MIDDLETON - Sweis Ubels is optimistic. He sees hope for struggling families even when things aren’t looking so good.
He sees community support as key to turning lives around and putting people on a positive path. Bring people together and they help each other. Let people know they’re not alone and they see hope. Ubels watches it happen every Wednesday night at Emmanuel Congregational Christian Church in Middleton where he’s pastor.
He and his many congregants and volunteers with the group Families With a Future gather in the kitchen Wednesday afternoons to prepare a meal and then open the doors at 6 p.m. for as many as 50 or 60 people -- families. They don’t have to belong to the church. They don’t even have to be Christian.
“The original motto of the program way back when was ‘Working Together Towards Healing, Wholeness, and Hope’ and that really hasn’t changed,” said Ubels. “That’s really at the core, so what you see is people coming together when somebody is grieving. You see people looking after each other actually -- when there’s a financial crunch and there is no food in the fridge kind of stuff -- people actually stepping up and helping each other out.”
Paula Outhouse of Lawrencetown is the program’s coordinator. She doesn’t see social media or the Internet as substitutes for having real-life friends -- and guidance and support from people you can actually see and touch. Hug even.
“I think all those things you can use to your advantage,” she said in reference to smartphones, computers, and going online. “You can look things up and read them but it still doesn’t replace the contact of person-to-person, like grouping and networking with other individuals. Hearing that another mom is having the same problem as you are. Sort of tackling everyday problems together and ‘what can we do?’”
“You see the participants in touch with each other between Wednesday evening sessions just becoming support to each other” said Ubels. “There’s no (better) way to see a person grow and heal than by seeing them actually beginning to help other people. That just takes it to a whole new level. It really is ‘families with a future’ as far as I’m concerned.”
“It’s very exciting to have a group of people that come together and become a family,” said Outhouse. “We refer to ourselves as our Wednesday night family. It’s exciting, and you see people opening up. You see changes in children. You see people supporting each other and leaning on each other and networking where they need to be. And not feeling so alone that ‘I’m the only one with this problem,’ or ‘I’m the only one feeling this way.’”
They talk about a lot of things after they eat that big communal meal and the kids have gone off to classes of their own. The teens join the Middleton Baptist Church Youth Group just across the street while the adults talk back at Emmanuel.
Both Ubels and Outhouse see recurring themes, but they agree the top three topics on the minds of most of their families are the same.
“For the moms it’s not to be feeling overwhelmed and alone, and that they need to know they need to take care of themselves as well,” said Outhouse. “Mom always goes to the back burner, kind of thing. So we talk about that quite a bit – self care.”
The second most common concern is money.
“Finances is always something, especially when winter was coming and having to provide winter clothing for the children and for themselves,” she said. “Some parents went without winter jackets so that their child could have one.”
“Relationships,” said Ubels. “How to manage relationships, especially when relationships aren’t going well. How do you manage that? It’s a big one. It shows up most weeks in one way or another. We’re trying to give some guidance to that. It can be everything from how you respond to somebody online – like ‘maybe there would have been a better way to do that.’ So you try to guide people through that.”
Tears and Laughter
Emotions can run high and the sessions can go from tears to laughter.
“It probably doesn’t every week,” said Ubels. “But many weeks it (does). Basically the adult class starts with everybody just kind of sharing what we call sweet and sour – like what’s going well in life, what’s not going well. And in that you’ll soon find out certain themes that crop up. During that time there’s usually one of them that has been going through some really rough times and ends up sharing everything from grieving and not knowing what to do with it, and finding real community to share that with.”
Both Ubels and Outhouse see the program working.
“It should work anywhere,” Ubels said. “There’s a need for it everywhere. You go to any community you’ll find families struggling. I think one of the things, changes that have taken place over the last so many years is we’ve become such a transient culture, especially here in the Maritimes with many people moving out west. But it happens everywhere. So we’re a transient culture, so our immediate families aren’t necessarily around, even if they’re functioning families, they’re not necessarily around to fill that physical role. To be there. I think that’s where the church has an incredible opportunity to step in and fill that need. To be family. To be light. To be of help. To be the support.”
Ubels agrees with Outhouse about the online world. It’s no substitute for the real thing.
“Why would they need this (the group) when we have all that information, and all that community online,” Ubels said. “They blow a gasket online, or it’s all the good stuff they portray online, so it’s kind of an artificial community. This is where the rubber hits the road. This is raw. This is where the tears will come and where the shoulders are to cry on. It’s just really beautiful to see how these parents even come together -- and as leaders we just sit by and watch them do it. It’s beautiful.”
The group may not be able to solve every problem, Ubels admits, but they can point people in the right direction – to counselors for example.
“We have a whole list of stuff for different organizations in our community that are available to help in different areas. We’ve got all that available,” said Ubels. “We’re not trying to fix it by ourselves. We very much recognize we are only doing a part of this thing. It takes a village to raise a child. It takes a community to help families thrive. We’re just part of that community.”
Neither Ubels or Outhouse see the program ending.
“My hunch is that it will keep going as long as we stay sharp enough to adapt to the needs that are out there,” said Ubels. “The danger of course is ‘this is what we’ve always done so this is how we do it.’ Culture changes or the needs change and all of a sudden the families in our community kind of look at us like ‘it’s not really relevant to me.’ It’s up to us as leaders to be intentional about reading our culture. What are the needs we need to address? We have meetings about that twice a year with all the volunteers and say ‘okay, what do we need to address?”
The program runs in two 12-week sessions: September to mid December, and February to Mid May.
For information contact:
Go To: www.emmanuelchurch.ca