Working in my Community, Part Two

So you’re interested in working in your community…  As you begin, consider the following insights from those involved in community development work.

Before you dig into this session, please ensure you have read part one in this series: Working In My Community; Part One

Part Two Focus: Let’s find our way forward carefully, and make sure we do no harm.


The Oath for Compassionate Service

  1. Listen first.
  2. Never do for another what they can do for themselves.
  3. Limit one-way giving to emergencies; then stop.  (Sustained one-way giving creates a dependency; often diminishing a person’s capacity)
  4. Strive to empower the materially poor through employment, lending and investing, using grants sparingly to reinforce achievements.
  5. Keep your self-interest secondary to the needs of those being served.
  6. Listen closely to those you seek to help
  7. Above all, do no harm.

(Provided by Robert Lupton in Toxic Charity)


DO NO HARM

“Until we embrace our mutual brokenness, our work with low-income people is likely to do far more harm than good.” 

Research from around the world has found that shame – a “poverty of being”- is a major part of the brokenness that low-income people experience in relationship with themselves. …low-income people often feel they are inferior to others.  This can paralyze the poor from taking initiative and from seizing opportunities to improve their situation, thereby locking them into material poverty.

At the same time, the economically rich …also suffer from a poverty of being.  In particular, development practitioner Jayakumar Christian argues that the economically rich often have ‘god-complexes,’ a subtle and unconscious sense of superiority in which they have achieved their wealth through their own efforts.  …the way that we act toward the economically poor often communiicates – albeit unintentionally – that we are superior and they are inferior.  In the process we hurt the poor and ourselves.”

When Helping Hurts, by Steve Corbett and Brian Fikkert


how can i help

Consider these three levels of help we can provide.   


Relief
The urgent and temporary provision of emergency aid to reduce immediate suffering.
Giving a sandwich to someone who is hungry; taking someone in out of the cold, or calling an ambulance for someone injured.

Rehabilitation
Restoring people to the positive elements of their pre-crisis conditions.

Assistance finding housing, or a job and reconnection with their family.

Development
A process of ongoing change that moves all people involved to right relationships to ourselves, to others, to God and to the creation.
Helping someone find a supportive community, belonging, purpose, mentoring, healing from trauma and addictions.

*Warning:  Hurt comes when we apply the wrong intervention.
Example:  Sustained one-way giving (relief work) creates a dependency; often diminishing a person’s capacity.  (points one and three in the oath of compassion.


Most people in North America are capable of participation in the improvement of their lives, so we should always be doing development work.  “Let’s figure this out together.”

To watch for along the way…

  1. Look for systemic issues and then also focus on advocacy. [ie. working (helping yourself) while on social assistance means reduction in benefits.]
  2. The design, implementation and evaluation should be done by all participating.

Here’s a great Edmonton example of community development:

The Riverbend neighbourhood is home to a pocket of affordable housing in a community called Brander Gardens.  A circle of local organizations including the school, churches, the library, the community league, and local sports programs came together to develop an outreach program called Brander Gardens ROCKS! that provides all kinds of different opportunities for the kids and families.

Riverbend United Church has been a strong partner from the beginning, opening up space for programming, and providing volunteers.  Every year, they host a community meal inviting the broad community including some Syrian families.  But rather than just having church volunteers provide lunch for the community, they chose to invite BG Rocks families to participate in every stage.  So these families help plan the meal, do the shopping, and cook the meal with the church’s volunteers.  This shared effort makes for a wonderful and special event that is rewarding for everybody.


BG Rocks families gathering with Riverbend United Church members

 

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Interfaith Habitat Works 2019!

From March 5 – June 5, CRIHI and her partners at Habitat for Humanity invite you to come join us as people of many faiths put boots on the ground together building homes for people.  There is still time and opportunity to get involved, so come join us!


Ways you can get involved:

  • Volunteer on a build or at a ReStore: Volunteers can come out either individually or as a group. Beginners are welcome and all equipment and tools are provided.
  • Feed the volunteers: contributions of lunches or baked goods are welcome.
  • Attend the Kick-off and Wrap-up events

Here is the link to Habitat’s Interfaith page where you can sign up your groups, download posters and information, and find answers to your questions:
http://www.hfh.org/interfaith/  

We also have a promotional video for you to share with your community:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UUA5Vgj2ivY&feature=youtu.be

And a Special Invite to Faith Leaders! 


