Professional Development Days


Today and tomorrow my employer is conducting some in-house professional development for all the employees across our Social Services department. It’s split over the two days so that we can continue to offer front-line services to our users, while at the same time giving staff the opportunity to take part and learn.

Staff react to these training opportunities in various ways, as I suspect they do in other organizations; perhaps yours. There are those who will be resistant to training; they feel they’ve got better things to do and a day away from doing their job just has them falling further behind. There’s the staff who are apathetic; not really caring one way or the other. Then there’s those who enjoy the day away from the daily routine but aren’t sure what they’ll benefit from. You’ll also find there are those who truly embrace training; the chance to learn something new and they’ll show enthusiasm and gratitude for the personal development training provides.

Good organizations develop their staff, as they recognize the benefits to continually providing upgrading opportunities. Better trained staff keep up with best practices, learn new techniques and strategies so they can do better on the job, and employees tend to return benefits to the employer through working more efficiently.

Training is an organizations way of investing in their most precious asset; their employees. Off-site training is often favoured by most; the chance to get away from the physical office or work place, where the distraction of nipping back to check emails and answer a few calls isn’t present. This way employees can relax more, immerse themselves in the content and network with their peers better.

I’m so looking forward to today because I’m co-presenting with 4 other employees; 3 of whom are from other offices and who up until recently, I have had almost no interaction with. It’s been really good to get this group together, plan out our topic and content, divide up who will speak to what and pull everything together. As a training facilitator, I’ve had the chance to mentor my colleagues, and I’m really excited for them as they are each getting a little out of their comfort zones and standing up in front of their co-workers. That takes some bravery the first time your name is called and up you get. I’m so excited for them.

Our presentation is called, “Making the Most of the Meeting”. You see there is a shift going on where I work in how some of us go about doing our jobs. We work in the field of Social Services, and many of our staff have front-line contact with recipients of social assistance. With each meeting of those recipients, there’s an opportunity to support forward movement; sometimes towards a job of course, but there are other goals people move toward that are required before realizing a sustainable job and the financial freedom it will bring.

Looking at things holistically, it could be a person first needs basic supports like food and housing or help with an addiction issue. Maybe the thing they are focused on is completing an education, a better relationship with a family member or getting connected to the community in which they’ve recently moved to. Focusing solely on a job search is missing the chance to lay the groundwork required to successfully reach that long-term goal. Of course if they are looking for work and can do so with the focus required, that’s great.

Our presentation is all about opening up that dialogue, establishing some trust and finding a way to connect with the person where they are at. We’ve got 4 specific resources to distribute; simple to use, and while by no means mandatory, it is hoped that by providing every attendee with something to take away, they’ll be equipped to try things out and see if they help move the discussion. Leaving with something in hand that is tried and works hopefully inspires staff to pull them out as they feel the timing is right.

If you’ve ever had your job undergo a shift in the job description, you probably had some new training and coaching to increase the odds of success. Without that support, you’d likely fail more than succeed; it would take longer to change over and some would resist the change with all the energy they could muster.

Where I work, such a shift is occurring and will continue to do so as we respond to changes in the needs of those we serve. Our front-line staff will focus more on helping people move forward (whatever ‘forward’ means to each person) themselves rather than exclusively referring them on to others for specific help – say with resume writing. While it’s great having a team of ‘resume experts’, if everyone knows enough of best practices out there to make a few good suggestions, the person receiving help gets help in a time-sensitive way.

Training shares skills; it equips staff with more tools which they can then draw on when appropriate, which makes the experience better for the client, customer, end-user etc. When the person you are designing for benefits, the ripple effect carries over to the person delivery the service, the organization and the larger community.

Wish us the best today. Here’s to hoping we impart our knowledge well enough to inspire our colleagues. I expect a great day ahead!

