John Dowds’s office in City Hall is an outpost in Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood.
On the door is a quotation from Fred Rogers, the celebrated childhood educator and host of a popular children’s show that ran for three decades on public television.
“When I was a boy,” the sign reads, “and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.”
Dowds and his team are helpers.
Dowds, the Lead Chaplain and Senior Mental Health Consultant at the City of Edmonton, spends his time exclusively in supporting City employees and their families. He has extensive experience helping and guiding those going through crisis, stress and grief.
Scary COVID-19 things in the news are his daily servings these days.
Dowds recently sent out an internal message to City of Edmonton staff, in which he addressed the vital importance of helpers in our lives. Traditional first responders, yes, public health officials, yes, front-line City workers, yes.
But also the emotional first responders in our private lives.
“At the best of times, we need people around us to support us, and to help us, and to look after us and to be there for us,” said Dowds.
“And at the more critical times in our lives, the reminder of the value of that support network—the people that we can turn to, that we can express our fear, our anxiety, where we can be vulnerable, where we can be open, where we can be authentic, where we don’t have to hide anything, and that they will receive us as we, and that they will love us and they allow us to be who we are—that’s a gift. My goodness, that’s a gift.”
“It’s a gift that we all, hopefully, have, and if we don’t have, then it’s important that we look for people in our lives who will be those helpers, who will be those supports, and who will look after us in empathetic and non-judgmental ways.”
Dowds said the gifts in our lives have real names. He made that point in a memorable way after being shown a piece of litter recently found in downtown Edmonton.
Names of people (and Schitt’s Creek 🙂 )
Dowds was asked to imagine it was a COVID-19 shopping list. And to suggest what, in the spirit of Mister Rogers, he might add to the list of equipment and foodstuffs.
“Names,” said Dowds.
“I could say things like connection and engagement, and so forth. But names. Names of people on that list that we will intentionally connect with.”
It is a lesson that hits home.
Thanks for reading.
(And, if you’re watching TV these physically distanced days, Dowds has two suggestions from close to home: “Kim’s Convenience and Schitt’s Creek! Comic relief in the midst of what sometimes feels like no relief.”)
Editor’s note: Because of his time commitments, Chaplain Dowds is, unfortunately, not able to do news media interviews.