The Endeavour to be Better program is helping people in Merritt get back on their feet by learning life skills and gaining experience through consistent, paid, part time employment.
“We work with at-risk people, homeless people, people staying at the shelter, people that are couch surfing, just looking for a break,” said Program Coordinator Mark Nendick, who came on board three months ago.
The program is offered by the Nicola Valley Shelter and Support Society (NVSSS), which has been active in the community for about a decade. When the Endeavour to be Better program launched four years ago, it only ran during the summer months, when potential program clients were visible around the community.
“In the summertime we noticed people are sitting around downtown, lacking connection to the community, maybe not having anything to do,” explained Marlene Jones, NVSSS board member and Community Policing Coordinator.
When approached by society volunteers and asked what they wanted to do, or if there was one opportunity they could receive that day, the responses often contained a common theme.
“We heard, ‘I want to work, I want a job’,” said Jones.
“So, how does someone who is detached from their community get that opportunity? They need to build relationships and start from the ground level.”
The Endeavour to be Better program is aimed at helping clients to build those relationships.
“We do a breakfast program, people can come in any day of the week, we serve breakfast, coffee, basically just somewhere for the people to go,” explained Nendick.
“They come to us, we create relationships and then hopefully can guide them through the system if they want more services... and then most recently we’ve been doing work.”
The work offered by the employment is low barrier, with no previous training or skills required. In fact, for some, it is the first time in their lives that they have been employed. Going out in supervised groups, program clients pick up garbage, perform landscaping work, tidy up yards and alleyways or even homes, depending on what’s on the schedule for the day. All participants are paid minimum wage through the program, and are covered by WCB.
“It gives these people a chance to work a couple of hours a day and build their confidence, and start moving forward in life,” said Nendick, who has just implemented a 12p.m. – 3p.m. schedule.
“It’s like a real job. Unfortunately, the other day, everyone showed up late, so we didn’t go to work. I told them, look, if we were at a real job, you’re fired. So, the next day we had seven people at 11:45, all there and ready to work.”
Nendick said the program isn’t there to offer a “handout”, but to help people take the next step in improving their lives.
Before attending a private residence for work, a code of conduct is laid out which provides the expectations for labour and behaviour. On a job site, the Endeavour to be Better members must be respectful; no swearing is permitted, and neither are any drugs or alcohol.
“Safety is a huge focus for us as well,” added Jones.
“When guys are starting out in the morning and going to go to a job site, it’s a good skill for them to take part in a safety meeting in the morning and focus on that as well.”
For some, the few hours of work they perform with the program are satisfactory, providing them with a sense of purpose, healthy socialization and a little extra money to help make ends meet. But others have used the work as a steppingstone to better opportunities. One such client, whose name was not provided, has moved from the Endeavour to be Better program to regular work with a local tow truck company.
“He started with us, trying to get back on his feet,” said Nendick.
“For some people two hours a day is max for them and that’s enough, they’re tired and it kills a good chunk of their day, but he was looking for more and there was no lack of work, to be honest.”
The Society, and Endeavour to be Better program, are kept in operation with grant money, but are always looking for donations and new sources of funding in order to keep providing worthwhile services to those in need.
“We’d really like to have this be something that can stay in the community at a certain level, so that if some of these participants go and maybe start somewhere, and get something together, but then are faced with a challenge, they know that there’s this step here in their community that they can come back and get on a level footing and go again,” said Jones.
Nendick has concerns that if the program were to fold, the people it benefits could end up in a less than ideal position again.
Clients often ask him, “So, when’s this going to end?” Because they are so used to being let down, or seeing initiatives like this form and then be dissolved.
“It would be great to be good for a year, or two years, or five years, and just say we’re not going anywhere, we’re here no matter what,” said Nendick.
“So that’s a big thing I’m focused on at the moment.”
Both the breakfast program and Endeavour to be Better operate out of the former cold weather shelter at 2038 Nicola Ave. next to 7-11. The location is served by a variety of both paid employees and volunteers, including Darius Sam, who acts as a peer mentor to those who partake of the available services.
Nendick encourages anyone in need of labourers, or is interested in having the Endeavour to be Better program participants perform work for them, whether they be businesses or private citizens, to get in touch either at 2038 Nicola Ave. or by calling 250 – 315 – 0155.
“If there are business owners that would like help cleaning up with our people, or people that would like clean up or yard work done at their house, that would be great,” said Nendick.
“What it all started with, and what it’s able to continue is that connection to the community, and a sense of belonging that every human needs,” said Jones.
Morgan Hampton, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Merritt Herald