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This Is Not About Mark And Julie


When Mark was first approached with the offer of help finding a job over a couple of weeks, he accepted the invite, but openly expressed his doubts that I could teach him anything he wasn’t already doing on his own. You know what? I relish that honesty in people; I wasn’t insulted in the least.

Now Julie on the other hand? While her feelings were similar, her choice of words and her decision to decline the help offered was received quite differently. Not only was she sure I couldn’t do anything to help her, she said two weeks with me would be a complete waste of her valuable time.

What made Julie’s reaction and decision all the more puzzling at the time was that a highly respected colleague of mine had referred us to each other and Julie was touted as a ‘Superstar’; someone I’d absolutely be impressed with. Well she made an impression. I can’t convey in words the tone of voice she used on the phone, the emphatic disdain she communicated for the help offered.

So you should know, what both Mark and Julie were offered was to be one of twelve participants in a two-week intensive job search group. All twelve have to have: 1) A résumé 2) Basic computer skills 3) A clear employment goal 4) strong motivation to find work 5) Give me permission to give them honest feedback and 6) come dressed daily in business casual clothing ready for interviews – because they will get them. Beyond making the self-investment of time to realize their financial independence, the cost to attend? Free. In fact, I’d see they got money for clothing and grooming needs, full transportation costs to get around, funds they could use for lunch if they chose to and when they did get a job anywhere up to $500 to buy whatever they needed to get off to a good start.

Now to me, this is a pretty easy choice to make. After all, Mark, Julie and the other people I extend this offer to are all unemployed or severely underemployed; sometimes working part-time outside their field of training or volunteering. Now I know that most people are already doing a job search on their own, and that some of what people are doing already is quite good. However, if the results are not forthcoming, doesn’t it seem sensible to take advantage of free help from someone recognized as a professional helping others find work?

My accumulated years of experience has told me that when most people don’t seize such opportunities, something – or some things are going on beyond what is known. Yes, they could be secretly working and don’t want to be found out, but that’s not typically what’s going on. One of the key things I do actually is work with people and after establishing mutual respect and trust, make it a point to get at what barriers they are facing which prevent them from moving forward and realizing their goals.

Now you might not think this approach is necessary; if you help somebody write a cover letter and resume, prepare them for the interview and wish them the best, they’ll get work soon enough. That may be true of course, but if this is all you do, you’ll be puzzled and disappointed when they lose their employment in short order. Some will contact you and ask for more help, while others will feel embarrassed and not contact you as they don’t want to let you down.

You might wonder then how far I can get with twelve people in only two weeks to set up the trust required to have each person open up and share what they would otherwise keep buried. I tell you this, the faster a person opens up and the more they share, the better the counsel I can offer, and the more effective the help will be they receive. In the end, what most end up with is a job best suited to not only their education and experience, but in an environment where they’ll not only survive, but thrive. Now as an unemployed person, doesn’t this sound enticing?

The most significant factor in achieving success is wanting what you’re after with enthusiasm. If you want it – I mean REALLY want it, that inner motivation and enthusiasm will be exactly what it takes to get you through when the roadblocks pop up. Instead of throwing up your hands in exasperation, you’ll roll up your sleeves and dig deep. Make no mistake, the job seeker has to want work more than the person helping them find it.  If it’s the other way around, lasting success won’t come.

Here’s the thing about Mark; recall if you will he’s the guy who expressed doubts but accepted the offer. When we wrapped up our time together, Mark told me that he was really suspicious but it was at noon on day 1 that he realized how thankful he was that he got the offer and accepted. His is a success story in that he did find work. He ended up moving from Ontario to British Columbia, accepting a full-time job at $120,000 per year. Quite a significant change from receiving social assistance and feeling frustrated, low self-worth and getting less than $15,000 per year.

When opportunity comes your way, make a change; say yes if you typically answer with a, ‘no thank you’. There’s a lot of great help out there to seize!

Maslow’s Hierarchy Of Needs And The Hotdog Guy


“I don’t know why the City doesn’t do something about them. They just lie there all month until their welfare cheques come. Just get a job!”

