It’s a sunny October morning when I go to meet six Project Rise participants along with their project coordinator and a workshop facilitator at Orca Place in Parksville. Project Rise is a new ICCS program that aims to deliver pre-employment and employment skills training and work placement opportunities to people who have experienced homelessness, but are now ready to re-integrate fully into community life.
I am greeted by laughter and the sounds of participants busily working on their knife skills, peeling potatoes and cutting apples for this night’s apple crumble as I enter the communal seating area adjacent to the kitchen at Orca Place. Clearly, there is a lot of both learning and fun happening.
Project Rise swung into action in August, with the planning and design of the first work experience training and preparation for work placements at Orca Place. The six program participants have been together since September for group-based learning and workshops, getting to know one another, but more importantly learning practical skills that will help them move towards a more hopeful future.
As I take photos, I am aware of the sense of excitement that participants display while learning. After the workshop finishes and most participants have left for their lunch break, I sit down with one, Leslie, to ask about her experience with Project Rise.
Leslie is lively, engaged and always ready to crack a joke. Asked how she enjoyed this morning’s workshop she comments that it was ”unbelievably informing”. “I learned a lot of stuff today that I have never done all my life”, she laughs. “Chopping, measurements… I never thought that measurements were even that important,” she says with a grin.
I ask Leslie what inspired her to take part in Project Rise. She says that she was asked by an outreach worker whether she wanted to join. After working as a care aid, a cleaner and a landscaper in the past, before being derailed by the loss of several key people around her, at first she thought that she didn’t need this kind of workshop. But then she thought again, “You still can learn something, right?! You never know.”
Her optimism proved to be true. She has learned new skills, brushed up on old ones like first aid, and gained a new confidence.
When asked what she enjoys most about the program she says “to be around people”.
Leslie has been at Orca Place for almost two years and she loves it there. At first, she was lonely and depressed and would leave frequently. Slowly, though, she slowed down and realized what a good place it was, and what great opportunities it affords her to connect and to move forward. Now, she appreciates the benefits that come with living at Orca Place such as safety, privacy and regular meals.
As far as the future goes, Leslie hopes to get a job in housekeeping or in the kitchen. She worked as a care aid for the elderly for twenty years before the deaths of important people around her sent her into a downward spiral. First, she lost her beloved mother who she used to spend a part of each year with in Manitoba. Then her boyfriend committed suicide and then some of her friends died from overdoses. “It was just too much.” she says. It all took its toll on her emotionally and physically, leaving her unable to work and to connect.
After having gone through some rough years, Leslie now enjoys living at Orca Place and is excited about taking part in Project Rise looking forward to her future. She is actively engaged in helping out in her community through the Orca Place Community Clean Team. “People are actually really grateful for it in the community that I am doing that. Yeah, and all the thanks I get. It’s like, it’s overwhelming.” She says.
Leslie still faces dark days. Just as the program started, another friend overdosed. The anxiety that brought made it hard to leave her room – but she managed to push through, and things started to look brighter.
Now she looks forward to the Project Rise sessions every day, and even more than learning, she enjoys the people and the fun.
“Yeah,” she says with a smile, “That’s what life’s all about, you know.”
She knows, too, that though anxiety might return, she does not have to face it alone. She can reach out to others. “How can you get help if you don’t tell anybody?”
Her time with Project Rise, and with some of the other ICCS work placement programs, have shown her that she matters, and that her story and her life are important. She knows that she is connected, and that she has a place, and “people are starting to see.”
To support Project Rise and stories like Leslie’s, please go to our Project Rise Donation page.