By Debbie Crosby
ICCS Storytelling volunteer
It’s not every day that one has the privilege of meeting a hero. I’m grateful that I did recently, in the Island Crisis Care Society Offices above the Nanaimo Bakery.
Reese, a soft spoken, well dressed young man had just stepped off the bus from his work at Kiwanis Village. His fair hair was peeking out from his ball cap when Reese greeted me warmly; his broad smile and kind demeanor instantly putting me at ease.
Reese had spent the morning working hard moving furniture. Yet he generously took the time and effort to meet and enthusiastically share his experience with Project Rise and the difference it is making for him and others.
Project Rise aims to deliver pre-employment and employment skills training and work placement opportunities to people who have experienced homelessness, but are unable to access the employment market and take the next steps forward to regain the rhythm of community life.
When Reese heard about the program, he knew it was a step he wanted to take. “I was nervous at first but all that’s gone now. It’s kind of like the first day of school. After the summertime, you’re nervous but you’re excited to meet everyone. See who’s new. Make new friends …”
“…Everyone has to go through the interview process to get in and Stephen (Project Rise Program Coordinator) doesn’t just choose random people. He looks at people from what they say and tries to fit who would work best together. He does the same thing with the job for work placement. He’ll try and fit you with the best job…and he did that for me. I already knew how to use certain tools and stuff for outdoor work, so he found someone that needs outdoor work done.”
Reese has worked hard to achieve his goals and is completely invested in what he is doing. He’s thrilled with his job placement at Kiwanis Village, in maintenance and grounds keeping, and hopes he can stay on staff once the program ends. “I’ve mainly just been focusing on all the gardens. There are lots of gardens there and there’s a lot of overgrowth and stuff I’ve been pulling out … I made a huge pile! It’s been fun. And I don’t just do outdoor work. I can do anything he needs help with. Like today we were moving furniture. I’ve been doing 20 hours a week… going to work every day instead of sitting at home all the time.”
Reese’s joy is evident when he adds that his supervisor, upon hearing about our interview, told Reese to “Tell her absolutely nothing but good things. You’ve been doing amazing.”
Just spending time with Reese for a few minutes, I can see why his boss would feel that way. He’s dedicated and his enthusiasm is contagious.
“I have nothing but good to say about Project Rise!” Reese tells me. “It gave me the opportunity to change my life a little bit, in good ways.”
“What were some of the most valuable things you learned from Project Rise?” I ask.
“… It’s hard to narrow it down… they kind of reminded me of a bunch of things that I [can] use every day.” He adds, “I made some huge changes to my life, just lately, like how I played video games and now I barely play video games and oh, working, going, coming here for the program, checking in and stuff.” When I asked Reese what makes him excited to get up each morning, he tells me “…going to the program here helps a lot. It gives you that thought ‘there’s something to do today’, instead of just staying at home. I’m feeling happy, you know?”
“Another thing is the extra money I was able to put towards a new cell phone… I’m very happy with it.” Reese’s eyes light up. “I can contact my grandma and my grandpa; my mom and dad; and my siblings…they’re on the Island but further away in Port Alberni.”
“They’re so proud of me and everything that I’ve done and how far I’ve gone and staying clean and all. … as soon as I get a chance I’m going to be going there to visit….”
Reese also appreciates being able to earn enough to treat himself to his favourite Chinese food once in a while.
I told you earlier I met a hero. Reese may not think of himself that way but I certainly do and the best part is that Reese isn’t alone! There are other heroes there too; all striving hard to overcome the challenges life dealt them. Reese was enthusiastic when he explained Stephen’s advice to the cohort. “We don’t want to go up and back down, when we go up, we stay up right!” Reese is aiming to do just that! I suspect his friends in his cohort feel the same way.
Through compassionate provision, acceptance , careful listening, understanding, guidance and training; and more importantly the hard work of each client, this new group of too-often unsung heroes are well on their way toward living out their lives as healthy, happy, fully integrated and contributing members of society. Each of these courageous individuals makes our community a better place to live because they are a part of it!