The above words were spoken to me only yesterday around noon as I chatted with a hotdog vendor while out on a walk. He was referring to the 4 or 5 people who have taken to occupying a patch of grass on the fringes of a public trail adjoining a downtown mall and parking lot. I’ve noticed them too; one or two sound asleep while a few others sit and chat watching over them and out for them.

The hotdog vendor operates about 5 feet away from them, and while we were there one of the guys came over and gave him the $3.50 for a hotdog. Interesting to hear how the topic changed immediately as he took the change and threw a hotdog on the grill.

I suppose many people see panhandlers and people living rough and feel the same feelings as the hotdog guy. “Just get a job!” But it’s far from that simple. To test that out, I actually asked him when the guy buying the hotdog had walked away, “Would you hire one of them yourself?” and he said, “No way! Nada! Never! Shiftless layabouts.”

That’s probably the case with a lot of others too; they want these people working and contributing and not taking from the tax base, but at the same time they don’t want to be the employer taking them on. Why? Presumably they come with a lot of headaches; reliability, trustworthiness, mental health problems and low motivation.

To an entrepreneur like my hotdog vendor, they are the epitome of everything he’s not. He’s self-reliant, having no one else to rely on to make his income. He can’t just walk away from the job on his lunch, and if he doesn’t work, he doesn’t get paid – no sick days or paid vacations.

Way back in my College days I recall Maslow’s hierarchy of needs.  Does that ring a bell? You know, the pyramid with basic physiological needs at the bottom and way up at the top you’d find self-actualization; things like creativity, problem-solving and these just above self-esteem. Here’s your living proof of that pyramid. The hotdog guy expects people to just get up off the grass and function at the top of that pyramid and is angry and frustrated that the system doesn’t punish them for anything less by withholding their money. I suppose he sees that money as his money via his tax contributions.

Before a person can go out and find work they’ll be able to keep, certain things have to be in place. Those basic needs of Maslow’s like food, water and sleep. When you don’t know where you’re next meal is coming from, when it’s coming, where you can sleep in safety for example, a job is hardly your first priority. I know of course that the hotdog guy would argue that the income from a job would provide food and water plus a secure place to live. This is the chicken or the egg problem though, and we’d come down on opposite sides of what needs to happen first.

Without a secure place to live, there’s no income for luxuries like a razor for a shave, and where on earth would a person secure any personal possessions when they have no safe storage place? Moving from area to area around town to avoid charges of loitering and worse, where are they to keep their personal ID? ID that’s needed for so many things we take for granted in society.

If you look up an image of Maslow’s Hierarchy, you’ll find employment and the safety it brings to a person is just above the basic physiological needs. It doesn’t seem like much is need to make it to level 2. Get your food and water, air to breathe and you’re on to stage 2. So if it’s that simple, why are people stuck forever in some cases at stage 1? That answer would take more time than I’ve got here to share.

Recall a time when you were stressed about something and couldn’t turn off your thoughts; that sleepless night worrying over something. If you’ve had a time like this that went on for a few days, your performance at work might have slipped a bit, you may have reduced your social calendar until you felt better, and while you were out of sorts, you probably did your best to work things out. Eventually, you did get out of that bad place, your mood improved and you carried on.

Now magnify that if you will. Imagine multiple problems; anxiety, low self-worth, family dysfunction, vulnerable relationships, poor resolution skills, unable to multi-task, hygiene issues, homelessness, judgement from others, financial dependence, chronic sleeplessness, no family doctor, poor social supports (being others in the same predicament), poor nutrition, lack of shelter, clean clothes, good footwear. Can you picture one person with these issues? What if that person were you? Got that image? Okay, now go get a job.

This piece is going to end without a nice solution. Societies have been struggling to resolve this very problem for thousands of years and have different models of trying to do so. Until they do, some compassion and understanding at the least would be nice if we’re unable to truly empathize at best.

