Friday, 26 April 2013

Wheelin' with March of Dimes Canada

It’s not every day that a project comes along with the potential to not only change what we assume accessibility looks like, but rearrange our whole paradigmatic thinking on disability and what exactly it constitutes. At March of Dimes Canada programs are set in place to do exactly this while promoting independence and dignity in their clients. The Vaughn Congregate Care Unit is now their most ambitious endeavour in the Greater Toronto Area, providing supportive housing for a number of people living with complex care issues. While this has been a plan over twelve years in the making, they are finally set to open doors this spring at the already established Reena Residence in Vaughan, just north or Toronto. Their support team has been in intense training for the big move and are now caring for the clients during pre-transition, housed in various locations and care facilities across the city. I should know – I am part of said staff.
PLUS there's hospital clowns. Yeah.
Heading into the complex care until at the Holland Bloorview Kids Hospital is like entering a world that is slowly becoming more and more familiar to me. In between the countless tubes, hospital beds and ventilator alarms are our newest clients, all of whom have spent a majority of their life in this facility. They are, most understandably, excited and nervous about moving into a new apartment. Our job right now is to reassure them that this is a change for the better; it is an environment that allows for more independence and freedom. As we get to know each person more intimately, we begin to realize the true scope of this move. We have to stay confident so they can stay invested in this decision. This is no easy task.

Because of the dynamic nature of this program, our skills must broaden beyond just basic medical care. We must be able to respond to a variety of situations when multi-level support isn’t always available, establish a close relationship with each client to understand their individual needs and concerns, and build a community that values mutual support and social inclusion. This is why Vaughan Congregate Care is different and has the potential to force newer, more appropriate perspectives of disability. 

For now, we’re still in the early stages of this innovative program. As I become better acquainted with my role at March of Dimes and my learning curve becomes steeper, I will blog my thoughts and experiences here – a new fish in a big sea. It’s about time I did something actual.

Friday, 19 April 2013

The Mandatory 'I Graduated' Post

If you look close enough, you'll see how
I am actually freaking out inside.  

They say growing up is hard to do. I’ve learned that the process of becoming an adult happens fast and doesn’t consider if you’re ready or not. It invades your life and forces complicated decisions that don’t always make everybody happy. As the soft-spoken hairy Italian photographer prunes my robe and details the cap before gingerly placing it on my head, a flood of life surges through my legs and up my spine. Six years and I’m sitting on a stool attempting to hold a smile with some fake diploma held across my trunk. I feel absolutely silly and can’t wait to leave the cramped meeting-room-turned-photo-studio as my awkward levels reach a boiling point. Also, this is the first time things really start to hit hard: I am graduating.

Six years of post-secondary…..over. Now what? I mean, I kinda know the answer, but I still find myself caught in my first real existential crisis while I attempt to untangle the experience of college and university and everything in between while trying to simultaneously figure out what I want to do with my life. In the past month I’ve finished two jobs at PARC and CDS, wrapped up the last projects and classes I’ll ever have to deal with as an undergraduate student, started training and working with the March of Dimes Canada, found a loft I can call home on May 1st, and slid – nay, collided face first – into adulthood.

And how the hell do I sum everything up? Three words: I know nothing. Of course, I know some things, but really…really, I know nothing. That is what all this learning has taught me. The more I know, the more I realize I don’t really know anything. This isn’t a self-deprecation nor a self-pity psalm, but a realization of the world and my puny insignificance that pushes me forward. Only the most ignorant think they know everything, and I’m happy to be placed in the category of little to no comprehension of things, for the earth has `so much more to teach me. University changed me, and now I am ready embark on a new scary adventure as an empty vessel of nothing.

Thank you, university.

Safe travels,

Aaron Turpin

Friday, 12 April 2013

What Happens when Spirit and Action Collide?

The act of ‘waking up’ is taken for granted in North America. It is an act we follow on a daily basis, a movement into controlled consciousness, thought and action. We are no longer caught in a dream-state; instead we find ourselves on earth and begin to live within it as human beings. But ‘waking up’ is far more than transitioning between sleep and consciousness. It is the complicated task of realizing that you exist in what is referred to as ‘here and now’. It requires the efforts of a plethora of functions in your body working in beautiful unison to come out of a slumber, yet we do it on a very regular basis. So, what does it really mean to ‘wake up’? Some say North America currently is in a deep sleep, not figuratively, but as a collective. We have let go of our inhibitions as humans and as active citizens and separated ourselves from our bodies and our spirit.

If there’s anything I’ve learned in university, it’s that philosophical approaches such as the aforementioned must be compared to real moments in human interactions. The issue is this: how do we frame activism in North America and what does that say about the constitutions of social change? If you get paid, are you still considered an activist?  If it doesn’t involve marching down the middle of Main Street chanting ‘fuck the system!’ and holding signs with cliché remarks, can we qualify it was activism? Can our spirituality be included in this?

Spiritualism has many manifestations as a vehicle for social change, but it is this exact diversity that in turn strengthens the movement. By embracing self-reflexivity, activists in North America can both improve their level of impact and become more creative in their approach. Imagine recreating something like our traditional manifestations of ‘education’ in the global South as a tool for social change and spiritualism instead of enforcing status quo. Remove all notions of competition, classism, exclusivity, hierarchy or power abuse and examine what is left: an educational structure that values common voice, participation and social transformation. Yes, students can be activists, too – both inside and outside the classroom.

