A Step Ahead

Jay in his new work boots.
Jay in his new work boots.

by Katie Cole, ICCS Communications Intern

“He’s strutting around here somewhere…”

The words hang in the air as I accompany one of Newcastle’s program managers on my first attempt to interview Jay, the recent recipient of an anonymous donation of work boots.

This designated gift was given back in May in response to a Community Wish List ad in the Nanaimo News Bulletin requesting donations to help purchase work clothing for clients re-entering the work force. After a brief telephone conversation, the donor decided to price what a pair of men’s steel toed boots would cost and send the cash so the program could furnish one client with footwear for work.

For many ICCS clients, work has long been an out of reach dream. While some have worked in the past, many have been out of the working world for a long time due to the changing circumstances that have led them at last to ICCS programs. Others have never been able to hold down a job. Through the support they receive in ICCS programs and by following their case plans towards recovery, reaching out to a job is a significant milestone towards independence and hope.

Jay and Nora at Newcastle.

Jay and Nora at Newcastle.

“When we were thinking of who should get this gift, we knew who was currently working,” explains Nora, a member of Newcastle staff. “Talking to Jay, he let us know he was just waiting for the call back [for a new job].”

Thanks (in part) to Nora’s insistence that Jay should be the lucky recipient of the donation, Jay would go on to shop with her and Donna (another Newcastle staff member) to pick out the shoes.

Taking charge at the store, he insisted they be Canadian made, digging out a pair of size 13 men’s work boots before plopping them down proudly on the counter.

“He was probably the best person to receive them,” says Nora with a smile, “He’s just so grateful for everything. You could tell getting those work boots made his day, and [by extension] they made mine and Donna’s as well.”

Getting an interview with Jay himself is no small feat. The man is a force of nature: constantly on the move, with a lively energy devoted to tackling plans and problems head on. In the short time I’ve known him, he’s done everything from fix a broken gate to help car crash victims.

When I do sit down with him, it’s early on a Tuesday morning. Jay’s wearing the boots now, and although the extra weight should — in theory — make his strides heavier, his gait is purposeful and spry as he picks out a shady picnic table for our talk.

Looking as if they were only bought this morning, the boots are laced with black shoelaces instead of the original orange (“they looked like Halloween before”). A slick looking pair, they’re CSA approved with an 8in height and a composite toe (“so if it gets crushed it won’t take your toes off,” he explains matter-of-factly).

It’s evident that Jay’s excited to get working, though his start date has been temporarily delayed due to an unusual heat wave across the Island. He has found a job framing houses – familiar to him as he’s done similar work in the past. He estimates that he’s framed approximately 250 houses in Nanaimo in past years.

“I could do it in my sleep…” he jokes.

No stranger to the field of construction, Jay worked for years as the owner of a small business specializing in home renovations.

“I put out an ad in the Vancouver Sun to run for a month, and I worked for the next nine years.”

Jay went on to spend three years updating an apartment building because of that advertisement (“sixty units – including the penthouse suite,” he boasts proudly). In testament to his work ethic and skill, when the building decided to close their pool room, the space was given to Jay to use as his workshop.

He recalls the details fondly, the delight at this generosity still evident in his voice.

“I asked if it’d be alright to build a deck to cover the pool… they said it was okay and gave me a Home Depot card to pay for the materials. It was totally unexpected; I was ready to pay out of pocket.”

Although it’s been years since the event, and much has happened in Jay’s life in the interim, it’s clear that acts of kindness don’t go unnoticed or unappreciated in Jay’s life.

With this in mind, when asked if there was anything he’d like to say to the anonymous donor, his face breaks out in a mischievous grin.

“Got a job to go with them?” He jokes, eyes twinkling, looking at his new boots.

He shakes his head and there’s a pause as his face is suddenly overshadowed with a look of deep concentration.

“Oh my goodness… something better than ‘thank you.’ It feels weird to have a new pair on my feet for work. I’ve always gotten second-hand.”

Another pause.

“They’re highly appreciated… respectfully, thank you.”

A close up of the donated shoes.

A close up of the donated shoes.

The sentiment is simple, but profoundly true: Jay’s last pair of new boots was bought in 2009.

When I asked the donor why she chose to donate to ICCS in this way, her reply was straightforward, “They’re a bit expensive… and if it’s needed [for work] you can’t start without them.”

A long-time contributor to our organization, she’s impressed with programs like Newcastle and the difference that Island Crisis Care Society makes in people’s lives. It is a fitting illustration, therefore, that her donation unfolded as it did…although a pair of pre-bought work boots would have been undoubtedly appreciated and put to good use by one of our clients, the chances of her buying a pair to fit Jay (in both size and specification) would have been slim.

A one-size-fits-all mentality is rarely useful in life and is thankfully not ICCS’s approach when dealing with those in our community. Supporting people where they are, as they are, has been an important goal of our organization. At times, this truth is played out behind the doors of programs like Newcastle, other times it’s played out through our generous donors.

However it happens, it’s good to be reminded that sometimes, things that are good for the soul are good for the sole too.

– – –

Note: If you would like to donate to the work of ICCS or offer support to clients please go to www.islandcrisiscaresociety.ca/donate, and designate your donation to “where most needed”. Our team will ensure that it is used to meet real needs in our programs. You can also contact our Resource Development Department at (778) 441-4227, ext. 114, or email: development@iccare.ca

To learn more about ICCS programs and clients, specifically how we are helping others like Jay get back to work, visit our Project Rise page at www.islandcrisiscaresociety.ca/project-rise.

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