CRIHI is excited to announce our first ever …

Faith Leaders Work Bee!
May 1, 2019

Habitat work days usually start around 8:30 and go until the later afternoon.  If you as a faith leader are at all able, carve out a day in your schedule to come work on site with leaders from other faith traditions.  A formal invitation will be sent out shortly, but please mark your calendars!

Three Hebrew Words

Shalom

Shalom is a rich word in the Hebrew scriptures. encompassing “universal flourishing, wholeness and delight,” according to Christian Theologian, Cornelius Plantinga Jr.   Shalom is often thought of as the desire of God for all his creation; characterizing both Eden in Genesis, and in the new creation in Revelation.

Chata

Contrasted with shalom, is the Hebrew word for sin.  In Hebrew, the word sin (Chata) literally means “missing the mark; or getting it wrong.”  But more broadly, Plantinga explains sin as any human action that vandalizes shalom; causing harm; breaking relationships; resisting, twisting or distorting something good, doing damage in word or deed.

Chata damages Shalom when…

  • We sin against another person.
    Gossip…  abuse…  neglect…  or even by trying to do good in the wrong way.
  • We sin against creation.
    polluting…   exploiting…   neglecting our responsibilities as stewards and caretakers.
  • We sin against ourselves.
    Accepting lies that fuel either pride or depression.  Losing our freedom to addictions and the pursuit of false hopes.
  • We sin against our Creator.
    denying God’s existence and authority; putting our trust for the future elsewhere, and sinning against others, ourselves, or the creation.

Hesed

The path of restoration and healing relies heavily on hesed; or the practice of covenant love.  It is a love commitment that binds relationships together for the long term, so that no matter what happens the relationship holds together.    In the Bible, God forms several covenants with his people to rescue them, teach them, heal them, and restore Shalom.  By practicing hesed,God shows his commitment to his children; a stubborn love that never gives up.

So too, God wants his children to practice covenant love with each other so that our families and friendships are strong, and our communities are warm and vibrant, where everyone belongs and is cared for.  In relationships built on Hesed, we find ourselves in a circle of secure and committed love where we can put broken pieces back together, and find shalom.

As we work to care for each other in our city, may we too seek God’s vision of Shalom for each other, reject actions that knowingly or unknowingly cause harm to another, and couch every work of hope and healing in the context of loving relationship.


By Pastor Mike Van Boom, Christian Reformed Church

Working In My Community; Part One

So you’re interested in working in your community…    As you begin, consider the following insights from those involved in community development work.


Look before you leap!  What do you see?

“Imagine that my neighbours only saw me by the the empty half of my glass.  He’s the old guy with heart problems…   How would they treat me then?” – John McKnight


Here’s a true story

 

Not so long ago, in a city not unlike our own, there was a church who wanted to find a way to give back to their community.  So they did some driving around in a few neighbourhoods where there was a lot of poverty.  After a while, they found an area where they saw a lot of young families with kids, but no place for the kids to play.  But there was a big empty lot there.  They called up the city and discovered that this piece of property was actually zoned as a public park, but no one had built it.

So they did a fundraiser, purchased the materials, loaded up the trucks in the church parking lot, and went out with a crew of volunteers.  After a few hours, they completed the task,and invited the neighbours for a celebratory BBQ.  Gradually two circles formed; one of neighbours and one of the church volunteers.  Eventually, a few of the church volunteers went over to talk to the neighbours and asked what they thought of the playground.

The neighbours answered honestly.  “Actually we’re a little discouraged about this.  You see we had our own plans to build a playground here.  This empty lot…  We were the ones who got it zoned as a playground.  But you never came to talk to us to see what we wanted or what we thought.”


The point in telling a story like this is not to heap abuse on the efforts of well-meaning volunteers; it’s to get us thinking about unintentional consequences, and about what a better approach might look like.  So consider these questions:

  1. When this church community looked at this neighbourhood, what did they see?  Did they see it by the full half or the empty half of the glass?
  2. What was their relationship with the community like throughout the process?
  3. Was there any harm done unintentionally to this local community?
  4. What might they have done differently that would have made this a very positive example?

