Eleven years is an awfully long time, and a whole lot in our world has changed since 2006. New programs were introduced, a new CEO arrived, and the community in which we serve continued to grow. One thing that has remained constant, however, is our annual Community Pancake Breakfast—a give-back event set aside for community-building, networking, and the celebration of the people who support us in our efforts to make Alberta a more inclusive, welcoming province.
Given its impressively long history, our Pancake Breakfast is always well-attended, and draws guests from all imaginable walks of life. We can usually count on a few hundred hungry people including families, politicians, and local partners. This year, for example, Councillor Tony Caterina made a speech, the Highlands branch of the Edmonton Public Library set up a table, and the Alberta Federation of Labour made an appearance. Friends, neighbours, partners, supporters, clients, and members of the general public flock to our yearly breakfasts in anticipation of delicious free food, fun outdoor activities and, of course, the chance to show their support to us and the people we serve every day. Proud as we are of our work here at DECSA, this is a time for recognizing the efforts of our surrounding community.
First, we give thanks to our volunteers, who took photos, served food despite intense heat, helped supervise tables, and made themselves useful in every way they could find. We could not hope to succeed without exceptional souls who donate their time freely and gladly. A special nod to a dozen students from CDI College is in order, as they all arrived bright and early and were chiefly responsible for ensuring the breakfast ran smoothly.
Second, we must recognize our wonderful guests, who skip the chance to sleep in to eat, laugh, and enjoy the sunshine with us. We could not ask for a better neighbourhood, community, or city. We are truly blessed to be surrounded by such lively, active support from so many.
Finally, we express immeasurable gratitude to our sponsors, without whom we could not have hosted our breakfasts at all. Northlands has been our chief sponsor for years, and this year was no different. We thank them for helping us provide food for the breakfast, as well as the equipment used to prepare and serve it. Without a contribution from Northlands, our Community Pancake Breakfasts wouldn’t be possible. We must also acknowledge Re/Max, who lent us tents, a bouncy castle, and other equipment to ensure all our attendees would have everything they need for a comfortable and enjoyable morning. Edmonton’s Food Bank, which has been a loyal partner and provides ongoing and essential support to DECSA on a consistent basis, enhanced our breakfast by providing beverages for all the guests. Given the high demand for food bank services across Canada and in Edmonton itself, we are doubly grateful for this assistance. We must also mention CIBC and Sun Life Financial, as staff from both companies have been long-time friends of DECSA and can be counted upon to lend us support during important events and milestones. Last but certainly not least, we owe many thanks to the kind community member who donated his petting zoo. The animals were a welcome addition to the event, and their gentle dispositions allowed us to give our young visitors an especially memorable experience.
And so, for now, we put the photos away, and move along to other exciting events planned for the coming months. Next year, though, we hope to see you all at our 12th Community Pancake Breakfast. Help us keep this treasured tradition going for another 11 years!
Whom do you picture when you hear the words “sexual exploitation?” How about “human trafficking?” “Prostitution?”
Research suggests you’re probably picturing a woman, as this is the image associated most strongly and persistently with victims of sexual exploitation. The media have been instrumental in perpetuating this stereotype, even though it silences and ostracizes an important demographic: men.
We may think of men as perpetrators of sexual exploitation far more often than as victims, except perhaps when it comes to prison culture. When society addresses sexual violence and exploitation, particularly in the trafficking industry, it’s usually addressing young women.
Besides the fact that men outnumber women in industries outside of commercial sex trafficking (such as labour trafficking), they also make up a not insignificant number of victims in the sex trade. After all, one victim is still one too many.
Focused as it is on hypermasculine ideals of manly strength and power, society’s reaction to the notion of male victimhood makes it more difficult for men to report their experiences. They may feel emasculated by what they have done and had done to them, believing their manhood has been compromised. While they generally have the same reactions women do when dealing with sexual violence, men may respond more readily with anger, and tend to turn to substance abuse to erase or at least manage the effects of trauma. As they confront these issues, they are left to do so mostly alone, with few front-line workers from schools, shelters and other social organizations available to offer support. For many front-line workers, sexual exploitation of males just isn’t on their radar.
