New organization reaches out through the arts


 As music fills the room, dancers are moving gracefully to the beat, spinning and swaying to the melody. Across the hallway, teenage boys are drawing and painting on paper. Downstairs, guitars are strummed loudly and erratically. Listening closely, a blues melody begins to appear.

These youth are all part of Freedom Harbour Foundation, a Christian organization that just launched in the northwest community of Bowness.

Chelsea Thoms, co-founder of the foundation said the organization “allows youth to experience God in unique and free ways.” Thoms said that outside of the organization, many of these teenagers come from poverty-stricken areas.

“We want this to be a place where they feel safe. The point of this organization is to help youth in lower-income areas,” Thoms said, “We’re here to help them break down some of the walls they’ve built from having rough lifestyles.”

Thoms and her husband Karl Snyder said they have spent the last six months planning and creating the organization. Currently, there are four volunteers that lead different sections. The sections include art, guitar and dance. Thoms wanted dance to be a strong element, after picking it up herself years ago.


“Dance is so healing. And that’s what we want for the youth, we want to bring healing through creativity.” One boy expresses himself by drawing different designs on a piece of paper.
Photo by: Dayla Brown

Thoms said she first developed an interest for youth while in California for a conference, where she met a 14-year-old girl searching for help. Coming back into Calgary, Thoms decided that she would put her energy into helping those who can’t help themselves.

“I really had this passion for social justice my whole life and helping high-risk youth is important to me.”

Snyder said, “We want a place where all youth feel welcome. But our main focus is high-risk. These are youth that generally come from low-income families and can very possibly put themselves in risky situations.”

He recalled one time when he met Sudanese youth who weren’t exactly high-risk but had low-income backgrounds.

“Some of the boys were opening up about how they had moved while Sudan was in the middle of genocide,” he said.

Snyder said he received training on how to deal with youth that are suicide-prone and hopes to start training sessions for the other leaders. During the event night, he led some of the boys in guitar. He said he believes that these boys are at a vital age where they are beginning to develop a sense of who they are.

“It’s important for us to encourage them. The youth need someone who will believe in them, so they can believe in themselves. They’re just starting to form their dreams and what they want to do,” Snyder said. “It’s their formational years and they just need someone to pay attention to them.”


Thom Hoff, a leader at Freedom Harbour, said he shares the same love for youth. He overlooks the arts section, where youth express themselves through painting and drawing. Graeme Long, one of the guitar leaders, teaches one youth how to play guitar.
Photo by: Dayla Brown

“Youth really intrigue me. I didn’t really know what to expect for the night. I’ve been working with youth in camps for several years now, and my experience [at Freedom Harbour] was far different,” Hoff said.

Hoff said that he’s excited to see how Freedom Harbour expands and develops over time.

“It’s a new outreach program and it’s going to be interesting to see it slowly structure itself.”

The first event of the new organization brought only three boys, while the second time there were 10 youth; nine boys and one girl.

Thoms and Snyder said they have spent the previous six-months praying and fundraising for the organization. In February, Thoms and Snyder held a silent auction to kick-start the organization, raising $1,500.

“We’ve registered for charity status, but that will take about a year,” Snyder said, “We applied as a non-profit organization. Once we grow bigger, we’ll need more money, so we’ll do more fundraising.”

“We’re hoping that Freedom Harbour grows, and eventually expands past Calgary,” Thoms said.

Freedom Harbour meets every Saturday at 7 p.m. at the Bowood Centre in Bowness.

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