Celebrating 40 years

By Joel Charron

If Father John Ware were alive today, he would be a happy man.

In 1971, Father John Ware along with Dr. Laurie Cartie saw a need for area youth to have a place to call their own.

“When John Ware first came to Amherstburg he noticed that there was nothing for the youth to do,” said Dr. Cartie. “Most of the youth hung out at the local pool hall.  He wanted to provide them with something that would be a good experience for them.”

Father Ware and Dr. Cartie gathered 15 teenagers together and asked them what they would be interested in doing.  The response was to have a place that could provide them with a forum to discuss the issues and challenges that they were faced with. A place where teens would always be accepted for who they were and grateful for what they had to offer.

Father Ware asked the teenagers if he were to start a group on a regular basis who they would want to join the program. The group of 15 told Father Ware they wanted it to be open to everyone. Father Ware even let the group choose the name.

Thus the House of Shalom was born.

“They liked the House of Shalom because it meant a house of peace and friendship, which was what they were interested in doing,” said Dr. Cartie

Father Ware started meeting with the 15 teenagers on a regular basis. After a year of working with the group, Father Ware visited all the Grade 8 classes in the area to invite them to form the first Grade 9 group at the House of Shalom. The 15 teenagers that started the program with him served as peer leaders.

“Each year he would add another Grade 9 group until he had all of the high school from grades 9 through 12 involved,” said Dr. Cartie.

Forty years later the House of Shalom still honours the legacy set forth by Father Ware by respecting and appreciating their greatest resource, the youth.

The House of Shalom is open to all teenagers. The groups are split up according to grade level. Grade 9’s and 11’s meet on Tuesday nights, Grade 10’s and 12’s meet on Wednesday nights and Grade 8’s on Friday night. In the meetings the groups discuss a wide variety of issues that teenagers are faced with today.

In the 1980’s Father Ware stepped down as the executive director of the House of Shalom due to health issues. In June 1987, Larry Allen was appointed to take on position, after he had spent a few years serving as the youth group’s Program Coordinator.  Allen continued to run the youth group the way his predecessor would have liked, while adding his own touch to the program.

“The House made you more alive for life,” said Allen. “It just gave you a spirit of enjoyment and seeing the young people having fun and learning about themselves and each other. I felt like I was contributing something good back to the community.”

After 12 years of running the House of Shalom, Allen stepped down and handed the reigns over to John Sutton, who joined the House as a Grade 9 member in 1977. After going through the House as a member, Sutton was asked to be a head leader in 1983. Seven years later Sutton was the Program Director before taking over for Allen as Executive Director in June 1999.

“The House of Shalom is serving a need for the community, as well as helping to building the community,” said Sutton.

Sutton said there have been a number of prominent people who has been graduates of the House of Shalom, one of which includes former MP Susan Whelan.

“The House is about taking young men and women and giving them the opportunity to learn a little about themselves, how to give back to the community and how to be the leaders of tomorrow.”

Sutton passed the Executive director torch to another former member, Sarah Van Grinsven. Van Grinsven was unavailable for comment.

The House of Shalom members contribute much more than simply attend their weekly meetings. They are active volunteers in their community. During the Wine Fest, the House of Shalom members work tirelessly around the clock, cleaning up after the guests have long gone, to ensure that the Fort Malden grounds are spotless for the following day’s festivities.

They also coordinate the annual Easter Egg Hunt as well as help with the Mason’s Annual Haunted House during the Halloween season.

Holly Kirk-Mclean, who was appointed Activities Director two years ago said the House of Shalom is unlike any place she has ever seen.

“Here, everybody is put on the same ground level,” she said. “Here, everybody expects the best rather then assumes the worst. You are accepted for who you are not in spite of who you are.”

The House of Shalom focuses on nurturing one’s skill set, which helps today’s youth to better understand who they are and where they fit in their environment.

“The House has always tried to stay ahead of the curve and always be mindful of what’s going on out in the world that affects the youth at that moment. In order to make sure that they are pro-active and not reactive,” said Kirk-Mclean.

Kirk-Mclean and current Program Coordinator Michelle Laframboise ensures that the spirit in which the House was started remains in tact while addressing the issues of today.

A common misconception about the House of Shalom is that it is a religious youth group. Although, a Catholic priest originally started it, this is not the case.

“People still have the mistaken identity of the House as a place for only Catholic kids,” said Sutton. “Father Ware was very adaptable. He knew it had to be bigger than that. That’s why he opened it up to all kids, regardless of their race, colour, creed and religious views.”

Many teenagers have passed through the doors of the House of Shalom over its 40 years of operation and all will say, it’s tough to describe what goes on in the youth group. It’s something that you have to experience yourself.

“At the House, everyone listens. There is no judgment, no lies, and no rumours. It’s a family, and what happens in life, your family has your back, no matter what,” said Grade 11 member Jolene Perron. “I used to have this overwhelming fear of being alone, but House helped me get over that. I know that no matter where I am in life, I will never be alone because the leaders, the members – they’re always there.”

With 40 years under the House of Shalom’s belt, organizers of the youth group are focusing on the next 40 years.

Dr. Curtie, Allen, Sutton and Van Grinsven still all remain with the House of Shalom in some capacity and have no intentions on leaving. Kirk-Mclean and Laframboise are constantly moving the House of Shalom forward. They are pushing its member to become a viable voice in the community and helping groom the future leaders of tomorrow.

“Something very beautiful happens there,” said Dr. Curtie. “Something very, very human, something that touches people hearts and makes a difference.”

One response to “Celebrating 40 years”

  1. Cody Lucier says:

    I use to go to the house of shalom and much like it says in the article, Its a family. Without this place I would not be who I am today for it changed me for the better and for others to watch me evolve into who I am was phonominal. But to feel my self evolve into who I am is an unforgetable experience. Thank you for everything you’ve done for me as well as the community I’m looking forward to seeing the 80 year article.