Nestled in the heart of Downtown Guelph is an unassuming stone building. Within the walls of this building, however, an organization thrives, thrumming with compassion and a desire for progress.
This is Hope House. A registered charity that was founded on the belief that poverty, food insecurity, inequality, health and community are all interconnected. Their programs and services are designed to support those in need within the community. Their purpose is to offer a hand-up to vulnerable members of our society to achieve improved health and independence.
RLB and Hope House
RLB’s connection to Hope House, either directly or indirectly, has been lengthy. Gord Barr was a partner of the firm for nearly 30 years and has been instrumental in the development of Hope House since its inception. He’s been a board member, mentor, leader, fundraiser and cheerleader since the inception of Hope House in 2011. What inspired Gord’s commitment to helping those in need was instilled in him by his father, Peter Barr and has since grown into fostering a familial legacy.
In 1992 the Barr family experienced an unimaginable loss. The youngest son of Peter and Eilleen Barr, Gord’s youngest brother David Alexander Barr died tragically in a car accident at just 18 years old. In the wake of his death, his parents grappled with the fear that Dave’s contributions to this world, his legacy and his memory would be forgotten.
A Lasting Legacy
Dave’s nickname was Digger. While images of construction equipment may be the first thing to come to mind, it was actually born from his unyielding ability to dig deeper and find more to give. Whether it was on a rink, a court, a field or in the street, Dave was “the glue guy”. He was the person that held everyone together and made them better for knowing him. When Gord speaks of his brother, it is clear to see the void that was left in his absence. The love of a brother and a family is in no small part the reason that Gord felt compelled to continue on in Dave’s generous spirit.
When the time came to officially name the building that Hope House resides within, it was Gord who requested that it be named “The David Barr Memorial Building”. There is a plaque that resides within the building that eloquently explains the history behind the name of the building. From its inscription, you can quickly grasp the magnitude of Dave’s impact on those around him. He is described with all of the positive attributes that any of us could aspire to hold after we ourselves are gone. Generous and warm, with a loving personality. He was thoughtful, honest and lived his life with integrity. In his speech at the naming ceremony, Gord spoke of his brother’s memory and how important the memorial is to their family. The final line of the inscription is likely the most telling as to why he was bestowed with such an incredible honour. The passage reads, “Our parents planted Forget-me-Nots on David’s grave so we believe they would approve of this initiative. In loving memory of a son and brother.”
Continued Collaboration and Support
Gord has spent countless hours over the years mentoring and advising the team at Hope House. Jaya James, Executive Director has said that Gord is a straight shooter who can read between the lines. He has an uncanny ability to translate ideas with clarity and to help develop your skills as a person while simultaneously addressing the task at hand. While Jaya James had ample experience before joining the Hope House team, this was her first management role. She credits Gord for helping her navigate her new responsibilities and for helping her get up to speed much sooner than had she been doing it on her own. Gord also makes time to share his wisdom with many members of the Hope House staff.
In 2021, RLB committed to giving Hope House a legacy gift. This donation was used in part to renovate a meeting room in the upper portion of the building. Previously the space had been used sporadically, however, in the time since the refresh, it has become a hub for many weekly community programs. On Mondays, the RLB Lounge hosts Indigenous Healing Sessions. Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Fridays, the room is used for counselling sessions for community members. Probably most fitting, the lounge is used for Tax Services on Wednesday. When speaking on the Tax Program, Jaya James beamed at the rapid growth that this initiative has seen. At the time of its launch in 2019, the team prepared 118 returns. That number grew to nearly 1000 the following year.
The Many Programs of Hope House
In our conversation with Jaya James, she was excited to share some of the other ways that Hope House works to support our community. Much like many organizations, Hope House has faced new challenges in the wake of the COVID-19 Pandemic. For them, they were suddenly seeing community members out of work for the first time in their lives. Out of the need to help their members get back on their feet they developed their brand new “Ease Into Work” Program. This multifaceted program works with individuals to evaluate their experience and skillset to identify any gaps or barriers they may be faced with. The program would then allow individuals to work within Hope House in a number of capacities to gain skills, coach them on revamping their resumes, pairing them with community partners to complete training or paid work placements to further develop skills. Hope House recognized that assisting individuals in returning to engaging and rewarding work would not be an overnight fix and instead built a comprehensive plan to help them identify and overcome obstacles to find employment and regain their independence and self-worth.
Another facet of Hope House is the revolutionary “Better Food Co” which not only helps supply nutritious meals to the community but also allows the organization to fund a variety of integral supports. Many of the programs offered by Hope House are food related and focus on providing nutritious meals or teaching food literacy. “Better Food Co” involves community volunteers paired with a registered dietician and a chef to provide delicious, healthy single-serving meals that can easily be prepared without the need for a full kitchen. 80% of these meals are sold to the community at an affordable price, allowing them to have access to healthy meals that can be reheated with a microwave or hot plate. The remaining 20% of meals are added to the food market that Hope House runs in order to feed at-risk individuals. The process of prepping the meals is an educational experience for those involved, and the proceeds from sales put funds back into various programs.
More recently, Hope House launched its “Seniors Produce Markets” in a variety of lower-income buildings throughout the city. The goal is to provide residents with access to fresh produce and to encourage social interaction and a sense of community. During COVID, many seniors were impacted socially by the lockdowns and experienced feelings of isolation. This program was developed to meet the need for social interactions of this often-overlooked sector of the population.
Thank You, Hope House
We would like to take this opportunity to thank Hope House for the many years of collaboration and for the unending work they do to make our community better. The programs and supports they offer are numerous and we could never name them all. The work that they do is vital to keeping our community healthy and we are grateful to work with such an inspired organization.
To learn more about Hope House and the programs they offer we invite you to visit their website at www.hopehouseguelph.com.