Ponoka, Alberta resident Richard McKelvie had grand plans to renovate a local church to be used as both a church and community theatre for musicals and arts productions. He hired a contractor to oversee the project, but was in need of people to do the labour. Health concerns made it so that Richard couldn’t physically do the work, so his friend suggested seeking help from offenders (Owîcîyîsîwak, a Cree term meaning “men who help themselves”) at Pê Sâkâstêw Centre, a minimum-security Healing Lodge.
“I needed workers and it seemed like it could make a difference in their lives so I went for it,” he says. “They ended up working with us for about six months and they did really well.”
Four offenders participated in the project by constructing new elevated seating for the church, refinishing pews, painting, staining, and cleaning. One was a talented artist and produced paintings to be displayed inside.
Once the work was completed, a local production of Mary Poppins was set to take place at the church. Richard wanted the offenders to see how their hard work had contributed to the community, so he asked them to be a part of the production. Each one had a job to do throughout the show. They included being stage hands, putting up the set, and operating a pulley system that enabled one of the actors to “fly” across the stage. It was a resounding success.
For Tamara Livingstone, Assistant Warden Management Services at Pê Sâkâstêw, this was a great example of the community and CSC coming together to help offenders gain the skills they need to eventually reintegrate back into the community.
“I’m very proud of the work the offenders did at the church and I’m grateful for the opportunity that Richard and his fellow citizens gave the offenders to give back to the community around them.”