Youth Stories from Eva's Phoenix - 2005
Wendy's StoryWhen I was 12 years old, I was kicked out of my home. By the time I came to Eva's Phoenix I had been living on the streets and in foster homes for many years. At the age of 13 I began prostitution as a mean of survival. Eva's Phoenix was exactly what I needed as I had no self-confidence; emotional issues with my situation and no idea how to present myself to an employer.
The staff worked hard to give me as much training, support and counselling when I felt I might not make it at times. By the time my placement in the film industry came up, I was ready and had great success. When my year was up, they helped me find housing. For the past year and a half I have been working in a full-time job at a non-profit organization. I wouldn't be where I was without all the support and care of Eva's Phoenix staff.
Iman's StoryIman entered the shelter system after his family moved from Toronto to Vancouver. Iman was not welcome to move with his family and was left in Toronto to fend for himself. Iman's family disagreed with his decision to drop out of high school and was not in favour of his lifestyle, which included hanging out with a bad crowd and using drugs.
Iman came to Phoenix at the age of eighteen. While living at Phoenix, Iman finished high school and worked part time. Iman said, "While living at Phoenix, it was easier to finish high school, there were not as many distractions, the atmosphere at Phoenix made it easier to focus on my goals." After completing his high school diploma, Iman got help from the Phoenix counselling staff to enter university. Currently, Iman is in his second year at the University of Toronto. He is majoring in Psychology and has two minors: Religion and Philosophy. Upon graduation, Iman plans to enter graduate school and work towards completing a Master in Social Work.
Since leaving Phoenix, Iman continues to be connected to Phoenix as a peer mentor and chairs the Eva's Phoenix residents Governance Committee. Peer mentors must be past residents or program participants who have proven their abilities to be successful after exiting from Eva's Phoenix Housing and Employment programs. Peer mentors are individuals who are interested in assisting young adults to adjust to life at Eva's Phoenix, and make a successful transition to sustainable housing and employment opportunities.
Reiniere's StoryMy name is Reiniere and I'd like to share a bit of my journey in life. My background is Filipino. I was born in the Philippines in the capital city of Manila. I came to Toronto in September 1996. In the beginning I lived with my Dad and went to school. Unfortunately we had family problems and in 1998 everything began to fall apart. My Dad gave up our apartment and my first shelter was Covenant House. My time ran out and I then went to Second Step Housing. While I was living at these shelters I worked part-time in the clubs. Suddenly, I was discharged for having food in my room one night and I was referred to Eva's Phoenix.
I set my mind on staying at Eva's Phoenix for the full year, and getting a job for the long-term. Through the Phoenix Print Shop I connected with a job in the print industry at A-Press Productions. I began as a press helper and have now worked there for 2 years. In this time I've had three raises and now work as a junior pressman.
When I first moved from Eva's Phoenix I was living in shared subsidized accommodation. I now live independently in a 2-bedroom apartment with my younger brother and we are getting along great! My sister just came to Canada in May. Now the 3 of us are trying to bring our mother from the Philippines so that our family can be together again.
Jenna's StoryDue to personal struggles and hardships at the tender age of fifteen, Jenna decided to leave home - with her only option being the streets. Jenna survived on her own on the streets for three months before moving into an emergency shelter. At the shelter, Jenna found out about Eva's Phoenix. For Jenna, Phoenix provided a wealth of opportunities and options. Some of the most appealing aspects were the opportunity to participate in the employment and Buzz Hargrove Training Supports Programs; a secure, stable place to live for one year; access to helpful resources; the ability to save money through the savings program; and a private room within shared accommodation.
While living at Phoenix, Jenna discovered that the environment was supportive and encouraging. Jenna jokes, "The Phoenix staff were constantly on my case to get a job!" She is grateful for the encouragement though. Through the support from the employment team and her own dedication, Jenna secured a placement as a Client Service Representative. After the six-month training period, she was rewarded for her constant attention to detail and great organizational skills by being hired on full time by the organization.
With assistance from the Buzz Hargrove Training Supports Programs, Jenna has left Phoenix and is now happily living in a cozy one-bedroom apartment. Recognized for her leadership qualities and excellent interpersonal and communication skills, Jenna was nominated for a peer-mentorship position at Phoenix. Twice a week, she can be found engaging with other residents and assisting them with activities within the shelter.
