Alumnus serving community’s deepest needs wins award
John Neufeld (BA 1996) has continually served the communities around him, whether that be through leadership or behind the scenes, at Grebel or in the broader Waterloo Region. In recognition of his generous and dedicated service, Conrad Grebel University College has named John the 2019 Distinguished Alumni Service Award winner.
Since 2009, John has served as the executive director of House of Friendship. House of Friendship was started by a small women’s prayer group that aimed to respond to the needs of the Waterloo Region community. House of Friendship now supports 42,000 individuals every year with 200 team members and over 1,700 volunteers.
“House of Friendship is on the forefront of some of our most pressing community challenges,” John explains. “House of Friendship’s work cuts across many interrelated issues—housing and shelter, food insecurity, addiction, and poverty. Moving forward we are compelled by two ambitious visions: changing the odds for children growing up in poverty and ShelterCare,” which is easily accessible healthcare within shelters.
“We get to tackle wicked problems with incredibly passionate, smart, and dedicated team members. We work hard each day to help people feel like they belong. Immigrating to Canada as a child, I felt the deep pain of not belonging. Having the opportunity to ensure others feel like they belong as part of my work is beyond rewarding.”
Prior to serving at House of Friendship, John experienced the benefits of working with foster children and youth at Bridgeway Family Homes.
John was awarded the Blazer Distinguished Alumnus Award by Canadian Mennonite University in 2014 and named in the Waterloo Region Record’s list of 40 Under 40 in 2012. “Put simply, John is one of the most effective community leaders in Waterloo Region,” remarked Grebel President Marcus Shantz. “John has the rare gift of being able to talk and listen to almost anyone, from all walks of life. And he has used that gift to draw all kinds of different people into supporting the mission of House of Friendship—serving the deepest needs in our community."
Inspired by his time at Grebel, John noted that “regardless of our background or discipline we are all called to work towards peace and justice. How we do that in our different environments is the fun and exciting part.”
John came to Grebel in 1995 to pursue a Bachelor of Arts in Social Development Studies from the University of Waterloo and Renison College after earning a Bachelor of Theology from Canadian Mennonite University. He was an active participant in Grebel chapel and community suppers, and fondly remembers lively mealtime discussions that pushed him to grapple with different points of view.
“Grebel taught me the importance of bringing diversity of thought, discipline, background, strengths, and experiences around the same table,” John noted. “I am incredibly grateful for the nourishing environment Grebel provided for me.”
“Grebel strives to nurture values of generosity and engagement, challenging and encouraging students and faculty to engage in compassionate service and community building,” remarked Nancy Dykstra, Chair of Grebel’s Alumni Committee. “Listen to John speak about the House of Friendship and you can't help but be caught by his passion for the people it serves and the ways it does its work. He loves the organization and has vision for its role in the broader community. At the same time, he acts as a community educator, enlightening community groups about the roots of poverty and our responses to it. John lives the ideals and purposes of Conrad Grebel University College.”
The Distinguished Alumni Service Award recognizes alumni who have made a significant and unique contribution to the church, community, nation, or world. John’s commitment to serving the Waterloo Region community makes him a worthy recipient of the Distinguished Alumni Service Award.
The award will be presented to John during Community Supper on February 5, 2020. Following the presentation, John will share about the impact that Grebel and the Social Development Studies program had on his life.