Worse still, men can face resistance and stigma when they do choose to report. If they are believed, which is not a given, they may make themselves vulnerable to ridicule and shame. Enduring the victim-blaming typically aimed at women victims is hard enough: why didn’t they just leave? Was there any chance that they deserved to be abused? Was it really exploitation if they were “working?”
In addition, they must battle questions geared more toward masculinity: why did they allow themselves to be exploited? Were they not “man enough” to find a way out? Some victims even struggle with the physiological responses of their bodies—did they secretly enjoy what was happening to them? Has their victimhood been cancelled out by physical processes beyond their control?
So, what with prescribed gender roles, societal expectations, and a misinformed public, what can be done?
The consensus seems to be that barriers between men and crucial supports need to be removed. First responders and other Front-line workers who administer help and guidance to victims of sexual exploitation need to remain aware that men are potential victims. Men must have ready and barrier-free access to support as they navigate away from exploitation and toward personal freedom. Men must be believed, validated, and empowered. Most importantly of all, sexual exploitation of men must be studied more comprehensively so that the best possible support can be provided. The field is flooded with statistics about women; it’s time more research targeted men.
One of DECSA’s main goals is to help both men and women free themselves from sexual exploitation. We run a 20-week Transitions program, open to men, women, and transgender individuals who have past or current involvement in the sex trade. In January, two groups—one for those identifying as female, the other for those identifying as male—begin their journey in the Transitions program. While women participants have already begun, the men’s group will start on January 27th.
If you wish to exit the sex trade, we encourage you to contact us to see whether you qualify for one of our program groups. We welcome the opportunity to help, so please get in touch.
The job hunt is unpredictable: there’s no way to know how long it will take or what the results will be. This unpredictability should never be used as an excuse not to conduct the most organized and efficient search possible, though. Yes, job hunting is somewhat influenced by luck, but many unsuccessful, frustrated job-seekers are going about things in entirely the wrong way.
Here are a few reasons your job search might not be going as well as you’d like, and some ways to turn it around.
If you’re reading this after having spent two hours firing off resumes from your bed, this section is for you.
There’s a reason the phrase “looking for a job is your job” is so often spoken. This piece of well-worn wisdom has solid roots. If you approach your job search as a disorganized, chance-based process, it will lead to unnecessary stress and exhaustion.
Treat your search like a new job. Set goals for yourself and stick to them. For example, decide how many resumes you want to send out in any given week, and aim to meet those expectations, just as you would in any other job. Targets, plans, and deadlines are excellent methods of organization whether you’re employed or not.
If you structure your life the way you would if you were already employed, you’ll increase motivation even more. Avoid sleeping in, lounging around in your pyjamas, and job searching from your couch. Maintain a healthy routine, and resist the urge to isolate yourself. Make sure you’re always in “productivity mode,” so you’re ready to hit the ground running once you do receive that job offer.
Good news: DECSA’s Community Hub, which is open to the public, is an ideal place to go if you need to be productive somewhere other than your kitchen. You can work in a comfortable, well-equipped environment where free coffee, expert advice, and Wi-Fi are always available. What’s not to love?
We know, we know: networking is nerve-racking, especially if you’re introverted or shy. Social anxiety and other issues can complicate the process (we have a program for that). No matter how you might feel about it or what type of job you’re looking for, networking is an unavoidable reality. You may as well resign yourself to that fact and start giving it a try.
Networking can take various forms, depending on your needs. It can be as simple as talking to people—friends, family, former classmates—about your job search and what you’re looking for. Even the most casual conversation over lunch with an acquaintance can produce a promising lead.