Michael's StoryI want to thank you for all you have done for our son Michael at Eva's Phoenix. It is far beyond anything we could have imagined. I'm still a little nervous to talk about anything past the training program since we haven't seen yet how Michael will actually fare in the work world. But I do know that if it wasn't for Eva's/Print Shop guidance, support and fabulous training, Michael would never have learned a skill or developed the confidence he now has to go out into the workforce.
We were extremely impressed with the Print Shop when we first had a tour of it with our son, but we had no idea whether Michael would be accepted into the program, or if he would be motivated enough to try to be accepted. Michael has not had success with school and does little to nothing if he's not motivated. Figuring out what motivates him is of course a challenge. While we of course knew Michael needed some form of training, he wasn't interested in anything. Therefore, the motivation issue was huge for us/him. What was going to motivate him? Bingo! You figured it out. You paid him for training. I truly don't think that he would have been motivated to enter the program or stick with the training if it wasn't for the pay you provided as an incentive. It's so, so important for people like Michael who don't see or understand things like the rest of us. It motivated him to get into the program and it motivated him to work hard to stay in the program. And at the end, he finished up with a skill.
My husband and I were really worried when Michael started the program because we knew of the high expectations you have for the trainees. Rightly so, but could our Michael actually get up in the morning and go at the required time? NEVER ever in his 18 years has he gotten up without a fight, and in the past few years he wouldn't get out of bed until at least noon. We consider it a miracle that Michael made it to class regularly at 7:30 and that once there he worked as hard as he did. The life skills component of your program was extremely important for Michael too. Michael is not worldly wise and needed the basic kind of information about workplaces, looking for jobs, writing resumes, etc. that your program provided. Though we tried teaching him these types of things, he wasn't interested because it was all in the abstract. I also think that while you realistically expected high standards from the trainees, you also understood the challenges people like Michael face (he has Fetal Alcohol Syndrome) and the supports they require to achieve any kind of success. You stuck with him, worked out problems as they arose, AND YOU GAVE HIM A CHANCE at something that was real (as opposed to theoretical book-learning), hands-on and of value (skill training as opposed to abstract work).
How can we ever properly thank you? Michael will begin the job you helped him acquire next week. He's excited, motivated and skilled. He was none of those six months ago. You clearly developed a program for high-risk youth with a realistic understanding of their needs. By building a training program with such needs in mind, I believe you have given these kids the greatest gift imaginable - a chance to live by the fruit of their own labours. While my fingers are still crossed for Michael and probably will forever be so, he has come further than we ever dreamed because of your program. I am not overstating it by saying we are grateful to you from the bottom of our hearts.
David's StoryWhen I first moved into Eva's Phoenix, I had a serious problem with alcohol and was living my life day-to-day with no plan for the future. Then I started attending counselling sessions at the Youth Substance Abuse Program (YSAP).
Two months later, I got a job with the Phoenix Print Shop. At the Shop, I met great staff that listened if I had a problem and taught me the wonders of printing. The Social Enterprise Coordinator helped me get organized and stop living my life on a day-to-day basis. With his help, I discovered the Graphic Communications Management program at Ryerson University. I am now at Ryerson full-time and work in the Ryerson Print Shop. I have a future I can be proud of that doesn't involve flipping burgers or carrying boxes, thanks to the staff and opportunities at Eva's Phoenix.
Roland's StoryThe family I grew up in was upper middle class-until we moved to Canada. After that, we became lower middle class at best; and our, until then reasonably successful family dynamic slowly started to fall apart. Soon after I reached the age of 17, I judged my situation at home unbearable; and two weeks later, I moved out unceremoniously without my parents' consent or knowledge. This, despite subsequent attempts of mine at reconciliation, seems to have left a permanent rift between my mother and me.
I lived on my own for about two years with varying degrees of success; but eventually ended up in a situation-brought on by an excess of youthful infatuation-that slowly drained me of all I had. I found myself financially ruined and, as a result of my shame over my impoverishment, alienated from all my friends. Soon thereafter, I had made the realization that I needed time to rebuild my life, In the middle of October, I came to my senses and moved from my shared room in an unheated house into Eva's Place, an emergency youth shelter, and had accepted that I had lost not only of all my money and most of my belongings, but also my friends. All I had left were a few changes of clothes and two books of my once extensive and much beloved library.