Me Vote? Why Bother? Nobody Cares What I Think


You guessed it, there’s an election looming in the province where I live here in Ontario. It’s tomorrow actually, Thursday June 7th, and the stake couldn’t be hire. That’s hire; h-i-r-e in this case not, ‘higher’ which would be grammatically correct in almost any other sentence. Why? Simply put, your job could be on the line.

Now if you’re unemployed and have no job to lose, don’t feel smug and protected; you could be looking at a longer unemployed status, higher hydro bills and gas bills and a higher debt level for the province meaning you and your children will be paying higher taxes for years to come. Yep, this one is all about, ‘higher’ and ‘hire’.

But hey, you’re just one person with one vote. That single vote will likely be nullified and useless when the next person in line steps up and votes for another candidate – so what’s the point? Not only that, but suppose you haven’t got a clue what the issues are, who stands for what, where to vote or even how to go about it. Why, you might even feel that nobody cares what you or others in your age bracket or social class think anyway so you just don’t care; and it takes time out of your busy day too. Hold on there, sure these are reasons not to vote.

Well, no matter where you live in the world, I agree these could sum up the situation where you live when a vote comes around, be it a national or local election. Oh wait, that’s not true is it? No, I took for granted for a second there that everybody in the world has the right to vote and that’s not the fact. There are after all many countries in the world that aren’t democracies, where the people haven’t won the right to make that little ‘x’ beside the name of the person they’d most like to represent them in a position of power.

Now, yes, you might feel nobody knows you or others in your situation, and they don’t care to either. Let’s assume for a second you’re right. You could choose not to vote and perpetuate their lack of interest in making your livelihood better. On the other hand, suppose you and a lot of other people just like you DID get out and vote. Nothing might happen in this election, but voting numbers and WHO voted does catch the eye of politicians. Suddenly they would take an interest because it would be in THEIR interests to take an interest in you. You can bet that in the next election you’d hear them pleading for your vote and to get it they’d be both listening and putting the things in their platforms that you’d want for yourself. Don’t vote though and they spend their time dangling money and better living conditions for others.

Okay so even if you did decide to vote, you don’t know the issues? At one time, neither did I. Sure you can turn on a radio, listen to the news and find out a little day by day, but the election is tomorrow! I went online and typed the following into Bing, my favourite search engine of choice: ‘Ontario Provincial Election Issues 2018’. The first link that popped up gave me a breakdown of each parties position on the same issues. This took all of 3.7 seconds. Reading it and forming an opinion of what would be in my best interests and that of my family took about 10 minutes. Voting itself is at a neighbourhood school and it will take about 15 minutes to get there, vote and get home; unless of course we stop and socialize with some of our neighbours who pop by at the same time. Less than half an hour to get educated and vote. Hold that up against 4 years of the wrong party in power and it’s not an inconvenience.

So imagine if you will that a large number of people in poverty or young adults barely old enough to vote suddenly did so. These are two groups who typically get ignored by politicians because they don’t vote anyhow. You can bet the smart politicians – and there’s an oxymoron for you – would want to get your vote. They’d be holding town halls, visiting schools in greater numbers, improving social housing units, making transportation cheaper, eliminating some things you pay for now, and they’d make your future prospects better. They claim to do these things now in some cases, but often these are the first things to go when the money is tight and they get in power. That wouldn’t happen if the electorate threatened to vote them out. You see they get hungry to stay in power once there.

So look at who is bringing jobs to your neighbourhood. Who has money for training? Who will raise your wages or your quality of life? Who will shut down your industry and force you out of a job with their plans? In short, who will hurt or help you.

Vote or don’t at your discretion of course, but I hope you choose to. However, if you don’t, you should at least know what you’re passing up and be ready to live with the results for good or bad whatever they turn out to be. In fact, your present situation is largely shaped by your decision NOT to vote in the past.

