Diversity is Meaningless Without Inclusion

Dr. John Rook

I really love my work. Actually, I’ve loved every job I’ve ever had. From working in factories, to being a Seminary professor, to working as the CEO of the Salvation Army’s Social Services, I have always been able to find a way to be passionate about what I do. I’m often conscious of my dad’s words: “Even if you are cleaning toilets, be the best toilet cleaner they’ve ever had!” Currently I am blessed to work for The Mustard Seed where our Mission Statement reads, “To build hope and wellbeing for vulnerable citizens through Jesus’ love.” I often like to reframe it by saying, “Our product is hope. Our business is relationships.”

The Mustard Seed is a faith-based organization that works with people suffering from the effects of poverty, homelessness, mental health issues and addiction. However, we never focus on the problems but on the solutions. In our large 370 bed shelter, we have an integrated services model where people not only get a bed and a great meal, but they can talk with one of our advocates if they need ID, a housing worker if they want housing, an employment counselor if they are ready to look for work, and a chaplain if they have spiritual concerns. We like to say that our staff are not shelter workers, but “exit strategists.”

Calgary Mustard Seed’s affordable housing complex

Our housing is very unique. We have over 300 apartment units in Calgary and Edmonton. Our largest building in Calgary is a beautiful 12 storey building that is friendly and welcoming. It is might be the only one of its kind in Canada. It houses over 200 formerly homeless people and each one is assigned a Resident Engagement Worker. In the building we have an employment team and they run The Seed Academy, which is a one-week preparatory school for people seeking employment. It is open to residents from all of our buildings as well as our shelter guests. There are many other client focussed programs such as the Community Kitchen, a knitting club, and a worship group, to name a few.

The main floor is where the building’s uniqueness is most apparent. We have a Wellness Centre that has medical, chiropractic, OT, PT, massage, chaplaincy, addictions support, a psychologist and advocates who work directly with residents and community. Beside the Wellness Centre is a brand new pharmacy. It is a one-stop wellness experience for people which we know achieves our mission.

The Mustard Seed has a diversity/inclusion statement that states, in part:
Discrimination is contrary to our mission and so we do not and shall not discriminate based on race, colour, religion (creed), gender, gender expression, sexual orientation, age, national origin (ancestry), disability, marital status or military status in any of its activities, operations or the delivery of services. Any person who comes to The Mustard Seed will receive assistance based solely on their need and our capacity to help. We uphold the dignity of all people, believing all are equal in the eyes of God, and firmly oppose the mistreatment of any person.

At The Mustard Seed, we do our utmost to break down barriers and to stop the stigmatization of our most vulnerable people. What I love about the work we do is that we are touched by people across the entire spectrum. Our goal is also our opportunity: our neighbour is anyone, anywhere, who needs us (Luke 10: 25-37). We also follow a modified Golden Rule: Do unto others as you would have others do unto others. A form of inclusion and paying it forward!

I happen to be a white male who grew up in poverty. Not relational poverty, only economic poverty. So I didn’t suffer abuse, have no childhood trauma to deal with (except once my brother ate half of my Popsicle that I was saving in the freezer!), my parents didn’t drink or smoke, loved their church, their neighbourhood, and their children. I went to an all-white school, an all-white church, played on an all-white baseball team. I never met a person of colour, didn’t know what a gay person was, knew a few Catholics but no one from another faith – until as a teenager I discovered these things in books. So why is this important, you might ask? Because I grew up with no stigma around any diverse group or person who was different. So when I started to meet people who were different from me, I had no opinion about them, no preconceived or learned prejudice. I simply had a child-like curiosity and fascination. I believe that my sheltered childhood, which wasn’t intentional on my parent’s part, means that I didn’t grow up like so many people I see who learn to hate, learn to fear and learn to label and stigmatize.

What I do know is that my life is richer because I have friends from every possible diverse group! And I know that all of my friends are children of God and precious in God’s sight. I try to leave no room in my heart or mind for hate, fear, or exclusion. As the song says, the world can be taught to sing in perfect harmony. I believe that our arms are wide enough to wrap around all.

John Rook

About John Rook

Dr. John Rook is a passionate servant leader who champions the belief that poverty can be solved. With a doctorate from Oxford University, he has spent years in academia and on the front lines to gain both a theoretical and practical understanding of the issues facing people in poverty. He has served as CEO of the Salvation Army’s Community Services, as well as President & CEO of the Calgary Homeless Foundation. Dr. Rook is also the founding director of the Canadian Poverty Institute at Ambrose University in Calgary. He is currently Managing Director (Calgary) & Director of Strategic Initiatives for the Mustard Seed, an organization with a long history of transforming lives with unconditional love, a haven for those in need which delivers basic services, housing and employment programs.
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