Where are you from?
I grew up in Winnipeg, the holy land, and yes, I’m very happy about the Grey Cup. I went to graduate school at Wilfrid Laurier and McMaster. I took religious studies and I had my sights set on becoming a professor. My dad was a prof and I grew up at the University of Manitoba. Most of my memories of family social time were with people from the university. That was my life and I thought that would be my life. I came here originally to teach. I taught for two years in sabbatical replacements. After those contracts ended, I went back to Winnipeg to live in my parents’ basement. I was applying for academic jobs and trying to finish my PhD dissertation. When I was back in Winnipeg, I got a phone call from Austin Fennell, the minister at Southminster, asking me if I would consider applying for a chaplaincy they were starting. It was a three-year contract and I thought it would be a good thing to do for three years while I looked for an academic job. I came back January 1 of 1995 and it never occurred to me that, after three years, I would stay, but I’m so glad I did!
What do you do here?
We fit under Student Services and that’s probably the majority of what I do. I also respond to faculty or staff who have pastoral needs — illness, death in the family or family issues. I think it’s important that people know that they’re valued, that they’re worthy of somebody paying attention to them. I have lots of programs, too. One of them is the Campus Care Parcels. The Ecumenical Campus Ministry (the chaplaincy is funded by the Anglican, Evangelical Lutheran, United and Presbyterian churches) usually hires students to help and it’s a great way to mentor them. We do the Cade Community Lectures every January and February, which is a series of four lectures co-sponsored by the President’s Office, the chaplaincy and the public library.
One of the big projects we’ve been working on for the last four years and are now wrapping up is the refugee project. It connected people within the campus, it connected campus to the three churches we worked with and a group of doctors at the hospital. We formed the Lethbridge Resettlement Collaboration. We’ve brought five families to the city and we also ended up doing all sorts of things to support the government-sponsored refugees because we had so many resources. The students who started in that project then got the vision for the World University Service of Canada club with Dr. Anne Dymond’s support. Now they’ve brought three students to the University. The resettlement group is now shifting its support and attention to the WUSC club. So much came out of that. I met a government-sponsored family and fell in love with them and now I have grandkids — my grand-Syrians — and that’s just the best thing ever. I’ve said this to people: ‘You know you don’t have to have kids to have grandkids, and however you get them, they’re your grandkids.’
Together with WUSC, the chaplaincy started a program called Granny School. There aren’t many grannies helping with it; it’s mostly University students. We have about 25 students who come and help newcomer kids with reading and doing their homework Friday afternoons here on campus.
Another new program we’re starting is the Student Pantry Project. We got a Lutheran grant to start little pantries this fall. Facilities is building four pantries for us and we’ve got four locations that are all really accessible but discreetly tucked around corners so students can go get food without it being really obvious. Starting in January, faculty, staff and students can put non-perishable sealed foods in them.
The Kerber Friendship Program is set to launch in January. It’s to address the fact that one of the leading reasons why students drop out of university is they’re lonely. The U of L found this when they surveyed students. It’s a program to connect students with local families for a home-cooked meal once a month and a phone call once a week.
What’s the best part of your job?
I get invited into people’s lives. I get to be a part of the things they’re thinking about and going through and that’s an incredible privilege. Sometimes, it’s really hard because I’m invited into their sorrows and struggles. But it’s also weddings and talking through ideas. All of it is holy ground and I get to be part of that all the time. That’s an amazing thing.
What’s one thing most people don’t know about you?
My first job when I was in university was making the beads for the eyes and beaks for macramé owls and my second job was gluing the dots on fuzzy dice that you hang from the rearview mirror.