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October 20, 2008

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New chapter opens for Luke 15 House

By Laureen McMahon

A new executive director is now at the helm of Luke 15 House which, for over a decade, has offered prison parolees a safe and welcoming home environment to begin the difficult process of rebuilding their lives and making a safe transition back into society.

Laureen McMahon / The B.C. Catholic
Clients at Luke 15 House enjoy the fall sunshine with the outreach's new executive director, Nigel Vincent (second from right). Most men stay about four months in the Surrey home, which provides counselling programs and vocational help to get back on track along with Bible studies and spiritual direction.

Nigel Vincent, who was hired last June to run the home, which today shelters 22 ex-cons, told The B.C. Catholic that although the outreach has undergone many upheavals in recent years, its foundational Christian philosophy, the belief that only God can heal the wounds that have led people down the pathway of destruction through crime and addiction, has never changed.

Inspired by Christ's words in Luke's Gospel, "I was in prison and you visited Me," the first Luke 15 House opened in Burnaby with a volunteer staff. Their dedication over many years helped them survive tough times, including a fire, which led to a search for a new location, and then another forced move when Burnaby City Council ruled that the new facility contravened residential bylaws.

Two years ago, through a generous legacy from the estate of the late Father Gordon McKinnon, whose prison ministry in the Vancouver Archdiocese made a tremendous difference in the lives of countless inmates, Luke 15 House obtained a mortgage to purchase a vacated retirement home near Scott Road in Surrey, a spacious and well-located site while has proved ideal, said Vincent.

However, in the brief four months he has occupied his new position, he has come to realize that a number of pressing problems will have to be solved if Luke 15 House is to continue into the future.

More people, Vincent said, are needed right away to serve on the Luke 15 board of directors. Individuals willing to bring their experience in law, business, and the health fields and a compassionate heart for a ministry to parolees will be warmly welcomed. Volunteers are also needed to join the teams which help with the daily running of the home, including driving duties, accompanying the men to appointments, answering phones, etc.

Overriding everything, however, is the urgent need for more financial help to cover Luke 15's fixed expenses such as the mortgage and costs of providing services for residents who need addictions counselling and other programs to heal from personal issues.

Although Vincent is a newcomer to Luke 15 House, he is no stranger to working with people caught up in the vicious cycles of substance abuse.

Before moving to Canada from India in 2005 he was associated for a dozen years with St. Vincent de Paul in Bombay, where he worked with street kids during his off-hours from the corporate world. After visiting family in Victoria, the chartered accountant and former event-planning organizer decided to immigrate. He also came to the conclusion that to get a good job in the Canadian business sector he should earn a Canadian business degree.

While enrolled in business school at the University of Victoria he became increasingly drawn to working with people with addictions, and it began to occur to him that perhaps this was really where God wanted him.

"I was raised in a devout Catholic family and was introduced to a wonderful spiritual adviser who helped me through a discernment process. While earning a Masters of Business degree certainly would be useful whatever field I determined on, I began to be open to different possibilities, and spent some time on weekends helping the executive director at Covenant House in Vancouver with their policy and service restructuring."

Vincent's brother-in-law who served on the Luke 15 House board of directors introduced him to the ministry, and he began to be increasingly drawn to the unique ministry to parolees after he graduated with an MBA from UVIC.

"Talking to the men and hearing their heart-rending stories was so affecting. Soon I was coming over every weekend to volunteer," he said. "As my involvement increased, I was asked to take on an advisory role, which has now grown into being appointed executive director. It is exhausting work, but I am so thrilled with many of the changes which have already taken place. At each point God has shown us how to proceed."

Vincent's days and many of his evenings are filled with applying for grants and speaking to groups he hopes will get on board to help Luke 15 House. He also has focussed on building relationships with the appeal courts and welfare officers. and has a roster of 60 lawyers with whom he is frequently in contact.

"I never fax, I phone, and they now know I mean what I say. When someone is going to be released we go there personally to pick him up," said Vincent. "We are very hands-on with all our clients, which is essential to keeping our clients feeling secure and safe."

As a privately-funded outreach, Luke 15 House, he said, is always looking for financial donations.

"While the bulk of our support comes from Catholic parishes and individuals we also get a lot of help from other Christian denominations, and of course our client base is made up of people of all faiths or those who have no faith at all, although everyone here is required to attend Bible study.

"Our ministry is based on teaching the Christian way of life, but my fervent hope is that the men will see how our staff and volunteers live their lives in a Christian way, and that our example will make the deepest impression."

The Luke 15 programs now in place, said Vincent, offer counselling on stress and anger management, relationships, child abuse, values, and problem-solving, which cover the bulk of the issues that prevent parolees from building a normal and productive life.

"There have been many positive changes. I have been able to develop volunteer teams who look after different aspects of the running of the house. We have run a pilot project with students who have training in addictions from Rhodes Wellness College in Vancouver which has been very successful. Many of the men who come here have no families left to go back to, and so we focus on helping them move on with their lives.

"That is why we stress God so much in their recovery. His unconditional love can really make the difference in their healing.

"We tell them that healing is not only about abstaining from drugs or alcohol. While that is a wonderful object, helping them peel away the layers of pain which led to their dysfunction in the first place is our goal.

"We tell each one of them, `You are God's pride of creation,' even those who have no concept of God, and we tell them that God is their source of healing from pain.

"People here have a passion for Luke 15 House. God has provided a beautiful home that the men who come here really enjoy. I see their eyes open wide when they realize that they are welcome if they are willing to take advantage of the opportunity. We are taking care of homelessness, addiction, and crime. We get calls night and day from lawyers and judges asking us to take in these men. Without us, I don't know where else they can go."

More information is available at 604-930-4884 and

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