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City Block Party held in spirit of communality

The Helsinki Deaconess Institute (HDI) held a summery festivity at the end of August at the institute’s complex on Alppikatu to celebrate the 150th anniversary of its foundation. The party had a packed programme ranging from theatrical performances to a soup kitchen, a history trail, singsong, and bands.

HDI president Olli Holmström says that the idea of the party was not to stand on ceremony but instead to offer everyone present experiences and involvement.

“That’s why it embraced organisers as well as the visitors and residents, employees and partners.”
The City Block Party highlighted the core conceptual thinking of the HDI’s work: that human dignity is created and strengthened through active agency. The institute’s clients are not only recipients of care, but themselves act and participate in the work. One area of activity is music, and at the party there were five bands perfroming.

“Many of our clients have either had substance abuse or mental health backgrounds, and being in bands give them something enjoyable to do,” says the HDI cultural and sports producer Anssi Pirttineva. “It also creates a sense of purpose: time isn’t spent concentrating on problems, but on – say – writing songs. That way, people’s own voices better come to the fore.”

One of the bands, Gandi, performed steadfastly despite a short power failure.

“It’s fun to play. We’ve practiced once a week, and had quite a lot of gigs. I don’t get nervous but some of us get really nervous at the gigs,” says Gandi’s bassist Mikko Ojala. Ojala attends the HDI for drug replacement therapy. The institute has become an important community for him.

“I know a lot of the workers and here people always say hi. There a friendly feeling between clients and the staff and you can’t always tell who is a client and who is a worker.”

One of the partners at the party was the non-profit organisation Rinnekoti, which provides social and health care services for people with disabilities or chronic disease, and which was established as a part of the HDI 90 years ago.

“There were two young people with disability at our department, who told people about their own experiences and what the life of people with disability is like,” says Taina Rönnqvist, head of communications at Rinnekoti. “Students also dropped by to inquire about work and internships.”

Many people from Rinnekoti’s facilities had also come along to the City Block Party.

“One of them had come in a bed and was not able to communicate. But it was a wonderful moment when she met the lady dressed as Aino Miettinen, Rinnekoti’s founder. Many of those who came also told the story of their long association with Rinnekoti.”

The healthcare service company Terveystalo that operated from the city block complex on Alppikatu was also part of the celebrations. The head of the unit, Anu Halme, says that it provides people with body composition measurements and information on health check packages.

“Few people know what goes on in the block,” says Halme. “Now its activities and history were on show very variedly, and people came from far away to find out about it. Now we could convey to visitors the joy that comes with helping people and which prevails among the various actors at Alppikatu.”

Soup for hundreds

During the course of the day of the party, over a thousand people visited the HDI complex. Some 400 servings of soup were given out, many people tried out traditional Roma hand crafts, and took in the various performances put on for the party.

Maryan Abdulkarim had come with her children to listen to Reino Nordin.

”Mellow vibe!” she said of the party.

The party’s practical arrangements were also a communal effort. Thomas Salmi, who takes part in the institute’s work activities says he made signs and other things for the festivities.

“And now we ensure that everyone feels confortable and safe here.”

Salmi has a background of homelessness, and with the help of the institute now has a flat and a job.

“The Deaconess Institute’s contribution to my life has been pretty big. I’ve received a lot of help over a long period, and it’s been a wonderful experience. The community’s a little eccentric but really great. You have a life of dignity here.”

The activities and principles of the Deaconess Institute were conspicuous at all times during the party. There were young and old people, whites and people of colour, people who fare better or worse in body and soul. Many visitors were heard remarking that you couldn’t always say who was a client of the institute, who was an employee and who on the other hand was an intrigued visitor.

Mikko Ojala confirms this impression.

“There’s a huge number of people here and an open and accepting environment. There are people from different faiths and different ethnicities, and there are people with substance abuse problems and who are just marginalised. And that’s how life is, I don’t think there’s anything extraordinary about it. It would be strange if you thought there was.”

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The main artist of the City Block Party was Reino Nordin, a Finnish actor and musician.