Consider this chart that provides a helpful framework.   It asks us to consider how we do things as parents, churches, governments, or other institutions.  We hope it will help you discover how to do the work of loving our neighbour and our community in a way that nurtures health and vitality in each other (sharing from the full half of our glass).

How should we do this..?

Here are a few points to consider when engaging your community:
1. Successful community development is asset-based, internally-focused, and relationship driven.  (Whatever we do, we do it with!)
2. Lasting change comes from within the community.
3. Engaging people’s skills is a priority.  (work with local assets; the full half of the glass)

“to be effective community-builders, faith congregations need to function as both ‘faith communities,’and place-based communities.” 

  • As Faith communities, they should understand and lift up the gifts and talents of its members.
  • As Place-based communities, they should play a role alongside other entities within their specific neighbourhood, discovering and engaging assets in the local community.

What can this look like?  Consider this true (slightly better) example.


Another church community wanted to get involved in their community and get to know their neighbours.  So every Sunday morning, they did a March for Jesus in the blocks surrounding their church.  They put a Ghetto blaster on a stroller (old school!), and picked up garbage or cleaned up Graffiti as they went.  Over time, they began to meet and have conversations with their neighours.  Some neighbours were inspired to fix broken windows and clean up their yards.  Eventually, the neighbours shared that they had difficulty getting rid of larger junk.  So the church set up a dumpster on their property to help local neighbours clear out their garbage.

More to come…

There is much more to consider on this, but we hope to continue this series on community development in the Neighbourly over the course of the next few months.


Do you have a story or an example to share as to help us as we learn together?  Please send it our way!  Email: Mike@interfaithhousing.ca


Key stories and examples in this reflection were featured in a January workshop hosted at Southpointe Community Church called “Helping without Harming” by Diaconal Ministries Canada and World Renew. 

Housing Highlights from 2018!

It is time to count our blessings!  We have seen some encouraging movements this past year.  Let’s take note together and give thanks!

From the community update shared by Homeward Trust on National Housing Day, November 28, 2018 at the Royal Alberta Museum.

As the above summary report suggests: One of the most pressing frontline needs continues to be for more Permanent Supportive Housing (PSH).

PSH works much like Seniors Assisted Living facilities to provide more intensive and longer term care and supports to help those with numerous and complex barriers or challenges.  Thankfully, we are seeing some progress on that front with the promise of much more!


The picture above is of Balwin Place in Edmonton’s Northeast; one of Edmonton’s newest PSH facilities (Homeward Trust and George Spady Society); home to 25 new residents.

This past month, CRIHI was also able to visit Elizabeth House (E4C); which will be a supportive home and community for an additional 20 residents; historically a communal home to Anglican clergy in Edmonton’s Alberta Avenue community.

Here are a few pictures we took inside, including a bedroom, the kitchen where staff and residents will together prepare meals, and the chapel or space for spiritual reflection:

elizabeth kitchenelizabeth bedelizabeth chapel


Do we have more on the way?  Yes!

The City of Edmonton is preparing to designate four city sites in Edmonton for Permanent Supportive Housing.  The locations of those plots are still being determined, but they are moving forward.  The city of Edmonton recently approved significant investments in affordable housing, as we detailed in our November issue of the Neighbourly.

The Province of Alberta has also made significant commitments and investments both here in Edmonton and across the province.  They created the first Provincial Affordable Housing Strategy.  The strategy prioritizes people and focuses on their success and well-being. The government is standing by its commitment of $1.2 billion toward the development of 4,100 new or regenerated housing units across the province.

On November 9, the Province announced a $3 million investment in a new Veterans Service Centre and transitional housing project in north Edmonton. The project will help link veterans to a range of services, including transitional housing, employment and training services and crisis supports.

Below is a list of affordable housing projects which have been announced in the Edmonton area, that are recipients of Provincial funding:

ACTION ITEM!
There is so much yet to be done, but we really do have much to be excited about and grateful for.  Please take a moment this month to contact your MLA, your MP, and your City councillor.  Tell them how important an affordable home is to everyone, and thank them for some of the good work being done to ensure people have access to affordable housing!
And just a little more good news…
We are also pleased to see some good stories come forward on the community hospitality front; such as the following example from the Beverly Community in Edmonton’s Northeast:

Unravelling an Unwelcome

 

This past month, in October 2018 we witnessed a very negative letter from an anonymous person in St. Albert to a family of Indigenous neighbours. These words showed up at this family’s door causing enormous hurt and pain, and prompting widespread condemnation across the whole Edmonton Area.

st. albert letter

 

Let’s call it ‘an unwelcome.’


