Marilyn Dyck loves to tell the story of one of the first participants in The Doorway. Joe (not his real name) thought he was scamming The Doorway, big time! Then he realized half way through his first year that the scam was on him.
The Doorway pays young people intent on getting of the streets, $15.00 each time they create a plan of action. Yes they are paid each time they MAKE a plan! Not when they complete a goal, but when they set one!
Humm, sound like a crazy idea. . . free money just for putting words on a piece of paper? But Joe realized, as he contemplated his apartment, clean clothes and upcoming job interview, the scam had been on him. He was getting his life together!
The Doorway has been working to reduce youth homelessness for the past 30 years. It is an organization that teaches young people how to engage their own agency to plan and create a better life for themselves, empowering them with skills they never learned at home and through kindness and connection. The staff and volunteers are there to provide a place for them to be respected, be known, to make goals . . . but not to be fixed!
Executive Director Marilyn Dyck says The Doorway is a “safe space where young people can develop their inner strengths”. Based on the critical path method of planning, participants are offered the opportunity to set eight goals for themselves per month over the course of two years.
Which, when you think of it, is very impressive. When was the last time you set goals for yourself? When did you last achieve them? (New Year’s resolutions anyone?) So it is impressive that these young folk, who have had difficult childhoods, are setting eight goals for themselves every month for two years.
And these are tough goals including getting proper identification, finishing high school, finding a place to live, dealing with health issues and building habits to be employable. For each plan written by a participant and witnessed by a trained community volunteer, the young person is paid a $15 incentive. They are paid with a handshake and “ A pleasure to do business with you”. The $15.00 represents clean legitimate money that the young person has earned and is a transaction in mainstream economy. It adds to their experience of their own capacity as they take steps to improve their lives.
Started in 1987, under the umbrella of Calgary Interfaith, this organization was created when it was discovered that the young people frequenting the food bank couldn’t take full rations of food away with them because they did not have a place to live and no ability to store the food they were being given.
Since then The Doorway Approach has supported – to this date – 1,189 young people in their plans for personal change through listening to and believing in them. The dedication and hard work of staff and volunteers in our community represents the potential to help many more each year to start new lives.
The role of staff and volunteers is to “see young people as they can be, until the young people can begin to see that in themselves.”
Volunteers, who come from all walks of life, ranging from parents and grandparents to business people to social workers to educators are there to help because “community is a critical part of young people establishing themselves in the world” says Marilyn Dyck. Active volunteers and those on the waiting list see the potential of these young people and ‘get’ the value of “investing in a new approach which offers self-determination as a way to enable these young adults to get ‘unstuck’.
So after 30 years, what are The Doorway’s hopes for the future?
One hope is that society will change the way it views these young people: as people with potential rather than problems. The hope is that society will focus on the strengths of these young people and not on their weaknesses”. As we believe in our children and young people, they learn to believe in themselves!