Do I sound hopelessly naive in this post? I hope so. I can already sense the scoffing of some of my readers as I jump off the deep end. I used to do that, too – turn my nose up at every radical idea I stumbled across, until I realized that I was taking the easy route. I stopped being idealistic. I stopped dreaming. All because I was told it was wrong; it was better to beat the pulp out of every well-intentioned do-gooder with an idea that seemed far-fetched. My mind was diseased with analysis paralysis. Now…..I am an activist. Are you?

This post was inspired by Alan Watts’ lecture on nothingness:

Sunday, 7 April 2013

Lost and Found's Guide to Post-Grad Employment

So apparently I am good at job hunting.

In early January I posted an article entitled ‘Happy New Fear’ that was supposed to reflect my anxiety on formulating some kind of post-graduate career plan amidst a plethora of under-employed former students. As it turns out, it was the same gut-wrenching apprehension of joblessness that motivated me to ruthlessly search for a position that suited me and my interests. Oh, and it paid off – with a full time position as Personal Support Worker with March of Dimes Canada.

But not without a steep learning curve and plenty of job hunting mistakes made in previous attempts, which begs the question: how could I not write a post about post-grad employment? Below: the five biggest lessons I’ve learned on my journey not being broke and homeless and sad after six years of post-secondary madness.

1)   Let Other People do the Work for You

It sounds silly, doesn’t it? I mean, if you could outsource your own job hunt, wouldn't you want to? Welcome to the real world, Watson….It exists.
It's elementary.....Ahem, job sourcing, dear Watson.
During my search for a life-after-university plan, I had two different employment agencies who knew my name, interests and field – one was a private head-hunting company and the other a temporary agency run through York University. Although I didn’t have to use them in the end, I was confident in their ability to find me a ‘fall back’ plan because I had personally introduced myself and had made sure they knew I was a dependable person.

But it doesn’t stop there – especially for recent graduates. Universities all have career centers with job boards, resume and cover letter workshops and sometimes even job counselling. Government agencies are also interested in getting young educated people into the workforce, that’s why they have placement agencies in many locations. Share the load and connect with these services – you may be surprised at the outcome.

2)   Shake some Hands

In the world of online everything, it can be so incredibly easy to hide behind your digital resume. Online application systems are now the primary input source for prospective employees, and while filing off dozens of resumes online may be an easier alternative, nothing beats doing it in person. Please, please believe me on this. My personal mantra during my last job hunt was to bypass as many online applications as possible and meet someone from the company – a secretary, HR rep, whoever – before showing them my resume. I am certain this is the main reason why I was offered my new position.

Doing this puts a face to the name and shows the employer just how serious you are about working for them. The effort of travelling to a place of business pays off quickly – as a networking tool and motivational technique that is sure to give you a strong leg up on your competition. 

3)   Meet People and Network the Hell Outta Them

We all hear about how important networking is and how it leads to so many jobs. While this is especially true today, I still don’t think graduates understand this. Networking should be a process started far before you enter the ‘real world’, and universities are teeming hotspots of opportunity because they naturally attract professionals from all different kinds of fields. If you don’t take advantage of this, you’re missing out on some great potential job openings.

But I’m not just advocating signing up for conferences or events. The fabric of the professional world has changed over the years, and the lead-in to jobs is getting more and more informal. My best piece of advice is this: view every new encounter as a possible networking opportunity, regardless of where you are or what you are doing. Friends, family, relatives, co-workers, peers – they’re all untapped opportunities to wiggle into a job of your dreams. It sounds ruthless, I know – but it works. The better you are at forming new connections, the greater your chances of working in your field.

4)   Learn from Rejection

This is a tough one, especially for us young adults – failure can be detrimental, but it is a necessary part of improving a skill like job hunting. If anything, know this: when it comes to the Canadian job search, you will always experience more failures than successes. I know it sucks to hear that a majority of your applications as a new grad will end up in a trash can with barely a skim, but it’s the rotten truth and the best thing we can do is learn from it. There are plenty of ways to do this, too.

If you’ve found yourself on the wrong end of an application group, ask why you weren’t selected for an interview or given the position. At this point, there’s really nothing to lose and many HR departments are happy to provide a little feedback. It shows that you are interested and helps you improve your next attempt. If there’s one hard lesson I’ve learned, it’s that no one can ever have the perfect resume/interview/cover letter. Bettering oneself in the job market is an infinite process – the more you learn about yourself, the easier it becomes. 

5)   Be Stubborn and Stick With It!

Stubbornness gets a bad rap these days. It shouldn’t when it comes to job searches, because the more we get our name on peoples desks, the more we increase our opportunities for employment. Job hunting can be incredibly de-motivating, but don’t let a few turned heads drag you down. Remember – this is your future and you shouldn’t stop until you’re truly happy with it. It pays to be resilient, so build your tolerance to the negative parts and you’ll surely succeed. It takes time and effort to land employment in the 21st century and patience is a virtue.

Good luck grads of ’13!