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Breaking barriers to employment in Nanaimo

Don, a graduate from Island Crisis Care Society’s employment training program, Project Rise.

Don, a graduate from Island Crisis Care Society’s employment training program, Project Rise.  

When someone settles into a new home after experiencing homelessness, what’s next?

Many want to find connection in the community, which often means employment. But the barriers, from lack of resources to stigma, can be daunting.

“We've all heard the things that people say about people experiencing homelessness,” said Corrie Corfield, Director of People, Culture, and Engagement at Island Crisis Care Society (ICCS). “Not wanting to do better, being lazy—those negative stereotypes put limits on folks.”

A non-profit housing provider in Nanaimo, ICCS is breaking barriers to employment with a new program called Project Rise. Launched in April 2022, Project Rise offers skills training and work placement to ICCS clients.

For the first four weeks, participants learn skills, including communication, time management, and self-care. They can also earn industry credentials, like Foodsafe certification, and test out different jobs.

“I call them little tastes,” said Stephen Cochrane, Coordinator of Project Rise at ICCS, “so if participants haven't been in an industry before, we have workshops that would allow them to try it on for an hour or two or half a day.”

After training is complete, ICCS holds a job fair with 10 to 15 employers that have been selected for the program. Participants engage in short interviews and, in tandem with employers, choose their work placement.

Don is a recent graduate of Project Rise. Before the program, he said he had a “no-care attitude.”

Don said his experience in the program was "wonderful," and he particularly enjoyed working with other participants. Now he’s employed at a landscaping and tool rental company and loving the connections he’s making at work. He credits Stephen and the entire Project Rise team.

“They're going to inspire you without you knowing. They're going to make you try harder. There's just no way you don't come out of this being a better person,” Don said.

Stephen can’t help but get emotional hearing Don’s words.

“For him to have said those words . . . Well, it made me cry,” Stephen said.

Project Rise isn’t the only innovative project to come out of ICCS.

Last year, the society created a for-profit corporation and purchased a successful local business, Nanaimo Bakery, as a social enterprise project to fund ICCS programs like Project Rise.

Nanaimo Bakery serves coffee and baked goods to people in Nanaimo. In addition to funding ICCS programs, the bakery provides a place for Project Rise participants to re-enter the workforce and a way for the community to get involved.

“When we can say to folks, ‘Come to the Nanaimo Bakery, buy things that you were going to buy anyways—buy your breads and your pastries and your birthday cakes and all of that—and know that when you make those purchases, the profits are actually going to make a huge impact in our community,’ it becomes a really, really exciting win-win for all of us,” Corrie said.

Project Rise is a win-win, too.

Facing a labour shortage, employers are in high need of trained employees, which Project Rise can provide. Plus, ICCS subsidizes the wages of participants, from 50 to 100 percent.

And for Project Rise participants, their jobs are a source of connection, inclusion, and, of course, money.

Don’s favourite part of his job?

“Just showing up at work and seeing everybody. Everyone works together, everyone's got a job, everyone works hard, and it’s enjoyable.”

Visit the Island Crisis Care Society website to learn more.

To learn more about Project Rise, listen to our podcast below.