Retooling And Realigning For Success


Change; it seems to be the word of the year where I work. In 2017 we were told as employees by management that change was coming. Not just change for the sake of change as so often happens in some workplaces, but real change to meet the needs of those we serve at present and those we will position ourselves to serve moving forward.

Now as you know, not everybody deals with change in the same way. This should come as no surprise for we all experience and react to any number of things in our own way. In fact, there is no, ‘right way’ to react to change. Yes, it’s true all employees have to eventually get on board with new procedures, processes and/or policies, but how a person experiences the adjustment between what they’ve done and what they’ll do moving forward is uniquely lived by that single person. Some get on board and find change easy while others take more time. Be too resistant to change or pull with all your might in an openly opposite direction and you could find yourself on the outside looking in.

In my work setting, we’ve recently had a change in Manager, we’ve two new Supervisors, we’ve had some people with two decades and more experience retire, and we’ve added new employees to fill the voids. We’ve also had our teams realigned, meaning some staff moved from one team to another; from one job to another. Our Administrative team is also going about doing their jobs differently too; sharing workloads more. There are staff changing physical offices, others stay where they are but their desks have been reconfigured for reasons of safety and service.  Oh but it doesn’t stop there. Our Resource Centre is getting a new flooring surface this year, and there’ll be a new staff desk better situated for service and safety as well. That’s a lot of change!

Now most important of all is a change in how we interact with those we serve. We are moving to a more holistic model of service; one where the recipients of service will be better served. Many years ago there was a time when the mantra of the day was to get people off social assistance as quick as possible. Whatever the shortest route to a job happened to be, that was the plan. It sounded good to the general tax base and politicians touted this as their way of reducing money paid out to those in receipt; saving tax payers dollars in the process.

It didn’t work; well, not well. Sure people got jobs and got off assistance in some cases. The problem? Without addressing other key issues and only focusing on their unemployment, people lost those jobs quickly and returned to receive social assistance, sometimes regressing significantly, making it far more difficult for them to get past the feelings of not being ready to work.

A return to looking at a person from a holistic point of view requires us to look at more than just their unemployed status. When you bring in daily living skills, problem-solving, job maintenance, mental health services, relationship-strengthening, networking, social and interpersonal skills and – well a longer list than I’ve got space for here – a person becomes better empowered and equipped to deal with many more of the issues which they will need to deal with moving forward.

And moving forward is what it’s all about. The real question becomes, “What is moving forward” with respect to this single person you’re working with? From their point of view, what’s going on and what goals if any, do they have for what they consider to be a better life? Sure for a lot of people the end goal is to get a job and become financially independent. Yeah, we’re all for that. However, for many people, there are a lot of things that need to be addressed before a job is actively sought out.

By way of example, two large barriers many people are presenting with these days are increasing mental health issues and one’s decision-making skills. Not surprisingly, the two are connected. The state of mental health a person experiences often determines their ability to make good decisions. Poor decisions that don’t result in the positive outcomes a person had hoped for reinforce feelings of failure, weakness and lead to hopelessness and further dependence. Good decisions on the other hand reinforce forward movement in a desired direction, spurring self-confidence and self-worth.

There’s infused energy in our workplace. People are setting up their offices, getting used to where others are now sitting, learning the way things are actually done in the new jobs they have. We’ve only just begun to glimpse what our collective futures will look like when it comes to who we serve and how. We will work more in partnerships with others; including our fellow employees and those outside our organization. Communication lines will be expanded and service more coordinated.

This is good news for those people we serve. Sure we were doing a good job before, and while many of us are on the move, I like to think we’re being better positioned as people to use the strengths we have, making us a collective body better positioned to serve our community at large.

Change; it’s a good thing and there’s more of it yet to come.