A welcome communicates warmth and openness, hospitality and grace.
An unwelcome is cold and closed, inhospitable and full of judgment.  

Discussions around this dynamic are frequently discussed in CRIHI engagements.  Sometimes our entry to the discussion is intentional, as we discuss hospitality or neighbouring, or to share an experience of being unwelcome.  Very often it simply finds its way forward in different conversations across the city.

Here are a few shared experiences of being unwelcome that have surfaced recently:

  1. Too athletic to fit with the nerds; too book-smart to fit with the Jocks; facing barriers in both circles.
  2. Reactions based on Identity:  Ie. the barriers of being both White and Catholic and working in the indigenous community; building trust is an uphill battle.
  3. Facing a strong negative reaction when sharing an unpopular perspective in a town hall community meeting.
  4. Family gatherings where you no longer feel you belong.
  5. Newly housed and alone in a community that watches you with suspicion.
  6. Your position as a police officer, or a faith leader, or a city employee makes you the target of people’s frustration, fear, anger and hurt.
  7. Landlords who decline to take on riskier tenants because they have been burned in the past.

Listening to some of these examples, let’s ask ourselves:  Are people who hand out ‘unwelcomes’ bad people?  Sometimes yes, sometimes no.  The reality is that we are all human and subject to human weakness and failings.  An unwelcome often draws it’s strength from roots and experiences of one kind or another.  Some are honest and understandable, some are vicious and cruel, and others may simply be selfish and uncaring.

As Affordable housing in various forms take root in communities around the city, we see many responses with varying degrees of welcome and unwelcome.  Communities usually have questions they want to talk through, and sometimes that process can help resolve fears and worries, and unravel anger and suspicion.  But it does not always do that, and sometimes new tenants will face responses like the letter above; moments of hatred and suspicion that communicate a very strong unwelcome.

One such example took place at a local facility working with people with persistent mental health conditions.  A neighbour burst through the door and loudly accused the tenants there of being a bunch of pedophiles.  Thankfully, there were no tenants in earshot when this happened, but that kind of accusation hurled at vulnerable populations is real, and it is damaging.  But this kind of openly aggressive behavior remains the exception.

The vast majority of unwelcomes are passive and not aggressive.

We simply steer clear of people.  We watch their house or their kids.  We mutter behind closed doors or across the fence with neighbours.  Our smiles are plastic.  And if we are honest with ourselves, this is a battle we all face every day, in our neighbourhood, at school, at work or play.

This is not to say that there is no place for fences or guarding ourselves from potentially harmful situations.  But each situation requires a healthy examination; an unravelling of the unwelcome that is an all-too-easy response for all of us.

Here are a few questions to aid us on that journey:

  1. When I consider engaging with this person/family, what am I afraid of?  (Naming our fears is helpful… even better is to talk these through with someone you trust.)  Be aware that these fears may be rational or irrational, but don’t let them automatically determine your response.
  2. Is there something in my past that feeds this fear?  (This is very possible, and may be part of the reason you are afraid or reluctant to engage.  But challenge yourself with the reality that things could work out very differently this time.)
  3. Do I see the humanity of the other person?  What do I imagine their story to be?  (Challenge: now go talk to them and get the real story if they will share it with you.)
  4. What does your faith require of you?  Does your tradition call you to practice a welcome, even if it means risking yourself?  (Many traditions emphasize exactly that!)
  5. When have I experienced a welcome from someone?  What did it look like?  What did it feel like?  How can I pass that gift along in this situation?

Unravelling the unwelcome in us is not an easy task, and we may battle some very strong resistance.  In my tradition (Christian Reformed), we are instructed to accompany any such work with prayer; seeking God’s help to overcome cold with warmth, despair with hope, fear with faith, and darkness with light, and for protection, courage and strength if that too is required.

The forces that feed an unwelcome are real and powerful.  Let’s fight together for a spirit of welcome to replace the coldness that steals life from our communities.


by Mike Van Boom, Interfaith Network Animator 
Capital Region Interfaith Housing Initiative (CRIHI)

Affordable Housing Bus Tour!