If you’re feeling a little more ambitious, you can take your networking to the next level. Join professional organizations and mingle with people who work in the field of your interest. Getting to know these people will equip you with updated knowledge on your industry, including salary expectations and soft skills you may not realize are in demand. These professional networks can also help you tap the hidden job market, since many jobs are never advertised publicly at all.
Having a support system of some kind is a good idea on general principle. Knowing that there are people looking out for you when you struggle can be a relief in itself.
More good news: One of our strengths here at DECSA is our network. We have placed so many clients throughout the years that we’ve amassed a long, diverse list of contacts. Regardless of what you’re looking for, it’s likely we’ll know the right people.
Online job hunting is convenient, but it does come with one huge drawback: competition is fiercer than ever, and you have fewer opportunities to market yourself. It’s challenging to stand out in the crowd when you’re up against hundreds of applicants. People tend to apply for jobs they’re unqualified for, simply because online forms make it so easy to do so. Your application, no matter how relevant, can get buried, so it’s no longer optional: you must set yourself apart.
Application forms ask for standard information, which can be an obstacle when attempting to catch a hiring manager’s attention. The best strategy is to present standard information in a nonstandard way. Anyone can list a long series of job duties, so try focusing on your personal accomplishments instead. Did you go above and beyond in your last position? Which tangible targets did you surpass? In which ways did you improve the organization you worked with last? Fitting this information into the boilerplate application form will demonstrate initiative and personal achievement.
Most applications will ask for a resume, even if you must also fill out a separate form. This is your moment. Make it count. There are thousands of articles out there to help you craft a customized resume that will demand the right type of attention, so we won’t get into specifics here, but rest assured that a tailored resume is a must. You may even find yourself adjusting your resume for each application, so choose a flexible format. Please, never neglect the cover letter. It’s not always required, but it’s almost always going to give you an edge.
The best news yet: did you know that here at DECSA, we have resume and cover letter writing services? If you drop by our Community Hub on week days, our expert staff will help you write a personalized resume and cover letter. You don’t need to be a DECSA client. All you have to do is visit us.
If you’re looking for a way to kick your job search up several notches, please contact us. Even if you don’t qualify for one of our specialized programs, you’re still more than welcome to make use of our extensive walk-in services, equipment, and well-stocked business library. In the meantime, browse our website for more information.
The sex trade is often shrouded in mystery, which is made still worse by societal stigma. Those who work in the profession do so out of necessity and face difficult decisions. With so much pressure from the general public to abandon this type of employment, we feel it’s worth informing that public of what it is like for a sex worker to leave the lifestyle and search for a place in a world that does not welcome them.
1. The stigma never goes away
Former sex workers expect hate speech and degrading treatment from others in the trade, but they often receive the most ill treatment from those on the outside. If they are outed as former or current sex workers, they are almost always faced with the threat of losing their mainstream jobs. Employers are not averse to dismissing former sex trade workers, even if they have not worked in the industry for decades. It is difficult enough to begin such a radical transition, and it is made still harder by the need to hide what they’ve done in the past. Regardless of how successful they become, they will always have stigma dogging their footsteps.
2. Judgment Abounds, but Support is Lacking
Since sex work is so heavily stigmatized, many are eager to encourage those in the industry to exit as quickly as possible. They heap condemnation on these individuals, insisting that their work devalues them and chips away at their self-respect. In other words, they’re not really respectable people until they change professions. Despite this, support for transitioning sex workers is lacking. Even if the initial process is smooth and they find work, they risk losing their jobs if they’re outed, and find themselves very much alone in their struggles. This is why DECSA established our Transitions program, to help these people start their new lives without judgment or disrespectful treatment. Transitioning may seem like a simple decision, but it is by no means easy.
