The Voices of Mission Services

“When you walk in through the front doors, we want you to feel like you’re walking into the Mission Services family.”

The new Director of Social Enterprise and Retail Operations, Sue Fahner oversees the Mission Store and its outreach programs. She has been in the role since November 2021, and feels she has been waiting her whole life for a position like this.

Professional headshot of smiling woman

Sue Fahner, Director of Social Enterprise and Retail Operations

“One of my family members was a founding member of Mission Services of London,” she explains. “I grew up hearing about Mission Services and the work they do. It’s always been a dream of mine to work here.”

The store has a special place not only in Sue’s heart but in the heart of the community. Sue remembers hearing about a woman who fell in a puddle and walked blocks, injured and wet, because she knew she would receive the help she needed at the store.

“This is so much more than a store,” Sue says. “We provide a true service to the community. A point of connection to help people along their paths.”

The team is an essential part of what makes the store so much more than a thrift shop. Sue points to the dedication of the staff and volunteers, and their commitment to helping all shoppers with dignity.

“It’s such a compassionate group of people,” she says. “They live out the Mission Services of London values every day by serving everyone equally and loving others.”

No one knows how to bring people together quite like Len Devost, a cook at Men’s Mission. In his 18 years in the emergency shelter’s kitchen, he’s worked hard to create an environment where everyone feels welcomed.

Man putting oven mitts on in a kitchen

Len Devost in action at the Men’s Mission kitchen

“Nothing brings people together like food,” he explains. “No matter what they’re going through, we can provide friendship and a listening ear. It’s a place without judgment and we should be their best friends.”

Len previously worked as a chef in a fine dining restaurant but says there was something missing. A close colleague was working part-time at the Men’s Mission and referred him there for a job. As soon as he stepped in the door, he knew he had found the right place.

“I’ve been able to build a lot of great relationships over the years with guys I would have just passed by,” he says. “I get to hear a lot of their stories. They’re not always happy or pretty but it’s just an honour to be trusted like that.”

Coming from a restaurant with a set menu meant Len was used to cooking the same dishes every day. At Men’s Mission, he is tasked with creating meals from whatever food items the kitchen receives that week. Not that he has complete freedom with the meal planning.

“I made a couple of fine dining dishes when I started, but that didn’t go over well,” he laughs. “It is comfort food, home cooking here all the way. The biggest compliment is when [participants] say it tasted like their mom or grandmother used to make. If you can bring someone that happiness, then that’s the goal.”

At Quintin Warner House, Rita Lepore’s goal is to help men overcome addiction over the course of a four-month program. The Addictions Counsellor first arrived as a summer student working the reception desk, and has since worked in a variety of roles at the branch over the past twenty years.

Image of a smiling woman

Rita Lepore, Quintin Warner House

“There’s something when you first come into this space,” she says. “When I first came in, staff were welcoming, the participants in the program were so welcoming. I remember coming in for the first time and not knowing the difference between who was a staff and who was a client.”

“It’s a casual environment. It is a bit of a home. The guys develop their family, they have a bit of a brotherhood. When I first started, we didn’t have 24/7 care so the men in the program managed each other and supported each other. There is a real camaraderie amongst them.”

Rita remembers when she first started in her role, her friends and family expressed concern for her safety as a young woman in a house of men struggling with addiction. However, she confidently states that in over twenty years, she has never once felt physically unsafe coming to work.

“There is a lot of respect for each other and a lot of respect for this environment,” she says. “The stigma that exists for the clients we serve is that they are dangerous or unpredictable and that has not been my experience.”

Seeing the potential in each of the men who comes through the doors is what drives Rita and reminds her of the importance of the addiction treatment program.

“Many of the guys come in feeling hopeless, feeling like they have no choices. They’re homeless and the shelter is their only place to sleep, or their wife is leaving them and there’s nothing they can do,” she says. “What’s cool is at graduation when they have so many choices. They could move into annex housing, or go to their sister in this city… They move from this place of feeling like they have no control over the outcome of their lives, to now they’re in a place of so many options.”

