PARTICIPANT PROFILE: Jim Farewell

Jim Farewell has seen more than his share of “curveballs”.

At 17 months, he was placed with a “very strict” foster family. At 15, his hotheaded foster father turned Jim out of the house. A government job Jim held for 17 years was lost to sweeping cutbacks. And a random virus led him to undergo open heart surgery.

“I don’t get down or depressed or feel sorry for myself,” says Jim. “That’s no way to live. Things happen for a reason, and you have to accept it”.

Under a shady tree, across the street from Jim’s home at the YMCA, he talks about tragic turns in his life in a matter-of-fact way. But he is curious about his mother and foster father. What led to his mother’s decision to give him up? Did Jim’s behaviour as a 15-year-old provoke his foster father? Or was it the stress of the man’s job as a mental health worker?

Some day, Jim would like to track down one of the foster father’s sons and get some answers to help him to understand. He’d also like to research the Farewell family tree.

When Jim’s foster father turned him out, he was sent to a nearby town, where he and two other wards of the state lived with a widow. Although he had once shown a flair for math, school didn’t work out, and Jim struck out on his own at 16. He hitchhiked and rode the rails, drifting west, then to Toronto and Montreal. Before long, trouble followed on the heels of poverty and homelessness.

With nowhere to live, no job and no family to call upon, Jim accepted an offer of money and shelter in return for selling drugs. Soon after, he found himself serving a two-year sentence for trafficking.

Jim is immensely grateful to an ex-con who helped him get his life back on track. The man recruited inmates to work in his Gatineau upholstery business and gave them a place to live. It was a stepping stone to a series of jobs including his 17 years with the government. He always enjoyed physical labour, from carrying a heavy mailbag to working in a warehouse.

Jim came to know Centre 507 when he lost his government job and his severance package ran out. A program that found odd jobs for participants led Jim to another career.

A house in the Glebe where he did yard work turned out to be a small seniors’ residence. What began as helping the owner to serve a meal turned into a real job. At the urging of his boss, Jim took a six-month vocational training course and worked as a personal care attendant until his heart surgery in 2003.

Centre 507 remains an important part of Jim’s life. He likes the companionship and camaraderie that he finds at Centre 507. As well, he enjoys cooking classes, “coffee talk” and cribbage night. He’s grateful for all of the services offered, from the use of a fax machine to help in replacing lost ID.

Jim began volunteering at the Centre because he “felt it was time to start giving back”. He started by helping out in the kitchen. Now, he spends one night a week distributing toothbrushes, razors, soap and other hygiene supplies. Last spring, he was elected by fellow participants to serve on the centre’s board of directors.

When it’s time to relax, Jim turns to newspapers, sports books and westerns by Zane Grey and Louis L’Amour. He’s also a fan of late night TV, especially David Letterman, whose humility appeals to Jim. “Life is good for me”, he says. And Centre 507 is clearly one of the reasons why.