‘My future came from CAANs’

A cup of coffee helped Barry Redcalf turn his life around for a second time. Redcalf started using alcohol and drugs to cope with a failed relationship that left him homeless. Ten years earlier, he had overcome addictions and problems with the law.

Barry Redcalf outside the Turning Point building where the Central Alberta Aids Network Society is located in Red Deer.

Barry Redcalf outside the Turning Point building where the Central Alberta Aids Network Society is located in Red Deer.

This is the second story in a series of three on people who have benefited from the United Way.

A cup of coffee helped Barry Redcalf turn his life around for a second time.

Redcalf started using alcohol and drugs to cope with a failed relationship that left him homeless. Ten years earlier, he had overcome addictions and problems with the law.

He had stopped caring about life and started alienating himself from others. Then a friend asked Redcalf to join him for a coffee at the Central Alberta AIDS Network Society — one of the 32 organizations the United Way of Central Alberta raises funds for through its annual campaign.

“I’m really glad he took me to CAANS for coffee. I’d probably be dead right now if I was going the way I was going at the time,” the 41-year-old said recently. “He changed my life, that guy. . . . He knew somebody there could help me.”

Redcalf said he immediately felt welcomed by the non-judgmental staff who offered to help in any way.

They listened to Redcalf talk about his problems, provided positive reassurance, motivated him to stop using drugs and alcohol, helped him find his own place and provided some janitorial work until Redcalf was able to land his current job as an oil pressure tester.

Now clean and sober, Redcalf said his renewed sense of life started over that first cup of coffee at CAANS three years ago.

“My future came from (CAANS).”

Redcalf still goes into the organization’s office at 4611 50th Ave. nearly every day and helped the charity with its Night Reach program by handing out safety kits. Each kit includes harm reduction supplies — like clean needles — that promote safer inhalation and injection to prevent the transmission of HIV and hepatitis C.

Redcalf was also selected by his peers to be the ambassador of Next Step, a support group that CAANS offers for people who were or are drug users.

“I am so grateful for them for being there for me,” he said of the staff at CAANS. “I wish there was some way I could give them a really big thank you. The only way I can thank them is by showing them that what they taught me, I’m still doing it in a positive way.”

Staff and volunteers strive to foster change by being approachable and positive, said CAANS executive director Jennifer Vanderschaeghe.

“Being non-judgmental and being accessible helps us do our work, but it’s also the right thing to do,” she said.

“We want to be there for when they decide to make a change in their life.”

The organization largely focuses on preventing the spread of HIV by working with high-risk populations, including drug users, men who have sex with men, aboriginals and individuals who have moved from countries where the disease is endemic.

Most of the people who visit the office are street involved and CAANS staff talk to patrons about drug use an average of 9,000 times a year, Vanderschaeghe said.

The United Way is CAANS’ third largest donor, following only the provincial and federal governments.

Money raised through the annual campaign pays for the equivalent of one position, which is split between two CAANS programs, Vanderschaeghe said.

“The United Way does an amazing job of identifying where there’s need, funding that need and supporting the agencies to follow through with that work,” she said.

“It makes our community healthier and safer and stronger.”

The campaign goal this year is to raise $1,960,000 for 32 community agencies that help one in three Central Albertans.

Jennifer Forrest, United Way resource development director, said updated donation numbers are not expected until early next month, but the campaign has been going well.

“We have been busier than we ever have and I think that’s a good sign.”

ptrotter@bprda.wpengine.com

— copyright Red Deer Advocate