Q and A with MaryAnne Connor of NightShift

Not everyone has a place to call home. After a cold winter’s night in 2004, MaryAnne Connor asked a local pastor to offer the church as a refuge for the homeless – and he handed her the keys. Now, Connor is the founder and president of NightShift Street Ministries, a volunteer-based organization offering counselling, drop-in programs, referral services, shelter and “consistent loving contact.”

NextHome: How would you describe NightShift’s main mission?

MaryAnne Connor: The heart of NightShift Street Ministries is reaching out to people living on the street or in extreme poverty with love, hope and purpose. Our mission statement is to “love unconditionally and care for the holistic needs of people, helping each other find hope and purpose through outreach, counselling and education, 365 days a year.” Through nightly meal outreach and compassionate connection, we are humbled to call the people we serve on the street our friends. These friends are struggling with heartbreaking issues such as addiction, mental illness, loneliness, post-traumatic stress and hopelessness.

NH: What inspired the name “NightShift”?

MC: The name “NightShift” comes from, of course, the evening hours in which we do our outreach. But more importantly, it refers to the “shift” we feel in our hearts when we begin to serve those in need in our communities. I have certainly felt the “shift,” along with thousands of others who have served so faithfully in this ministry.

NH: Which communities does NightShift reach?

MC: NightShift serves Surrey’s inner city neighbourhood of Whalley, and recently we have expanded our outreach to a few nights a week in downtown Langley. Both cities have seen a dramatic rise in homelessness over the last few years.

NH: NightShift invites members of the building industry to “build meaningful change” through the Home Builders Care program. What kinds of businesses do you work with and in what ways does this program support the mission to end homelessness in our community?

MC: With my background in real estate sales and marketing, I wondered if people in the homebuilding industry might be interested in helping people without homes. I could not have foreseen the amazing love and support that has poured in from the local home building industry! In 2013, we started our Home Builders Care (HBC) program to celebrate and encourage the support of the building community. HBC provides ways for companies to get involved at a level of commitment that suits them.

In our first year, Lloyd Hughes of Park Ridge Homes helped us navigate and meet strict city bylaws to serve our outreach meals while his son Brad, also from Park Ridge Homes, provided space for us to outfit our food trailer. Park Ridge Homes continues to be a faithful sponsor of our events. Brad sits on the NightShift Board of Directors, and helps us with maintenance and upgrades to our facilities.

Our first-ever matching pledge donation of $100,000 came from Vesta Properties’ Kent Sillars, who served as a board member for years, and continues to support the ministry. Other generous sponsors and donors include Tim Bontkes of Infinity Properties, Jeff Bontkes (also a board member) of Benchmark Homes, and Justin Bontkes of Caliber Projects.

Clay Construction and Centra Windows (whose founder and CEO John Tilstra is also a board member) have gathered employee teams to come out and lead our outreaches a few times a month. These teams purchase, cook and serve the meals to our friends on the street – with kindness and compassion.

The Greater Vancouver Home Builders’ Association has adopted us as one of their official charities, and they also partner with us to co-host our Builders’ Breakfast Forum a few times a year.

One of the most popular ways for our HBC members to get involved is by having our professional food truck, “Taste of Heaven,” come and feed their crews, teams and guests with its signature gourmet sausages in a bun. Ranjit and Jas Rai of Raicon have been enthusiastic supporters of Taste of Heaven (along with being generous sponsors of our fundraising events). This is not only fun (and delicious) for crews and staff – it also raises awareness and funds for our ministry. Other companies who have had the food truck out include Country Lumber, Infinity Properties, Momentum Real Estate Group, Lanstone Homes (another faithful sponsor!), Caliber Projects, Exclusive Floors, Duradek, Vesta Properties and more!

Our homebuilding friends have become vital to the continuing outreach and operations of our ministry. Gathering employees to serve those in need is a great way to instill unity, compassion and teamwork among staff. Take a look at our Home Builders Care webpage to see the full list of our HBC supporters, and have a look at ways you can get involved, too.

NH: The vision for NightShift inspired you to make a career change. In what other ways have you seen it inspire our community?

MC: One of the inspiring aspects to this kind of mission is that while we are reaching out to love unconditionally those in dire need and walking with them as they journey to find hope and purpose, we find that our own hearts find healing, hope and purpose, too. It’s one of the precious and miraculous gifts that comes from serving others.

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