired our television features to the class for some critiques, and are just making some last minute changes before we air them to the world (AKA here on our blog)! Lisa and I are going to tweak our videos a tad, and then have them up by next week! So stay tuned!

Remember, Lisa’s feature is on successful women making companies profit more, and Jenn’s is on using modern technology to overcome stuttering.

Be excited!

Some upcoming stories

Western journalism TV specializing students Lisa Laventure and Jennifer James are busy working away on their next television feature. The final products are due next Tuesday, so they’ll be up for the world to see come Thursday!

Lisa is working on a story based on a new study revealing companies with women on their board of directors are more profitable. She’s interviewed a MBA student who is excited to become a successful career woman, a UWO professor who’s studying this area, and a woman currently on a board of directors in London, Ont. She’s investigating why women in charge make companies more profitable, and looking how this could be a step forward for women and equal employment rights.

Jenn is working on a feature about a new Google+ hangout self-help group for stutterers, called Stutter Social. She interviewed a couple people who stutter, as well as some speech pathologists, and the creator of the group.

Check back next Thursday when these stories will be posted!

Upcoming silent witness feature

Chloe Berge has made a lot of progress with her print feature that will be available here in the next couple of weeks. She has written a draft and will be doing one-on-one editing with feature editor Mark Kearney next week.

For her story, Chloe interviewed Jennifer Morse, who sponsored a silent witness in honor of her mother. A silent witness monument is a free standing, life sized red wooden silhouette with the name of a woman whose life ended at the hands of her abusive partner.

Chloe also interviewed Jennifer Stanley, the college coordinator for the silent witness project in the US, and Megan Walker, the executive director of the London Abused Women’s Shelter who started the first Ontario chapter of the project. Check back soon for the full story.

Silent Witness Monument

Silent Witness Monument

Education streeters with St. Patrick’s revelers

Why attend university when the job rate for new graduates is at an all-time low? On St. Patrick’s Day, Susie HillI spoke to some Western students about their futures. Check out A green education!

Community gardens grow

By Arden Dier
adier@uwo.ca

With so much extra space in the parking lot behind Hillside Church on Commissioners Road East, Margaret Goodyear decided to put it to good use.

She looked at the blank stretch of asphalt and envisioned a community garden. Today, her vision has become a reality with several new plots built on the property.

The raised plots, rented to local residents, are designed for people to come together and learn about gardening as they grow their own produce. Hillside joins more than 20 community gardens already in the city.

“My husband and I just moved to London from Hamilton, and Hamilton has a huge boom in community gardening,” said Goodyear, wife of Hillside’s pastor Pernell Goodyear. “When I came here, I kind of looked around and they didn’t really have any community gardens within walking distance to this area.”

“I just thought, we have the space and if we can find the funding, we can do it.”

The church applied for and received two grants, for a total of about $5,000: the Fido-Evergreen Quick Start grant, and funding from the TD Friends of the Environment Foundation. Both are designed to help charitable organizations create greener, healthier communities.

With half of its funding, Hillside began work on the plots, which are set up in wooden frames atop the asphalt. Four double plots and eight single plots are in place so far, including one that’s wheelchair accessible.

Lori Vejvoda and her daughters Mira (partly hidden) and Grace kneel with Margaret Goodyear at Hillside’s plots. (Photo by Arden Dier)

The other half of the project’s funding has gone toward building materials for a shed – also wheelchair accessible – which will hold tools and other equipment and is being constructed by H.B. Beal Secondary School’s technology program.

“We wanted to incorporate other parts of the community,” said Goodyear. “They’ll be putting that in place at the beginning of June.”

Lori Vejvoda, a church elder at Hillside, supports the garden project and says she and her family will be helping out during the season.

“My husband has been helping build the (plot) boxes,” she said. “He’s a bit of an environmentalist.”

The plots are already two-thirds full, rented for $30 per season, $10 of which is refundable by helping with spring and fall cleanups. One bed has been set aside for the church’s pantry which acts like a food bank.

“If people access the food from the food pantry, they can come out during the growing season and get fresh fruits and vegetables, because that’s such a need with people who use food pantries,” said Goodyear. “You don’t get fresh fruits and vegetables.”

Maureen Temme, an avid gardener in the city, posted the news about Hillside to Community Gardens London, a website supporting food gardens.

Temme, who refers to her London property as “a garden with a house on top,” grows everything from squash and pears, to a variety of herbs. She says that in addition to being good places to meet and greet, community gardens can significantly reduce grocery bills.

“I spend $3 on a package of squash seeds and last year I harvested 22 squash. You can see that I’ve saved some money there and the last of that squash we ate around the middle of February,” she said.

Though she’s happy to see the number of community gardens growing in London, Temme thinks there could be a lot more.

“At a low-income housing development or even a townhouse complex, there’s very often open space and it’s only just planted with grass. That land doesn’t get used,” she said.

“I don’t think people are used to looking at land as potential food-producing gardens. I’m anticipating more people will in the coming years.”

Goodyear hopes that with a warm response this season, Hillside Church will be able to build more plots in the future.

For now, the focus is on constructing a compost box for church members and neighbours later this spring. The organic matter it decomposes will be used to fertilize the plant beds.

“We want to make this as friendly for the environment as possible,” Goodyear said.