 

A Glimpse Into The Social Assistance Experience


If you’ve never needed it, I doubt you’ve thought a great deal about what it would be like to be on the receiving end of the Social Assistance experience. Your knowledge and assumptions are probably based on what you hear in the news when an individuals’ story is profiled, from a candidate around election time or perhaps you’ve got a friend or family member who has shared a little of their own experience.

It has been my great honour and privilege to serve and support those receiving such benefits in two Municipalities; Toronto and Durham in the Greater Toronto Area of Ontario for a total of 21 years and counting. In addition to this experience, my wife has 16 or so years of experience herself working in another municipality. While my experience is extensive, I’ve never been on the receiving end myself, and I hope the choices I’ve made and continue to make into the future don’t land me in such need.

That being said, if the time comes when I’m in need, I know now that I’d be thankful the support system was there to help get me through such times until once more I became financially self-sufficient.

It can be a very demeaning and embarrassing process to apply for welfare. In Ontario Canada it’s referred to now as Ontario Works, but to many in receipt, it is and will always be welfare.  It all starts with a phone call to apply in which someone in need talks to someone in what is akin to a call centre. The conversation while initiated by someone in need is pretty much led by the receiving employee asking preset questions. Full name, address, SIN and Health numbers, rent/mortgage information, family members, assets, banking information, investments, etc.; all of which will need to be verified at an in-person meeting to determine eligibility.

I get that it can strip one of their pride and self-worth. With every document you hand over to some stranger, with every disclosure of your personal circumstances such as whether you’ve been abused or the name of your child’s father or mother and where they might be, you give up a little dignity. While most in this field are very good at getting this information in a caring compassionate way, no amount of empathy can change that stuff you’d normally keep private and confidential must be fully disclosed.

Now the agenda of the person in need is pretty clear. Almost all the time, there’s a stated desperation present or looming; rent and food. Get approved and the rent gets paid and people eat. Get denied and a missed rental payment eviction and hunger, a visit from the child welfare authorities, homelessness, begging and worse, having to steal to survive.

If as my piece began you’ve not had to experience social assistance, maybe you’re completely unaware of the community resources you’ll have to tap into. Where would you find the kitchens, thrift stores, donation centers, etc.? If you needed your ID replaced to get many of these benefits, would you know where to go and remember it’s likely you’d have to walk or take public transportation; taking your child or children with you everywhere if you were a sole support parent without a trusted, reliable childcare provider.

Now meeting with us in Social Services for many is a good experience in the end. However, in those first few meetings, the anxiety and stress of anticipating what that experience will be like is often influenced by past meetings and stereotypes of government workers. Just as you’ve no doubt got frustrated with being put on hold, re-directed, not getting through to the person you need to talk to etc. when calling for help yourself, the experience can be like that for some. What increases the importance of getting through is the immense pressure and stress of failing to get the help asked for.

Look there are a lot of really good, compassionate and empathetic people in the business of providing social assistance recipients with support. While these are good qualities, what’s really needed in addition are people both knowledgeable and able to share that same knowledge of resources needed in any one person’s situation. Whether it’s a benefit we can issue ourselves or a benefit another service provider offers, connecting people with what they need is imperative.

On the receiving end, people want to be heard, respected, treated with dignity and foremost be a person; not a case, not a number and no, not a client. Most aren’t in receipt by choice. On top of their financial needs, many have multiple barriers to employment including gaps in work history, mental health challenges, anxiety, low self-esteem. You’d be surprised though to find highly educated professionals in receipt of help; people with their Masters and Degrees perhaps. Yes, really.

Hopefully, supporting people in need is done in the way we would wish to be treated were it us on the other side of the table or end of the phone. “Do onto others…” And while we may have our hopes and plans for people, it’s critical to listen and figure out where someone is at any given moment. I mean, are they ready to job search? Would job searching just set them up to fail at the moment? Do they need stable housing first, addiction intervention, counselling, or maybe to volunteer to rebuild a shattered confidence?

Just the briefest glimpse into this experience.