Success is a word Emma Clarkson knows means something different to each person she helps. As a Transitional Case Manager (TCM) with the Community Mental Health Programs (CMHP), she helps people being discharged from hospital after experiencing a mental health crisis.

Young woman looking into camera

Emma Clarkson, Community Mental Health Programs

“It can be something small,” she says. “Something we wouldn’t think about but gives them positivity and makes them feel like they can handle it when things get bad.”

Emma has been working at CMHP for nine months and has been working in the addiction and mental health field since graduating from university in 2019. She credits the strength of the small but hard working team of TCMs and Streetscape workers with helping her get up to speed quickly.

“This team is so good at supporting each other,” she says. “I can go to my supervisors for advice anytime and the rest of the team is happy to share with me what they do. Everyone has a different area of expertise but everyone shares their knowledge. It’s special when you have a team that cares as much about each other as they do the job.”

Emma’s team extends beyond just the walls of CMHP. Mental health struggles often lie underneath issues like homelessness and addiction, and she knows staff at all Mission Services branches experience how devastating they can be.

“Mental health is connected to everything,” she explains. “It affects the whole person, their family, their health, their home. [At Mission Services of London], we all have our roles and things we do to help. We’re all connected.”

Teamwork is a big part of what motivates Steve Johnson. He’s been doing maintenance at Rotholme Family Shelter for 19 years, but he’s never said no when asked to help in other areas.
“I’ve jumped in at the front desk, I’ve run kids’ crafts,” he laughs. “You can’t have an ego when working here. You never know when someone will need an extra set of eyes or hands for something.”

Three colleagues standing outside Rotholme Family Shelter

Steve Johnson with Rotholme colleagues.

Steve did not know much about Rotholme before he applied for his position. He had worked in refrigeration and heating, as well as new home construction after graduating with a degree in English and History. He remembers scanning a promotional brochure to learn more as he waited for his job interview.

“I knew there would be a lot to learn about working in an older building,” he says. “But the greatest thing has been learning about homelessness and the people we help. It’s really opened my eyes to people’s stories and what they go through. That’s what makes it so rewarding.”

Taking care of the 20 room building and grounds can be challenging at times but Steve makes good use of some smaller helping hands. “Kids just love to help. When I’m painting – and I paint a lot – they always want to come and help so we find them a patch of wall where they can’t make too much of a mess,” he says. “And some of the men will pitch in to give me a hand if they’re around. I think it helps them to be able to contribute and give back as well.”

Steve cites men being able to stay with their families at the emergency shelter as one of the big changes he has seen at Rotholme over the years. He has come to expect things to change on a regular basis and stresses the importance of remaining flexible and adaptable while at work.

“The limitations of it being an older building and not having been designed to house families – you need to get creative sometimes when fixing a problem,” he says. Whether a family is staying at Rotholme for a week or for several months, the building becomes their home and Steve knows how important that can be, especially when children are involved.

“It’s what everyone deserves. A safe and strong house that is a home, where we can lay our heads at night in peace. It’s not too much to ask.”

For the past year, Genia Carter has been found behind the front desk at the Administration Office. She is the first person people see when they enter the space, whether they are coming to drop off a donation, asking for assistance, or meeting with a case worker.

Woman sitting in office chair

Genia Carter at the Administration Office

“I love meeting the different people who come in,” Genia says. “Mission Services of London always finds a way to help. We’re the place they come whenever they need anything.”

Genia first started volunteering at the Mission Store 14 years ago, an opportunity that turned into employment. She worked at the front cash, priced items for sale in the warehouse, and helped arrange the items for sale on the store floor. Her past experience working in an office setting enabled her to transition to the reception desk when a colleague went on leave.

“I love working here,” she says. “It’s like a family. Everyone helps one another, it’s a good team.”

Transitioning to a different branch has allowed Genia to learn more about Mission Services of London as whole, an opportunity she is enjoying greatly. She says it is rewarding to see the bigger picture and understand better how the different branches work together. But her favourite part of her job is her interactions with donors.

“Seeing how excited people are to give their donations,” she says. “No matter what the dollar amount, they feel good and that makes me feel good too.”

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