3. Transgender Individuals are Uniquely Vulnerable
Being transgender is almost guaranteed to mean the world will be a hostile, dangerous place to live. Transgender people, especially women of colour, are often victims of socioeconomic barriers, and they feel that sex work is the only way to support themselves. Further, transition is very expensive, so financial pressures are even more debilitating. Sex work is demeaning, yet individuals may find that it’s the only viable way to keep themselves off the streets. Being a transgender individual is risky at the best of times—they are frequently assaulted and even murdered—and the sex trade necessitates a lifestyle that is less than ideal, both emotionally and physically.
Sex trade workers are a vulnerable and misunderstood group, who are caught between a dangerous profession and a hostile society. This is why DECSA dedicates much of our resources to helping sex trade workers exit safely, get back on their feet, and secure mainstream employment. One of our greatest accomplishments is preparing these individuals to take control of their lives and build a brighter, healthier future.
On Thursday, September 22, we had the pleasure of hosting our monthly marketplace. This is an opportunity for local entrepreneurs to come together, promote their businesses, and engage in some collective networking. Past graduates of our Ventures Program feature prominently, but there were some new faces as well.
Meet Dana, a talented artist who comes from a long line of artistic people; it’s practically in her blood. She’s opening DIBS On Designs (Dana’s Innovative Business Solutions), and while her original dream of painting ceilings turned out to be impractical, she’s found her niche and seems quite happy to be there. In addition to landscape paintings, she expands her artwork to include logos, signs, and even furniture.
“I love to create things,” she said, and credits the Ventures program for “launching [her] career.” She added that “Ventures was like working with family.” Since her entire family is very artistic, it’s easy to imagine Ventures feeling a little like coming home.
Mohammed, a soft-spoken graduate of Ventures, talked to us about his delicious samosas. At the moment, he makes them all on his own—with occasional help from his wife—and his love for the process was evident. The samosas are still in the testing stage, and his business idea, Sambusas, is not yet officially off the ground, but judging by how popular his creations are, it’s only a matter of time until he achieves success.
Colleen, a seasoned entrepreneur, introduced us to gorgeous jewelry and assorted crafts. Her wares are uniquely beautiful, and she certainly knows her way around entrepreneurship. She explained that she couldn’t complete the Ventures program, which she regrets, but that “it’s helped so many people.” Colleen likes to get involved with local businesses, as she values supporting Edmonton’s economy. When Colleen isn’t selling her crafts, she can be found selling leggings and, of all things, popcorn.
We met a new face: Daryl, a beader, displayed her colourful creations and chatted with us about how she got started.
“I did a lot of beading as a kid,” she said, “and I started up again out of nostalgia, really.”
As she sorted through delicate bracelets and some rather unusual frog charms, she explained that her blindness, so often the focus of people’s questions, hasn’t really affected her much. “I still have colour memory, so I generally know which colours go together.” She describes the process of choosing beads as a “multisensory experience,” which the average sighted person may not be able to appreciate fully.
We host this marketplace monthly, and our exhibitors come back time after time to network, socialize, and gain valuable exposure. Whether they’re familiar with DECSA or brand new to it, the atmosphere seems to agree with them. We hope to see more members of the public dropping by to experience the magic.
Emotions ran wild at DECSA last Thursday! Ventures program clients wrapped up their six-week long curriculum, undertaking a gratifying ceremony in which many were left in wistful tears of jovial congratulations and farewells. The best part? Audience members were gifted the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to witness splendid entrepreneurial pitches provided by none other than the blossoming businessmen and women who took on the program. For those who missed the chance to see the presentations first-hand, here is an in-depth account of the event—documenting photographs, quotes, business ideas, and raw reactions from the attendees!
What is the Ventures Program?
DECSA’s Ventures program serves people who are eighteen and older, live in Edmonton or surrounding areas, have a visible or invisible disability, and have a viable business idea they want to make happen. Those who take part are provided with the knowledge and skills necessary to implement their own small-time businesses.
The program is managed and facilitated by Sherree, along with her talented and hardworking team.
