Butchart lights bring holiday cheer to street community

Every December, Rev. Allen Tysick brings 50 members of his street family to Butchart Gardens thanks to free tickets.

Rev. Allen Tysick plays the part of big kid on a brass pony

When he was first invited to Butchart Gardens, Terry wasn’t sure it sounded like much fun.

“I didn’t know what is was going to be like,” he said, his swollen hands and dishevelled hair hinting at the rough nights he’s spent on Victoria streets.

His reluctance, however, was no match for Rev. Allen Tysick’s persistence. After a few gentle invites, Tysick simply said ‘Be there.”

It worked. On Monday night, Terry – who didn’t volunteer his last name – boarded a bus for the field trip.

He and Tysick met for the first time about a month ago. Terry woke up early one morning outside a 7-Eleven to see Tysick’s face peering down at him.

“I said, ‘Who the hell are you?’” Terry said. During the cold, rainy night, someone had stolen his sleeping bag and urinated on him.

“Al saved my life,” he said.

Terry refused to go to hospital, so Tysick loaded him in his van and drove him around with the heat on until he warmed up. When a leg infection forced Terry into hospital days later, Tysick visited him.

It’s what the Dandelion Society is all about.

In 2011, Tysick resigned as executive director of Our Place Society and launched his own grassroots organization. Rather than being tasked with top-level administration, he now works directly with people on the street, helping people by lending an ear, a ride, a coffee, or a referral as needed.

Every December, he brings 50 members of his street family to Butchart Gardens. This is the 10th year the tourist attraction has handed out the complimentary tickets.

“We do many things in the community,” said Butchart Gardens’ spokesperson Graham Bell. Ticket giveaways happen often, but aren’t advertised with a press release, he added.

“To us, it’s about doing these things for people, rather than for the recognition.”

For Tysick, it’s about giving his street family an opportunity they normally wouldn’t get.

At 5 p.m. Monday, Tysick greeted people at a designated downtown corner as they arrived by foot in singles and pairs.

Soon after, an ITT Wilson’s tour bus transported everyone to their destination in Central Saanich – another corporate donation.

For two hours, the group wandered through the Gardens’ Twelve Days of Christmas displays. Dandelion volunteers handed out hot chocolate and cookies before the group boarded the bus for home.

“Three cheers for the bus driver,” called Tysick from the front of the bus. A chorus of Hip Hip Hoorays erupted.

One couple staying in the shelters came along.

“They walked along Butchart Gardens hand in hand,” Tysick said. “It’s something that made their Christmas and they told me that… and it’s stories like that that make me want to pull another one together.”

Terry called the experience beautiful.

This Christmas marks an extra special one for the 51 year old. It will be his first spent outside prison in more than 20 years.

Terry was released May 15 after accumulated sentences equalling 28 years behind bars.

He moved to Victoria and has been on the wait list for housing for the past four months.

“I love Christmas. I always have,” he said. “I hope I don’t spend it on the street.”

Visit hopeliveshere.ca for information about the Dandelion Society.

rholmen@vicnews.com

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