On Thursday morning, September 20, several faith leaders and community partners went together on a tour of six different affordable housing complexes.

The tour was organized in partnership with the Edmonton Coalition on Housing and Homeless (ECOHH).  ECOHH is a broad gathering of service providers and stakeholders in Edmonton working together to promote strong and effective solutions in housing and homelessess.  For the last few years, ECOHH has organized tours for politicians and government administration.  This tour organized with CRIHI for faith and community leaders was the first of its kind, and was very appreciated by those who attended.  To learn more about ECOHH, please visit their website at http://ecohh.ca


First stop, Canora Place (10141 153 Street)

Canora Place is Permanent Supportive Housing, level 1, which means it has staff on site twenty four hours a day, but hosts no permanent supports.  Many of her clients are with Housing First, so they receive support from a mobile team of workers, and access many services off-site.  Canora Place is connected with the Jasper Place Wellness Centre and her network of social enterprises in West Edmonton.
Learn more at: http://www.jpwc.ca

Second Stop:  Jeannette Romaniuk residence for families.  (12304 Fort Road)
Finding an affordable home for a large family is a challenge in Edmonton.  The Romaniuk residences operated by Right at Home Housing Society are 4-unit townhouse project for large families. The townhouses offer 5-bedroom units, a rarity in Edmonton’s affordable housing market. These homes opened in July 2012, in the community of Elmwood Park. Rents currently do not exceed 60% of average market rental rates.

Third Stop:  Pregnancy Pathways
A safe place and a care centre for pregnant mothers living on the street or in crisis.  Many of these moms battle active addictions.  Pregnancy Pathways offers a safe and supportive place for mother and child in the months building up to and following childbirth.  This helps both mother and child get the best possible start.  The building (worth $3M) was donated for use by the program in March of 2018 by Architect Gene Dub.  The program is supported out of the Boyle McCauley Health Centre.  Learn more by visiting their website: http://www.bmhc.net/pregnancy-pathways.html

Fourth Stop:  Sundance Place, Cooperative Housing

Sundance formed as a cooperative housing association in 1978 in Edmonton’s Riverdale Community.  In cooperative housing, members participate in decisions and responding to needs that emerge.  Three projects are governed by Sundance: Sundance Main (59 townhouses including three wheelchair accessible units), Sundance Expansion (three duplexes and one fourplex) & Sundance Place (nine apartments for members 55 and older).  The units above provide home for many of the cooperatives senior residents.

Fifth Stop:  A Youth Housing Group Home.  (Operated by E4C)
A renovated older house in the parkdale community provides home to teens in crisis.  Young people may find themselves homeless for many reasons, often related to conflict in the home.  A team of staff people helps these young people with a bedroom, shared cooking areas, and support connecting with schooling, job training or counselling.

Sixth Stop:  Ambrose Place, Permanent Supportive Housing
Ambrose Place (below) is a level four PSH, which means it has the highest level of support on site for residents.  Food, health care, addictions support, managed alcohol, and even palliative care services (where necessary) are provided on site.  As a facility with an Indigenous focus, Ambrose Place is also able to practice spiritual care as part of a person’s journey of healing.  Facilities like Ambrose Place are proving to be very effective in helping some of Edmonton’s hardest to house, and chronically homeless citizens.

CRIHI would like to offer special thanks to Jeannette Wright (ECOHH, and City of Edmonton) for arranging the bus and lining up the tour for us.  We are also grateful to our partners at ECOHH and to each of the six locations that opened their doors, and sometimes their living rooms so we could see how this form of help is working in our community.

Edmonton Faith Communities Talk Housing – Event report

On September 6, 2018, Edmonton’s Capital Region Interfaith Housing Initiative (CRIHI) welcomed representatives from all three levels of government, and all political parties to discuss how we could respond together to the current shortage of affordable and supportive housing in Edmonton, and across the country.