All the Help
The ceremony began with a shout-out to two very special volunteers who were integral to the program’s success:
Mona first found DECSA at a volunteer fair. She said the only agency that stood out to her was none other than DECSA! Thanks to our very own and incredibly articulate Aimee, who was able to rattle off a five-second pitch for DECSA, Mona knew immediately that the organization was right for her! “DECSA would be nothing without people like Aimee,” she said. Mona helped out the Ventures program every day and was essential to this year’s success.
Denis is a graphic designer; he taught the science of branding and logo design to the class. He thanked his mom and dad. He “wouldn’t be here without ‘em!”
Pitches from Our Entrepreneurs
These are some of the graduating students of our June 2016 class.
Kimberley was first up, and featured a very unique presentation using assistive technology to demonstrate some of the services she will be providing in her business. She’s planning on providing life & career counselling services to blind customers. Her compatriots admire her humour most; when helping Kimberley find her lighter Sherree asked for its colour. “How would I know what colour it is? — I’m blind!” Kimberley joked.
Janet was next up. Her business provides hand and machine-sewn traditional Aboriginal clothing. She attributes her greatest inspiration to her grandmother; after her grandmother’s passing, Janet was reminded of her by a blue butterfly on her windowsill. “Let them go, let them be free,” she reminisced.
Brandon took on the notoriously awkward “elevator pitch.” After reciting a 30-second pitch to Sherree, Brandon gave us a tour of his website. Brandon offers graphic design services to artists and businesses, and promises to keep the industry and goals of his clients in mind when designing their logos.
Dustin believes that safer, alternative analgesics should be available for everyone. His business plan is to provide cost-efficient and donation-driven medical marijuana services to those who otherwise wouldn’t be able to afford it.
Dayna is a passionate artist who desires to provide low-cost digital and printed artwork to private buyers and businesses. She is currently working to establish her company, but wishes to soon be able to help others with disabilities achieve their goals.
Congratulations to our Graduates!
Developing a start-up can be tough, but with the skills learned in the Ventures program these clients are better prepared for the challenging journeys that lie ahead. Good luck to all our graduates! Stay persistent, and remember to apply the skills you’ve learned here!
#1 Free 10th Annual Community Pancake Breakfast
Our 10th Annual Community Pancake Breakfast is coming up on July 6, from 7:30 to 10:30! As always, it’s completely free and open to everyone, so come by with or without kids to savour some fresh breakfast, join in organized games, leap around the bouncy castle, and tour a firetruck with local firefighters, or just chat with friends. And all this free fun is made possible only through donations from Northlands/Bellevue Community League and Re/Max Edmonton & Area Associates, to whom we are very, very thankful.
#2 Accepting new clients into the Assets for Success program
All summer we’re accepting new intakes for Assets for Success, a program for people with disabilities who are seeking employment. Through this program we provide employment preparation workshops, one-on-one career counselling, and direct connections to employers, so if you have a disability, you’re looking for work, and you’re between 15 and 30, call us at 780-474-2500 to learn more.
#3 Down to Earth: Gardening with Youth At Risk
This summer, youth at risk will get outside to learn skills, make friends, and receive mentorship as they plant, grow, and harvest non-GMO vegetable seeds in plots on our grounds. This is a great opportunity for youth to have fun, take ownership of a project, and reap the benefits of their efforts! We’re still looking for support to cover costs, so check out our GoFundMe campaign to learn more and donate!
We hope to find you among the faces coming in and out of our doors this summer! If you’re looking for an excuse to stop by, consider volunteering! We’re searching for helpers for the breakfast, Down to Earth, and a few other projects this summer. If you’d enjoy volunteering with us, call our front desk at 780-474-2500 to learn more about our opportunities. Enjoy the warm, green months while they last!
Who knew that pencil crayons could turn your life around?
