Dans la Rue marks 25 years of work with street kids, even without Pops at the wheel
Published Tuesday, December 10, 2013 4:53PM EST
Last Updated Tuesday, December 10, 2013 7:44PM EST
MONTREAL -- Twenty-five years ago, Father Emmett Johns borrowed $10,000 from the bank, bought a used motorhome, and started reaching out to street kids in an unconventional way.
Johns – better known as Pops – began a legacy helping Montreal’s homeless youth through Dans La Rue.
The charity was considered a bit unusual at the time, said Peter Cullen, president of the Dans la Rue board of directors.
“He went to parts of Montreal where people didn't generally go at night, but he knew the kids were there, and that's what he wanted to do,” Cullen said. “He started that process of communication, getting them into the van so he could talk with them.”
In addition to serving hotdogs and a cup of hot chocolate or coffee, the priest known as Pops would hand out condoms.
“Part of Father Johns’s makeup, part of his character, is that he's a bit of a rebel,” said Cullen.
At 85 years old, Pops is now retiredand his health is declining, so he's counting on the next generation of Dans la Rue workers to continue his work.
“Friendship, empathy, respect - I respect every youth that comes in here on the same level that I respect the executive director of the place. It's really important that everybody be on the same level,” said staff member Alex Berthelot.
Pops began the organization in 1988 with only two volunteers working with him; now the organization has a staff of 65 and more than 100 volunteers.
Dans la Rue is now also more than a simple van making the rounds -- the organization also runs the Chez Pops Day Centre and an emergency shelter called The Bunker.
“We don't push anything on anybody. When people are ready, we're here. We're ready to help, we're ready to give them the tools they need so they can go on and be autonomous and live on their own,” said Berthelot.
That’s certainly true of 36-year-old Karine, one of Dans la Rue’s success stories. She first came to the organization as a 13-year-old runaway, and there, she was helped to her get her life on track. Now a happy mother of three, Karine described Pops as “an extraordinary” person, adding that she'll never forget how he treated her.
“He was like a father, he was so nice,” she said. “It was like you were at home.”
Dans la Rue launched its annual charity drive Tuesday. As part of its annual fundraising campaign, Dans La Rue is hoping to raise $4 million in order to run its programs for the entire year. For more information or to donate, click here.