It's not in Kansas! And, it has nothing to do with a tornado!
This is a short story on Canada's capital, and what’s happening to the AIDS Committee of Ottawa!
If you thought the AIDS Committee of Ottawa (ACO) was doing a wonderful job offering events ranging from a Bike Clinic, social groups for both women and men, or the movie nights; education & prevention; and support services with it's Living Room filled with the Kitchen and cooking meals together, complimentary therapies, one-to-one support, advocacy and health promotion - or you just want a good ole haircut...you'd be asking, “What other BIG things could ACO be doing?
ACO is acquiring a new home! A new place to hang many hats for Ottawa's community of people living with HIV and allow for service and program delivery to be enhanced. After being at the same location for just over a decade - and celebrating 30 years as an AIDS Service Organization (ASO) - the rainbow of newness has come for those who believed it could happen.
All the dreams that come with any picket-fenced house and a transformed sense of being are very much alive and on the mind's of both Executive Director, Khaled Salam and Board Chair Gord Asmus when I met with them recently in Ottawa.
“The AIDS Bureau ordered us to do a 'Safety Audit' of our current space. One of the recommendations was that we move. Around the same time we did a 'Move Survey' with our participants, staff, members, community partners, etc. People wanted us to move but stay in the same area. To shorten a long story the landlord of a building we originally wanted did not accept our use in the building. Over the last year we visited several potential locations.” - Khaled Salam
On arriving at the site of the new nuilding, leased for five years by ACO with an option for an additional five years, one notices the freshness and the possibilities for the property - and the wonderful location along the Rideau Canal. This will allow for outings such as group walks, cycling or jogging, ice skating in the winter, shared conversations while enjoying the view, and many more exciting opportunities. The property itself will allow for a patio area, outdoor BBQ, a community garden project and parking.
Inside, as Khaled and Gord spoke, I observed the bare walls of the new Board Room and smaller office set aside for the Executive of the Board to work. There will be an office just down the hall for an Executive Director overlooking the canal There will be several rooms slotted for use as quiet spaces to sit and talk with participants without being interrupted, large room for foods to be kept fresh and monitored - one side to use in the Kitchen and the other for use as the Food Bank. A Laundry Room with washer and dryer for participants who do not have daily access to wash their clothing. Every room and space is thought out for the needs of today’s participants at this ASO.
“One day I was driving and passed by some workers putting up a 'For Lease' sign at 19 Main St. I immediately was in touch with our agent and we arranged a tour. It was affordable, the size worked and quite frankly a stand alone building for ACO was not something I had imagined possible.” - Gord Asmus, Board Chair
“There have been several conflicts over the years between participants who access The Living Room and participants who access the Tool Shed and I'm confidant that having two separate entrances on opposite corners of the building will go a long ways toward both of these communities co-existing under the same roof.” - Khaled Salam, Executive Director
A twenty-minute walk away from the new location is the present space at 251 Bank Street. a labyrinth of hallways and doors and expansions which you would not assume to be part of the same organization if it were not for being guided as I was today. Yet the daily task of providing good service is apparent. Smiles everywhere! Focus flourishing! Massage here! Participant Preparation & Cooking in the Living Room's Kitchen for dinner there! Yes, the principles of The Ontario Accord - or GIPA/MIPA - are quite evident within the framework of ACO's mission and are definitely on the minds of everyone.The programs work effectively in this existing space due to do the awe-inspiring effort each and every day. However, in the air there is the sense of relief, bursting for more of this and that in the tightest of corners.
You also feel the patience and pride of each participant, staff and volunteer, as if each were whispering quietly “Thank-you!” to their ED and Board Chair because 'effective' will soon be felt like it were written in large capital letters.
“The entire first floor will become The Living Room which is the “Heart and Souls” of ACO. Also on the first floor will be the Tool Shed, our harm reduction centre, which will have it's own entrance and will be completely separate from the The Living Room.” - Gord Asmus
Just a short walk or drive over one of the many bridges from Central Ottawa sits the new stand-alone building, two levels at the corner of Main Street and Greenfield Avenue. Nearby are two transit stops. It's a simple and understated building. I was impressed. Already you can feel the change and hear the sounds of participants, staff and volunteers accessing or presenting services in a very renewed way. Walking through the several rooms and quite expansive floor-space I could envision the well thought out completed plans as they were expressed to me - and once these added renovations and changes are completed for the areas such as Reception, The Living Room, Kitchen, Food Bank, Laundry, Harm Reduction Room, on and on...
What I enjoyed most of my recent visit with Khaled Salam and Gord Asmus was the passion I saw on both their faces as they took me through the building explaining what will go here and what will work there. It's exactly what is needed for a community which has waited a long time.
“We have held site visits for Participants, Management, Staff, Board and a few others. All the comments have been favourable and this is pre-construction. Tear out of the existing floor is to begin this week. In our current space both the Living Room and the Tool Shed are a bit shabby. In the new space we hope to make them something we can all be proud of.” - Khaled Salam
When you read the ACO's Mission, Vision and Values you feel them fully walking through the agency. No glitter. No facade. Just wonderful positive energy used and motivated towards the same objective. Words like respected, promotion, wellbeing, meaningfulness, realized, engagement and accountability are real and here right now on a day-to-day basis. And I will tell you it's a beautiful thing to witness, feel and be.
Thank-you, gentlemen! It was a truly valued tour I will remember - and I hope to make it to Ottawa for the Grand Opening in December and write Part 2 to this exciting new chapter for ACO. AIDS Committee of Ottawa, you have come full circle - with a committed continued sense of who and what you will be in the years to come - because, there's no place like home!
“It has been a long journey and I'm so proud to have been a part of securing a new home for ACO and I'm confidant that this space will allow us to continue to do the work that we do and will open up new opportunities for us.” - Gord Asmus