If you told Emma a year ago that today she’d be a thriving artist and the instructor of Try Angles – an art class under the umbrella of the Community Linking Programs, Wellness Network – she wouldn’t have believed you. She wasn’t an artist, she was a business woman, and drawing and painting weren’t even on her list of things to do for fun.
It was through some dark times that her inner artist began to emerge about a year ago. Struggling in an abusive relationship and facing overwhelming depression, Emma attempted to take her own life. When she woke up in the hospital, getting a box of pencil crayons was the first step to a complete life change for Emma. She’d never done much art before, and she found that it was exactly what she needed. “It was therapy for me, and it was amazing,” she says. “Art is so relaxing! It doesn’t let my mind wander into the past or future. I am in the moment – now. Yesterday I can’t control. Tomorrow hasn’t come. Now is the only time I can control.”
Art became a doorway into good mental health for Emma, and she started attending Try Angles, an art class for adults living with mental health or addictions. She soaked up every class and even started creating art at home.
Now, a year later, she is teaching two Try Angles classes and creating all sorts of beautiful artworks in her free time. “I am very, very happy for the first time,” she says. “My life is good. I never thought I’d stay that, but it is.”
Emma is now bringing the Try Angles art class to DECSA on Tuesdays from 1:30 until 3:30, and you are welcome to join us. Come with two dollars for supplies and all your artistic enthusiasm!
The Try Angles art class is under the umbrella of the Community Linking Programs, Wellness Network. These programs are available on a drop-in, non-referred basis for adults living with mental health and addictions. Please contact Cathy at 780-342-7765 or visit www.WellnessNetworkEdmonton.com for more information.
Lillian had been homeless for twelve years when she arrived at DECSA exhausted and discouraged. She was facing mental and emotional health challenges, and she was more than ready to find some stability. “I was broken, and I was trying to hide it, but I felt like I wasn’t worth anything,” she says.
Through our Assets for Success program, Lillian started to find her feet again. “Everyone at DECSA believed in me. They kept telling me I deserved something better, and I could get there.” The Assets team worked with her to gain several certificates and credentials that would show employers her credibility and open doors for consistent work. She completed training in First Aid/CPR, ProServe, construction safety, Workplace Hazardous Materials, Medical Administration, and Applied Suicide Intervention Skills.
Then, with guidance from the Assets team, she found work as a Personal Care Aide in a group home for children, so now she is using her skills and strengths to serve kids who face challenges.
Lillian received the financial aid she needed to rent an apartment, and she has been able to furnish it through donations from one of DECSA’s connections. Now Lillian is settling into her new life.
“I get up in the morning, and I look out my window, and I’m facing a lake! Last year I was homeless. Now I am in awe, and I’ll be grateful forever to DECSA because I’d lost hope in myself and they kept telling me I could get on my feet again. They believed in me, and I feel like they gave me back myself.”
We are so proud of Lillian, who has showed herself to be brave, determined, hard-working, and very capable. Congratulations, Lillian!
Every day at DECSA, we work with people who are living with shame because of differences they have, experiences they’ve had, and choices they’ve made.
We all live with shame, and it’s frightening to be vulnerable about the weak and damaged parts of ourselves, so we keep our secrets hidden.
But Brene Brown, a researcher who has been studying shame and vulnerability for over ten years, says, “Shame derives its power from being unspeakable…If we speak shame, it begins to wither.” Her research has shown that people actually become mentally healthier when they are vulnerable, and other researchers agree. Ziyad Marar, another scientist who has studied vulnerability says that the “shared and forgiving sense of frailty” that comes from being honest “is redemptive in a way that nothing else can be.”
At DECSA, we’re creating a place where people can honestly share their stories and find mental and emotional healing through vulnerability and acceptance because we know people need a place to be real.
In conclusion, we’d like to challenge you to ask yourself two questions today: “What parts of myself am I hiding?” and “Who can I be real with?” By being vulnerable, you free yourself to be yourself, and you give others courage to do the same.