She Might Be Someone You Know


There’s a lot to unpack, note and commend in her story.

Here’s the quick summary, name withheld. Woman leaves Lebanon with her husband, leaving behind 5 siblings along with her mom and dad; a close and loving family. Arriving in Canada, she is pregnant and speaks two languages, neither one of which is English. She knows no one beyond her husband in this new land, and soon finds that things are changing.

Here in Canada, she not only knows no one, she’s not ‘allowed’ to meet new people; and whereas in Lebanon she held a job as a Childcare provider complete with a College Diploma, here it’s pointless because she’s entirely supported by her husband. After the child turns two, he walks out, leaving her with no income, no friends, no job, no idea of where she stands financially, and no prospects.

She is well aware of other women who like her ended up being divorced here in Canada and in each case they had returned to their families in Lebanon. Her choice however has been to stay in Canada to give her son – now 13 years-old with a better future; putting his future ahead of her own wish to be reunited with her family.

So that’s it in a nutshell. What I learned beyond this bare-bones story is that in the 11 years since the husband walked out, she took the initiative to enrol in English as a Second Language classes, and now has full command of a third language. She’s also visited and continuously makes use of a Welcome Centre to learn about programs and services to improve her situation. Her son is still completely in the dark about their status as Social Assistance recipients. She doesn’t want to burden him with that knowledge and have him feel shame and embarrassment. When I heard her tell me this I wanted to tell her that she should trust his judgement and he might just surprise her with his understanding and respect for her in spite of being  on social assistance, but I kept silent as that’s not call to say so.

I then asked her a question which brought her to a full stop and tears to her eyes – although it was not my intention to do so. I asked, “So what do you do that’s just for you, not your son – just you?” Not surprisingly she said, “Nothing.” Now why you might wonder is this not a surprise to me? Well, it’s been my experience that many women who have been isolated by their partners are entirely devoted to their children; their children being everything that they live for. There is often nothing they do for themselves because any extra income goes to extra-curricular activities that the children are involved with. Sure enough, soccer and buying the things that teenage boys want and/or need to be socially ‘in’ consumes these things. Reading for pleasure isn’t something she does but she reads a lot of legal papers, government memo’s, social assistance letters etc. – and all of these she hides from the eyes of her son lest he pause to wonder if they are on welfare.

For a second time in our conversation I brought her to tears. You’d think I was going out of my way to do so! Such was not the case, but it happened. After hearing her story I said how much I admired what she’d accomplished on her own, getting established independent of her ex-husband, raising her child, committing to living in a country when all her family was back in Lebanon, learning about various services and what brought us together, her decision to attend an interview preparation workshop. Of course what I said that really got the tears flowing was that I wasn’t just proud of what she’d accomplished but that I was proud of her.

So why the tears? Years and years of being put down and told she’d never amount to anything; that she wasn’t important and no one would ever care whether she’d live or die hammered home low self-esteem. This you see is why I believe she doesn’t do anything just for herself – something that people with a healthy self-image regularly do. If you’ve been told you’re nothing and you’ve come to believe you’re nothing, then you do nothing that’s just for you; you don’t deserve it. Nonsense of course, but it takes a long, long time for some people to alter that belief system.

Apparently I am the first person in all the time she’s been in Canada who has said good things about her. That I felt, extremely humbling and even more a sad state of affairs. Mid-forties, in good shape, excellent attention to her appearance, a beautiful smile and equally good manners. A dedicated parent putting her child’s needs and happiness above her own.

Here’s another thing. Does she lay her burden on her parents back home in Lebanon with crying and how difficult life has been and continues to be? No. In fact, she’s no one to share with, no intimate friend to vent or confide in; all this bottled in and heaven only knows what else.

So the point? She’s not the only one. Be kind, be considerate, be above all compassionate and non-judgemental. You can bet that this woman’s story is playing out everywhere not just one isolated person I came into contact with.