Growing up equal is a very powerful thing

If you look at the track record of Major Roy Randell, it’s like a Canadian geography lesson. While he spent his youth in a Newfoundland outport and then in Corner Brook, Roy took his officers training in St John’s and moved to Ontario where he met his wife, Charlene, who also grew up in Newfoundland.

Funny, but all the career moves have taken the Randells back to Newfoundland only once, to Twillingate on the northwest coast.

The family spent five years in Montreal and 16 in Ontario including Ottawa, Huntsville, Toronto, Belleville, Campbellford, Ridgetown and Barrie. And the Randell’s four kids don’t share a common birthplace because of this… Paul was born on the saltwater of Twillingate; Lisa was born in Montreal and so was Mark. Amy was born in Ottawa.

So when the Randell kids and their parents go back to Corner Brook in a couple of weeks, it’s to attend a family reunion and to celebrate their connectedness with what is clearly Canada’s most generous natured citizens.

Roy is philosophical about the notorious generosity of Newfoundlanders. “There were 800 people in Bayview, the tiny outport where I grew up. We mostly walked everywhere… nobody needed a car because there were no roads. Because we walked we got to know our neighbours. Everybody helped each other when there were things to be done.” One person might be pretty good at plumbing and would take that skill into a community project. People borrowed and loaned back and forth. If somebody needed a little extra money because they were going to hospital in St. John’s, well, everybody dug deeper to help out. Who knows? It could be them next time. Talk about a distinct society!

So Roy sees his life in a Newfoundland outport as the best preparation in the world for building equality.

“When there’s a great difference in incomes among a community, there’s a more defined difference and the poor are alienated from the wealthy.

“We get walled off from people in our hearts.”

Well, there are no walls for Roy, or Charlene. And that’s a good thing since Major Roy Randell is Executive Director for the Mission Centre and services offered by the Salvation Army in the Barrie area.

Born into a Salvation Army family, Roy’s parents and grandparents left their outports, lured to Corner Brook by the Bowaters Paper Mills of Britain. That meant jobs. Roy’s sisters and brother are all involved in ‘the Army’ in one way or another.

Roy has been in Barrie for three years now and sees first hand the division between those with plenty and those who never have enough. The Mission Centre in downtown Barrie has become a very real part of Roy and Charlene’s family. Because they deal daily with people who struggle, Roy celebrates the beauty of their many volunteers who come from every kind of background.

“Barrie is one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever lived,” he says, citing the deep blue of Kempenfelt Bay waters and the miles of public park. As we talked he was getting ready for the third year effort of the Sally Ann in the Dragon Boat Races.

So, what does this quiet team of people really do? What kind of ‘army’ are they? Well, no weapons, at least not weapons of mass destruction. Their weapons are their hearts and their belief in the right to dignity for everybody.

The Mission Centre offers two meals a day to anyone who needs them. Working with other agencies, they offer some groceries and they receive and give referrals to services like Barrie Alliance to Prevent Homelessness, Elizabeth Fry, David Busby Centre, Salvation Army Correctional Justice System, Hope Acres Rehab Centre, Youth Haven, Out of the Cold, Christmas Cheer. All tolled, the Mission Centre and associated work has a $1 million budget each year.

Roy’s energies go into family services, summer camp, hostel service, and food. The band that plays at the citadel and the chapel offered at the downtown Mission Centre are all part and parcel of the “Army” in Barrie.

People find them by word of mouth, and through our thrift stores as well as by the downtown visibility.

The Salvation Army also process family tracing services to try and unite families who want to locate lost loved ones… they do this nationally and internationally! The Centre in Barrie provides private rooms for people who work as day labourers and are trying to get ahead. It provides a phone number and address, so essential to finding a job. Temp agencies call Roy frequently looking for people who want to work.

The Mission also offers dorm rooms for people who have no where to go. Roy is in steady contact during the winter months, every night checking in to see who needs a bed and who can go where.

“These days I take my bowl of soup with the people at lunchtime. I get to know them. We, as a society, like to segregate people and set them apart because it relieves our stress about the differences between us.

“But as a volunteer you find out that the other person is just like we are, with a story to tell and a desire to belong. Rather than looking at people who have given up, I see people who have survived plenty!” says Roy. He says there are lots of downtown businesses who make help out. The owner of the Naked Steak comes in every Sunday night with ingredients and makes a fabulous soup. The Pita Place sends over food. Downtown businesses make a place for a volunteer standing beside a Christmas Kettle. The Running Room helped with the Santa’s Shuffle fundraiser. Restaurants and people holding functions bring in food.

And Roy applauds the Barrie media for consistently telling the Salvation Army story, with honesty and respect.

These are just a few of the reasons that Roy is in love with Barrie. I assumed that with 30 years of service in with the Army, he and Charlene would by eyeing Corner Brook for their retirement years.

“Nope!” says Roy, his island lilt still audible. “We want to retire right here!”

Thanks, Roy.