Helping Ottawa’s at-risk and homeless youth through Operation Come Home is a family affair for Eric Bollman
When a friend asked Eric Bollman to spend the night outdoors in the dead of winter for the first time 15 years ago, he thought he could do a nice thing for his buddy and get an amusing radio bit out of it at the same time.
Bollman, then known as “Eric the Intern” at Ottawa classic rock station Chez 106, would often get sent out to attempt crazy feats or attend wacky events and then report on his experiences live on the air.
In the 15 years since he first participated in Operation Come Home’s 24 Hours of Homelessness campaign, Bollman has fully embraced the organization and helping homeless youth in Ottawa, with wife Jennifer Morris and her sons Owen, 19, and Andrew, 24, joining him along the way.
Operation Come Home is an employment, education, and support centre for homeless and at-risk youth ages 16 and up. OCH’s programs focus on what works and what matters to youth, as well as encourages personal growth of everyone as an individual. Its mission is to prevent homeless youths from becoming homeless adults. Among its support programs are substance abuse program to help kids get back on their feet and on the right track.
“They were going to turn it into a comedy piece on the radio of me freezing my butt off,” Bollman says with a laugh now, recalling the first year of what became an annual radio tradition. “But I really found (Operation Come Home) to be incredible, and we met so many of the youth who were actually out there on the street, homeless… I was just so struck by the sense of community among them.”
At the fundraiser for homeless youth, it was the young people who wound up looking out for the participants.
“Their desire to help us out – there were only four of us doing it at the time – they wanted to make sure that we put the snow in the right place and blocked off the wind from the right direction and had the right cardboard set down and all that,” Bollman explains. He’s now been volunteering with Operation Come Home for 15 years, on the board of directors for 10, and now organizes the annual Reality Campaign every February. After Bollman was let go from the radio station last August, the organization immediately brought him on board full time.
According to Lynda Franc, Operation Come Home’s director of development, the 24 Hours campaign – which requires participants to spend the night outdoors – raises a lot of awareness and more than $20,000 every year. She credits Bollman for turning the event into the great success it is today.
“Without Eric’s creativity, recruiting, advocacy and overall support, we wouldn’t be running this campaign at all and certainly not nearly as effectively as we do,” she says. “His family has also helped in major ways, whether it be donations, volunteering or even participating in the event.”
Jennifer Morris raises funds out of the hair salon in their home, and any time Operation Come Home need donations of goods like sleeping bags, she hits the Facebook mom groups to generate support.
“A lot of times, (Eric) comes home with the stories of these kids and what’s happening in their lives, and since we had teenage boys ourselves, now older, we’ve all kind of got that sense of knowing we are so fortunate,” Morris says.
Owen has also helped out for years, up to and including spending freezing nights outdoors with other participants in the 24 Hours campaign. In doing so, he has seen up close the challenges that some young people like him face.
“He came with me to the Operation Come Home Thanksgiving party and he met a young lady at Operation Come Home who he had gone to school with, and that was pretty eye-opening for him,” Bollman explains. “The idea that he knew somebody who ended up needing these services, who had the mental health problems that led her there… that hit him pretty hard.”
Learn more about Operation Come Home at operationcomehome.ca.
Operation Come Home accepts donations of:
- Bottled water
- New underwear (female and males, boxers preferred)
- Running shoes (new or lightly used)
- Baseball hats
- Working landline phones
- Gently used flat screen TVs
- DVD players
- New mops and buckets
- Fans and mobile or window-mounted air conditioners
All monetary donations over $25 are tax deductible