Blue Door, CEO
I started working when I was “Voluntold” by my Mom to not sit around all summer at the age of 12 but to give back, so I volunteered as a counselor in Training at the YMCA. I’m glad she did as I fell in love with the work and spent 23 years at the YMCA in different roles, working with Youth at Risk, in Fitness and Recreation and with Employment programs in Niagara, Toronto and Hamilton. At my last stop in Hamilton at the YMCA, we had a men’s residence for 174 men. Many had mental health and addictions challenges but there were no services for them as it was independent living. I saw what could happen if people only had affordable housing without supports and I didn’t like it! In 2010, I took a leap and left the YMCA for an Executive Director role with 360kids, then Pathways, an organization that worked with Youth experiencing homelessness. It was a wonderful move, as the organization grew so much, adding services for youth fleeing Human Trafficking, a new Youth Emergency Housing program and a program we borrowed from England called ‘Night Stop”. After 6 years there, I decided to take a job as the CEO of Raising the Roof a National organization that was sort of a think tank on homelessness. While I enjoyed my time there, I found it a little too removed from the front line, and when a job at Blue Door in York Region opened up, I applied and was successful. Blue Door has been around for 40 years and works with youth, adults and families in York Region who are experiencing homelessness. I work with an amazing group of people there and have been working for over 2 years now with them to prevent and end homelessness in York Region. Along with my career, I volunteer on a Childcare Board of Directors and on the Away Home Canada Board of Directors, a national organization working on youth homelessness.
What were the biggest initial hurdles and how did you overcome them?
I stared working full time at the age of 20 years old so I did not have my formal education. I knew this could always become a barrier so I started taking courses part time while I worked and earned my degree. It was tough, but I didn’t ever want a door closed because I didn’t have a degree.
What books are you currently reading?
I read easy reading fiction mostly. I find it helps me to escape and relax. I love a good story and sometimes find it a little hard to read non fiction. Most recently, I read “From the Ashes” by Jesse Thistle, an indigenous man, who almost died on the streets from addiction and homelessness, but not only pushed through but earned his PhD in just 6 years! An incredible true story of survival and embracing your roots.
Did you ever deal with contention from your family and friends concerning your pursuits? How did you handle it?
When I first took my job full time, I decided not to attend university full time and get my degree first. I remember a relative of mine saying “It’s a shame he didn’t get his degree”. I used that negativity as motivation to go to school part time and earn my degree. Since then, I’ve continued to pursue further education.
What would you do differently in hindsight?
While I believe that most of my journey had to happen the way it did to put me in the spot I am in today, I might have stayed at home a little longer. I moved out at 18yrs old on my own free will and it made life very difficult as I was paying rent, tuition and all the other expenses that come with living on your own. As well, I might have left the YMCA earlier to try new things. I really lived in fear of leaving my comfort zone with the YMCA, and once I did leave, I realized that success is transferable!
What would you say was the single most influential factor in your success?
I’ve had the good fortune of having some amazing mentors and coaches in my career. They gave me room to fail and grow and opportunities to learn. I would not be where I am today without their guidance. As well, my partner is an amazing sounding board, leader and friend who has helped me get through the most challenging times. Having good people around you at work and life, makes all the difference.
What do you know today that you wish you would have known when you first got started?
You can’t please everybody all of the time. When I first started out, it would crush me if everyone I worked with didn’t like me or like my ideas. I’m now at peace knowing that hard decisions sometimes won’t please everyone and that’s why they are “hard” decisions. Sometimes the right decisions are not easy, and that’s okay.
What advice would you give to an upcoming youth or talents locally and internationally?
Hard work pays off. Put your head down and put in the work and you will see results. The best leaders work smart and hard. Focus and enjoy the “now”. If you focus too much on the future, you’ll miss all the good stuff that is happening right in front of you!