Briercrest alumnus uses canoe building to reach at-risk youth

Posted: March 25, 2013

When it comes to succeeding in life, Briercrest alumnus Spurgeon Root hopes none of the at-risk youth he works with will miss the boat.

“We build canoes,” he said explaining the outreach he has at Healing Hearts Ministries in Regina. “The beauty in canoes is it’s really labour intensive, but the actual skill level – as long as you’ve got one person who can supervise it – just about anybody could build a canoe. The layout process is you’re just gluing the strips together, strip after strip until it’s done. Anybody who can put glue on a line and punch a staple can build a canoe.”

For Root, the slow methodical process of gluing the strips on the canoes provides a way for him to also bond well with the young men who are building the boat with him.

“I really like the friendship part,” Danny Moar, one of the youth who is helping Root with his latest canoe said. “He’s teaching us that there’s more to life than going to jail and selling drugs. There’s another part of life that I’d never seen.”

“For me it’s about the positive feedback for a lot of us ex-gang members and drug dealers,” Aaron Strongarm, another team member said. “It helps us to realize that we can help kids stay away from the path that we went down.”

Finding ways to effectively reach the at-risk youth in Regina hasn’t always been easy for Root. He jokes about the acrostic of his job title at Healing Hearts: Director of Outreach Ministries.

“One of my guys delightedly informed me it spelled doom,” he said with a smile. “He said, ‘If you want to do more education, some day you can be Dr. Doom.’”

The Briercrest seminary graduate started at Healing Hearts over a decade ago as a youth minister. He found that standard youth events weren’t always a good fit for some youth with difficult backgrounds.

“When you’ve been dealing drugs for three years already, and have multiple girlfriends, playing (youth group games) I’m sure would seem really, really weird,” Root exclaimed. “It’s always been a struggle. How do we connect with youth? In a lot of ways the teen years is where you start losing kids. It’s the same in any church.”

Activities like canoe building provide Root with an important connecting point with some kids that might not naturally walk into a regular church event. Many of Root’s canoe builders are First Nations youth as well as ex-gang members. The Healing Hearts pastor hopes the outreach will give these young men some valuable business experience.

“We want to get to the point where we can start paying some of these guys to work and come and build a boat,” Root explained. “We’re working with (a web developer) to set us up taking orders so you could look up our website and say, ‘Okay, I want an 18-foot Laker’ and we’ll custom build (the canoe) . . . and bring employment to these guys.”

Root hopes the work experience will help bring some of these young men out of gangs and drug dealing.

“It’s another option,” Root said. “People say, ‘Well, quit (the gang) and go get a job.’ That leap is far greater than most people realize. So this is meant to be a bridge.”

In the meantime the Regina pastor is patient in providing a healing place for these young men as long as they need it.

“It’s very open ended,” he said. “There’s no start date. There’s no finish date. You can be here as long as you want.”