Read on to hear the story of Via Wings. It’s a story of transformed lives, new Christian commitments and a much valued resource in the heart of a local community.
On a summer Sunday in Dromore Cathedral in July 2009 the parish looked at the challenge of Hebrews 13.2 to offer hospitality to strangers. It was clear that there were families in Dromore experiencing hardship due to unemployment, isolation and the strain of being single parent families – it was time to act.
That Sunday, under the banner of ‘Dare 2 Care,’ they invited worshippers to spend the money they usually gave to church funds to buy goods from shops which could later be distributed. The response was overwhelming – a room full of donations worth well in excess of the regular Sunday church income.
At the same time, a vision to reach out to the women in the town was stirring in the heart of one of the parishioners, Gail Redmond.
“I had been inspired by the Besom Project in Willowfield and the Coleraine Vineyard Church Patchwork Project,’ said Gail. ‘I was also beginning to be challenged by my lack of compassion for my auntie Vivien who, as a result of very difficult family circumstances, had become an alcoholic and tragically died.’
When, one day, Gail had the chance to ask a struggling young woman, “If someone in Dromore was going to do something for you, what could we do that was practical?” she received this reply:
”Give me a place where I could go and be with other women who are like me. I can’t afford to go out and have coffee with my friends.”
Gail agreed with the rector, Dean Stephen Lowry, that such a meeting place should be on neutral ground and when 3 Iveagh Terrace, Dromore, became available, ‘The House of Hope’ was born. It’s best described as a home from home and a resource centre; a place to chat, develop contacts and receive help to get back into education or employment. Crucially, it’s a place where people can deal with issues in confidence. The project employs a part–time Centre Manager, Sue Johnston, and can call on 33 volunteers.
Sue says that their courses run on two levels. ‘We’re bringing people together with problems that they thought only they were experiencing. Women have had the courage to speak for the first time of their difficulties and that makes such a huge difference to their confidence. The work we do also brings enormous benefits to our volunteers, many of whom say they receive more than they give.
‘We’re also thrilled that some of the women we’ve helped now want to become volunteers and give something back.’
The whole concept is called VIA WINGS, named for the way in which an eagle’s wings afford cover to its young and is overseen by a board of management. Dare 2 Care continues to provide needs for those in crisis, such as groceries, non perishables, electricity and home heating oil. About once a month they request goods from a suggested list of items which are collected, sorted and distributed through the House of Hope. They work in conjunction with Social Services, Community Groups and Churches to distribute confidentially within the community.
The Cathedral supports the work through the many members of the parish who serve on the board, through a quarterly gift to the work from their Outreach Envelopes, through practical office help when required, and through providing access to church facilities for fund raising etc.
‘The project, entirely self–funded, is still in its infancy and we are aware of the many needs we are still unable to meet,’ says Stephen Lowry. ‘But it’s a wonderful example of the word of God in action. One service and the teaching that came with it in July 2009 has led to transformed lives, Christian commitments and a much valued resource in the heart of our local community.’
Sue has been transformed by the project. She is Gail’s cousin and it was her mother, Vivien, whose life fell so dramatically apart along with that of her sister. She has come to faith and finds her work in the House of Hope the most fulfilling she has ever done. Her sister, Anita, is a recovering alcoholic and also volunteers for a day in the project and runs the weekly AA meeting. It’s a real story of redemption.
“My attitude to the people in our community who are struggling used to be, ‘Sort yourself out’ and I was ambitious only for myself. Now I’m experiencing a true richness in life and I think there are many people like me out there who are beginning to realise that charity begins a lot closer to home.”