This article was originally published in the Arts co-op newsletter in Fall 2014.
Because my last Co-op position was with the federal government, I had no idea what to expect when I was hired by a non-profit. Progressive Housing Society (PHS) is an organization that works with individuals in Burnaby who suffer from mental health problems or are at-risk of homelessness. The outreach and support workers at PHS strive to find affordable housing for their clients as well as assist them in achieving personal independence by provid- ing access to community resources and training them in daily life skills. As a Community Services Assistant - part of the Community Living Support team - my job was to assist clients with their personal goals and skill development, and to help to maintain PHS’s three group homes.
This position had the perfect balance between working independently and working with others. Working as a team with mental health clients taught me to respect everyone’s working styles and allow them to complement my own, enhancing my communication skills in an interactive environment. Meanwhile, working independently allowed me to utilize organizational, analytical, and time management skills.
Prior to my Co-op term with PHS I had experience working with at-risk youth through my volunteer job with the RCMP, but this was my first time working with vulnerable adults and I didn’t know what to expect. Working with adults in the mental health field was the first practical application of my Psychology background and ultimately proved to be a very dynamic and rewarding experience. Whether we were going on walks, working outside in the yard, or teaching cooking classes – interactions with the clients required patience, understanding, and a good sense of humour!
The other part of my job consisted of planning events for the summer, including our mental health client barbeque, staff appreciation event, Annual General Meeting (AGM), and various fundraising events. Although I am used to juggling a heavy course load with multiple assignments due around the same time, this type of work created quite a different level of stress when multiple projects coincided. I had to learn to work within a budget and maintain a flexible time frame, since many of the steps involved in planning events were dependent upon businesses getting back to me and in getting approval from management.
My two biggest projects for this work term were creating the AGM report book and planning the burger and beer fundraiser to raise money for PHS’s proposed outreach and mental health resource clinic. Before this work term I had absolutely no experience with graphic design and had never planned a fundraiser before! To design the AGM book I had to figure out graphics programs on my own, which helped to develop my computer skills. When planning the fundraiser I was in charge of everything from booking the venue, printing the tickets, and managing sales, to soliciting donations for prizes, organizing the raffle, silent auctions, and games, and creating flyers and posters to advertise the event. The night was a tremendous success that I look back on with a sense of pride and increased self-confidence.
My Co-op with Progressive Housing Society therefore not only enhanced some of my previous skills, but also gave me new ones that will be transferable to future employment opportunities. Through working with various organizations in Burnaby (such as Burnaby Mental Health), I gained a better understanding of BC’s social programs. By planning multiple events concurrently I learned how to organize and manage time constraints effectively and to work within a limited budget. Through working with mental health clients, I gained an increased level of comfort working with vulnerable adults in the community. I found it is important to learn how to diffuse emotional - sometimes stressful - situations, as well as being non-judgmental and understanding. I recommend this type of position for Co-op students from all types of academic backgrounds; working for a non-profit is a humbling and illuminating experience, and I am truly grateful for the opportunity I had to work with PHS.
Beyond the Blog
For more opportunities like Andrea's, visit the SFU FASS co-op page!