The turnout from faith communities was strong, as was the participation of political representatives from the three levels of government.  Many participants shared their view that this was a very meaningful and informative gathering.  Here is what we did together:

We heard spokespersons from five different traditions speak to how their communities were impacted by current housing challenges.  (videos will be uploaded as they are completed)

  1. Rev. Deborah Hoekstra (United Church of Canada) – CRIHI co-chair
  2. Rev. Rick Chapman (Anglican Diocese of Edmonton) – CRIHI co-chair
  3. Imam Dr. Amin (Rahma Mosque; Muslim Association of Canada)
  4. Russell Auger (Indigenous spiritual care provider at Ambrose Place)
  5. Rev. Menghisteab Teclemariam (Pastor in the Eretrian community; Multicultural Health Brokers)

Following this, CRIHI spokesperson Mike Van Boom presented on the four critical priorities being forwarded as necessary and meaningful housing solutions.

  1. The Portable Housing Benefit
  2. Permanent Supportive Housing
  3. Mobile Support Workers
  4. A Vision for the Way Ahead

Following a brief coffee break, we spent thirty minutes hearing from people with lived experience at local tables.

CRIHI’s partners from the Mustard Seed, Welcome Home, Ambrose Place, Multicultural Health Brokers and E4C arranged for twelve people at different tables.  This was a very meaningful portion of the event, and highlighted successes, challenges and needs of people trying to find their way.

CRIHI then invited five political representatives to respond on behalf of their party or government.  Videos of their responses are below:

Michael Walters, Edmonton City Council

Randy Boissonault, Liberal Party of Canada (Federal)

Garnett Genuis, Conservative Party of Canada (Federal)

Lori Sigurdson, New Democratic Party (Provincial)

Laila Goodridge, United Conservative Party (Provincial)

A note of thanksgiving!

CRIHI would like to express enormous gratitude to the many partners who helped make this event a great success.  Special thanks to our hosts at Evangel Pentecostal Assembly, who donated their space and the time of their staff.  Our gratitude to the political representatives who joined us to learn, to share their interest and give voice to the perspective of their respective political bodies.  And our gratitude to the several faith communities who donated the food and refreshments that greatly enhanced our time together.

Evangel Front

Evangel Pentecostal Assembly…  very gracious hosts to this gathering!


For an additional writeup of this event, please look at the October 2018 Messenger (Anglican Diocese); the feature is on pages 1,6&7.  The link is here.

the New Monasticism (Christian); Locating our Lives in the Abandoned Places of the Empire

Everything in our society teaches us to move away from suffering, to move out of neighbourhoods where there is high crime, to move away from people who don’t look like us.

But the gospel calls us to something altogether different.  We are to laugh at fear, to lean into suffering, to open ourselves to the stranger.  Advent is the season when we remember how Jesus put on flesh and moved into the neighbourhood.  God getting born in a barn reminds us that God shows up in the most forsaken corners of the earth.

Movements throughout church history have gone to the desert, to the slums, to the most difficult places on earth to follow Jesus.  For some of us that means remaining in difficult neighbourhoods that we were born into even though folks may think we are crazy for not moving out.  For others it means returning to a difficult neighbourhood after heading off to college or job training to acquire skills – choosing to bring those skills back to where we came from to help restore the broken streets.  And for others it may mean relocating our lives from places of so-called privilege to an abandoned place to offer our gifts for God’s kingdom.

Wherever we come from, Jesus teaches us that good can happen where we are, even if real-estate agents and politicians aren’t interested in our neighbourhoods.  Jesus comes from Nazareth, a town from which folks said nothing good could come.  He knew suffering from the moment he entered the world as a baby refugee born in in the middle of a genocide.  Jesus knew poverty and pain until he was tortured and executed on a Roman cross.  The is the Jesus we are called to follow.  With his coming we learn that the most dangerous place for Christians to be is in comfort and safety, detached from the sufferings of others.  Places that are physically safe can be spiritually deadly.

One of the best stories of community in the United States comes from the backwoods of Georgia.  In the 1940s, long before the civil rights movement had begun to question the racial divisions in the South, white folks and black folks came together to start Koinonia Farm – a “demonstration plot”for the kingdom of God, as they called it.  Koinonia survived attacks from the Ku Klux Klan in the ’50s and ’60s, tilling the soil and sowing seeds for God’s movement in the least likely of places.

koinonia farm


From Common Prayer, a Liturgy for Ordinary Radicals, by Claiborne, Wilson-Hartgrove, and OKoro

Religious and spiritual communities working to end homelessness in Edmonton and area

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