Friday December 10, 2010

Healing centre expands with help.

Atlohsa: London developer Shmuel Farhi donated the building for native services.

By Kate Dubinski The London Free Press

The hundreds of people who come to the Atlohsa Native Family Healing Centre to chat with friends, get a warm meal or to look something up on the Internet, do so through a back door.

Until recently, the centre on London’s Richmond St. operated out of a few back rooms in a building that housed a store selling bongs and pot pipes in the front.

No longer.

The head shop is gone and Friday night the Atlohsa Centre will hold a ceremony to officially thank donors and welcome people to the 120-year-old building, located just north of York St.

“The stars and the moon have lined up and we are able to be here and have this building,” said Darlene Ritchie, the executive director of Atlohsa.

“I think what goes around comes around, and after helping so many people we are benefiting from these wonderful gifts.”

Atlohsa is the umbrella group for a number of services for aboriginal people that include transitional housing, a women’s shelter, counselling, training and a drop-in centre.

The word Atlohsa can be loosely translated to “friendship” in English, Ritchie said, and is part of a ceremony that acknowledges that someone’s soul is in trouble and needs help and healing. That ceremony links friends and supporters for life, and will be performed Friday night when London developer Shmuel Farhi is honoured for his donation.

“That man, he’s proven that he cares for the underprivileged people. He shows us a kindness and I can’t say the same for the Stephen Harper government,” Ritchie said.

The building that houses Atlohsa used to be owned by Farhi, who last year offered to donate it to the native group — a cost of about $1.3 million.

Atlohsa put in $2.1 million from a government grant and $160,000 from the city. The healing services now own the entire building.

“We all have fire in our souls, and sometimes that fire is burning low . . . With friendship, the fire grows,” Ritchie said.

Instead of having to trudge through a back alley to access a small meeting space, the massive building will soon be renovated and accessible from the beautiful wooden doors on Richmond St.

Inside, visitors will be greeted at an open reception area and will have access to training programs, up to six computers for resume writing and Internet browsing, employment and literacy resources, an elders and youth meeting room, a catering service where people can do co-op placements and a community store.

Upstairs are 16 condominium units which will soon be rented out as affordable housing to aboriginal men, women and families at risk.