From a young age I understood the importance of a positive contribution to society through the installation of amazing moral values by my inspiring parents. Both of them were very active in our community through participating in parent councils, school field trips, coaching sports teams for as long as I can remember. However, as I grew older, I knew I wanted to turn my love for helping others into a career. This is why I want to go into politics; but, I digress. Before I could do that I needed to at least find a summer job.
As I began looking for something beyond my part-time umpiring gig, I began to notice a pattern in the job postings. All of the jobs that I was interested in required some other form of experience that could support the role that I would be assuming. This is where I learned about the job paradox that exists in our society.
The job paradox is a nasty cycle that confuses a lot of first-time career pursuers. Peter Harris puts it well in his article “How to get a job without experience (when no one will hire you without experience).” He writes that “It’s the classic Catch-22, you need a job in order to get experience, but you need experience in order to get a job.” I became worried about not being able to break this cycle; however, thanks to the Canadian government investing in youth, I would soon no longer be worried, and be thriving at my dream workplace.
Beginning the Journey
This is where my time at Habitat for Humanity Halton-Mississauga (HFHHM) begins. In the summer of 2017, I saw job postings from a non-profit housing provider based out of Burlington/Mississauga for everything from an Ambassador to a New Business Development Coordinator. I immediately polished my resume and sent it off, waiting in anticipation for a response.
About a week after I sent the resume I received a request for an interview for the New Business Development Coordinator position. Accordingly, I readied my suit and began researching this organization that I was only vaguely familiar with. As I scrolled through page after page of the incredible work they do in the community, I began to get more excited about my interview. I took notes, went through the organization’s financials, looked up my interviewers on LinkedIn; I was doing more than I ever had before to allow me to be as successful as possible in my interview.
When I arrived at the office at 1800 Appleby Line, I didn’t know that it would be the start of an unbelievable experience. I met my interviewer, Tara, who would eventually be my boss, and she took me to the interviewing room and proceeded to ask me questions and discuss my aptitude for the role. A couple of days after I received a call from an unknown number that I didn’t recognize so I naturally let it go to voicemail. A couple of hours later, I checked it and found out that it was Bryn again offering me the job that I had interviewed for! I immediately tried to call back, to no avail, and even tried to reach Tara herself whom I ended up catching at a Habitat conference. Woops! Finally, Bryn returned my call and confirmed that I had succeeded in the interview and would be starting next week, should I accept. Of course I did, and so began a wonderful summer experience!
In my role I was pushed to do things I had never thought I could do. Lead the organization of events like a golf tournament, write letters to political officials, research marketing trends. I was given responsibility that I didn’t know would be trusted to someone who’s “just a summer student,” but I learned that nothing beats strong output which earns respect and is rewarded with more responsibility. I got to work closely with Directors in their respective departments and have one-on-one meetings with the CEO himself. These are opportunities that many of my friends from school dream of, and because of the support and mentorship available at HFHHM, I was lucky enough to receive them.
Sadly though, my summer flew by and my time at HFHHM came to an end. Goodbyes were said and I returned to Wilfrid Laurier University to continue in my second year of a Bachelor of Arts in an Honours Political Science and English double major program. Until next year…
I visited HFHHM throughout the year; it was a huge part of my life for four months and just disappeared. I maintained some of the friendships I had forged throughout the summer with other students, but it felt like something was fundamentally missing. This persisted until I received a text from Tara in the summer of 2018 saying that John, the CEO, wants to hire me to work under him as an Assistant to Site Supervisor. Obviously I jumped at the opportunity to come back.
Walking into the office I naturally felt at home – ironically the organization is about providing affordable housing options – and was able to settle in quicker than the previous summer and get to work. My original task for the summer was to solve the organization’s ReStore zoning problem. This involved working with government officials, reviewing policy, working with the construction department and lobbying to the provincial government. However, because of the limited resources available to nonprofit organizations, I happily got to wear multiple hats.
I got the opportunity to work with our real estate team on future developments, our planning and development team on future partnerships around land, our procurement team on materials for our current build, and additional administrative duties to assist the CEO and site supervision team. Again, these are opportunities that would are usually unavailable to newer staff members; however, HFHHM leaders trusted me and helped me learn new skills to complete the tasks in an efficient manner that resulted in me building my vault of life experiences and transferable skill sets.
As I write this blog post it is my last week at HFHHM. I look back on the past two summers and imagine what they would have been had I accepted other offers for other companies. I think about what they could have been had I not secured a job at all. These options all pale in complexion when comparing to the experience I had with HFHHM. Not only have I learned more than I ever could have imagined, I have been challenged, respected, and mentored by leaders in the nonprofit world and the business world in general. Nevertheless, I think it’s time I boil down my experience to three key pillars.
Atmosphere. An office atmosphere is made up of lots of details. It’s like a mini-cake inside of the larger cake of the corporation. HFHHM’s atmosphere cake is absolutely amazing. With a batter that consists of respect, cooperation and kindness, and a filling that consists of opportunity and inspiration, and decorations that consist of laughter and fun, HFHHM’s atmosphere cake is the best one on the market! In all seriousness though, it takes a special kind of place to make you want to come into work every day. On the hardest days or the longest nights, the atmosphere of this organization inspires commitment and perseverance to help solve the affordable housing crisis. The people who work and volunteer at this organization are vibrant and energetic, all coming from various backgrounds and bringing various experiences to create the perfect puzzle of an organization. It is a place that will never fail to bring a smile to my face.
Leadership and Opportunity. At the helm of every ship there needs to be a captain and their crew. At the helm of this ship there is John and his incredible staff team. The best part about this organization is that there is such a wealth of combined experience that asks as a safety net when someone wants to take a risk, challenge themselves, or do both and take something on that they never would have considered before joining the organization. Additionally, beyond the work-specific advice and expertise the staff bring to their summer students, they also depart pieces of life wisdom that are invaluable against the backdrop of an unknown future that many summer students face.
Mission. Affordable housing was something I always knew was important, but I never knew the extent of its importance. I knew that there were government services available, and nonprofits that supported people who need a roof over their heads; however, I never knew the incredible extent that those organizations needed to go to to help members of their community. Through countless meetings, hours on applications and fundraising, and a staunch lack of resources, nonprofits still somehow accomplish their goal of providing safe and decent housing to those in need. It is this mission that helps drive my passion for this organization; it is the families that have placed their faith in our team to provide them with a home and all of the benefits that come with it; is is the volunteers that believe in our mission and donate their time to our organization in the hopes that a solution may come. All of these things support the mission, and the mission supports all of them. It is a heartfelt thing to witness and be a part of.
At the end of the day, HFHHM is a dream workplace. Regardless of what happens in the future, I will never forget my time here. The things that I have learned, people I have met, and experiences I have acquired are invaluable. Thank you to the Federal Government for investing in young Canadians; thank you colleagues for all of your help and support the past two summers; thank you HFHHM for existing and supporting members of your community and offering me a feeling of home within the organization; and thank YOU reader, for sticking with me as I tell my story. Hopefully there are many chapters to come!