At Eva's Place, I spent some time resting to recover from all the adversity I had experienced; then I started to try to put my life back on track. In a few months, I moved into Eva's Phoenix, a youth shelter that allows homeless youth semi-independent living while still providing them with the support of a primary support worker on site.
My time at Eva's Phoenix was eventful: I went through two high school credit courses and two very positive, professionally meaningful jobs-the second of which I still hold. It was also through Eva's Phoenix that I became involved in a mentorship program. I have three mentors. By profession, one is an accountant, one a banker, and one a lawyer. They are all professionally successful; but, unlike the popular stereotypes of their professions, they are fundamentally good men. As I get to know them closer, I continue seeing more deeply into each of them, and know that they are men whose characters and fortunes are built upon countless lessons they have learned over the course of their life; and each lesson is one that I may yet come to learn from them.
It is perhaps difficult to define what exactly mentorship means, or what it is supposed to be; but I can easily note the most fundamental way in which my mentorship experience made a difference in my life as a homeless youth. It is influence. Though youth living in shelters are in many ways no different than anyone else; a pervasive quality in them is hopelessness. Many, it seems to me, have lost their hope and consequently their drive and inspiration; too many youths though bright, kind, and deserving of so much more simply no longer believe that their life will ever improve. This defeatist thinking is infectious. Time and time again, I myself was beset by doubt as to my own abilities, virtues, and even my very value in society. When one is surrounded by people with no hopes and dreams, one can start to lose one's own perspective as well.
My mentors' introduction into my life however introduced a fundamental counter-influence to my occasional bouts of self-doubt. Soon after our first few meetings, I came to realize that my mentors saw something in me. They saw many of the virtues that I always hoped, but often doubted, that I had. They saw opportunities ahead of me. They saw potential in me for achievements that I had stopped allowing myself to even dream about. I also recognized that my mentors were living examples that ought to be followed: three men who have known more needful times before, who have worked and studied hard to earn their place in life and society, who have achieved that most joyous goal of building a family for themselves. My occasional glimpses of their lives filled me with motivation and hope. I saw with my very eyes that success and a measure of happiness in life is entirely possible, and achievable through goal-setting and hard work.
Our regular interactions were of tremendous value to me, as my mentors' freely given and gratefully accepted wisdom and advice began to guide me in the right direction, even when my instincts might have otherwise led me astray. Among other things, it was in large part due to their support that I was able to move out into my own apartment at the end of my stay at Eva's Phoenix. Though I had adequate savings and a job in my profession, as my time to move out slowly approached, I suddenly started doubting myself and my security in the world once I leave the shelter system.
I actually had all but made up my mind that I would move back into Eva's Place at the end of my time, and spend a few more months being homeless, until I felt even more secure financially. On our Christmas meeting, I told my mentors about my decision. They could hardly believe what they were hearing. They thought that my choice would needlessly prolong my homelessness. They assured that they were certain that I was more than ready to reclaim my life and my independence; and that my financial and employment standing was certainly enough security for me to be able to do so. Initially I was not fully convinced, but through subsequent conversation and continued support from my mentors; I carried through my belatedly started but successful plan of moving into an apartment of my own.
Today I live in my own bachelor apartment in a high rise at an adequately pleasant area of town. I continue to work at the second job I held during my time at Eva's Phoenix, and my employer strongly appreciates my work and continues to challenge me in ways that further propel me along my chosen career path. I now look back and think very gratefully of my Christmas meeting with my mentors. I wonder if I would be anywhere near where I am today, had I stayed in the shelter system; or if instead I would have succumbed to hopelessness and self-doubt and let pass the opportunities that were mine for the taking.
To this day, I continue to meet regularly with my mentors, and stay in touch via telephone and email in between meetings. They continue to be a source of both wisdom and inspiration for me. They keep opening my eyes to possibilities that I did not even see before, and guide me along the paths toward realizing them. But first and foremost, they continue to be excellent examples of professional and personal success for me to try to strive for, and thus to continually better myself to the best of my abilities.
My mentorship experience found me promising but broken, and helped me heal and build a life for myself. Imagine what mentorship can do for you!