How Jeff Ended Up Working in a Church Basement

There was no way that I expected the email.

After applying for 245 jobs in eight months, I had finally landed a position at the MS Society in Toronto. Half way through that four month contract, I was still relishing in having an income and not thinking about my return to the job search.

But here was an email from Sherri Robbins, a ginger at the Canadian Breast Cancer Foundation, telling me there may be a position available in Halifax. I did distinctly remember the first interview with Sherri. By the end of it, I found myself so comfortable that I had propped myself up and into my chair. I even mentioned how Sherri reminded me of the woman who plays the mom in Weeds. Apparently, something about my style had stuck me in Sherri’s memory and when the position became available I was the one she called.

I hadn’t intended to come back. Not so soon. Maybe not ever. That said, there were elements I missed: friends I hadn’t seen in a while, furniture that was my own, and the ocean. The fact that an entire non-English speaking Korean family had moved into the living room of my shared apartment helped make my decision even easier.

My friend, Sarah MacPhail, graciously let me stay in her basement, while I hunted down a rental. And before I knew it I’d started a new life with a new job, a new apartment and new friends. For a little over a year, I’ve been pleased with that decision.

CBCF has arguably been the best job I’ve ever had. I love the people I work with: both the staff I see every day and the volunteers I communicate with on a regular basis. I feel like they really get me. Whether it’s inappropriate discussions in the lunch room (Are you a psychopath? Would drowning or burning be a worse way to die? I’d pay you $100 to streak at a Moosehead’s game.) or running jokes (Joe Bobby, the quote board, and desktop pranks), I feel it’s a work environment that’s uniquely suited for my sense of humor. And the job itself has been very rewarding and offered a variety of duties: social media, graphic design, event planning, and fundraising.

However, I’ve known for some time that CBCF had an expiration date. First it was the end of my contract in September, which fortunately was renewed until the end of December. But after the reassurance that there could be a new position for me turned into a series of delays, I began to apply for new jobs.

One that caught my eye was a position at the Out of the Cold Emergency Shelter. It was comparable pay to what I was making at CBCF, only 30 hours a week from noon to 6pm, and a contract that extended to the end of April. As for the job itself, it involved a massive organizational feat that I was eager to take on: three front-of-house shifts a day, staffed by around 12 volunteers, with over 150 candidates. It seemed like a giant puzzle I was eager to wrap my mind around.

What enticed me about the organization is best summarized in my cover letter:

For the last two years, I’ve been working for non-profit organizations, most notably the Canadian Breast Cancer Foundation (CBCF) and the MS Society. Last October, I visited Adsum House with my work at the CBCF. The head fundraiser there talked about how she just wanted to raise enough money that month to get coats for all the women and diapers for all of the babies. And I realized that was missing in my work as a fundraiser. While raising millions for research is worthwhile, there’s something to be said about raising enough money that one person will be warm. I’ve thought about that ever since.

 I’m applying because I believe Out of the Cold offers a vital service to a community in need and that my experience and skills could help bring something to the table. I realize the position won’t always be easy, but I think I’m uniquely suited for the job.

I interviewed for the position a couple of weeks ago. It was a quick turnaround. The interview was scheduled during the afternoon of the evening I met with them. By Wednesday they were checking my references, and by Sunday I had the position.

Whether or not I’d take it became a big talking point. I was genuinely scared. While it was true that I’ve been talking about going to a smaller non-profit for a long time, what if I didn’t like it? It certainly meant a lot less security. Even my parents had mixed feelings, suggesting that unemployment was an awfully tempting offer as well. I appreciate everyone’s input.

But two people in particular, the two I think know me best made the contribution I needed: pure optimism and idealism. They reminded me that at my most basic level, I just want to take care of people (See: Every relationship I’ve ever had). What was appealing to me about this position was that opportunity to reach out and help the disenfranchised and disparaged. If it wasn’t for me, if it was too much sadness and insecurity, it was only a five month contract. But if it was something I enjoyed – if it got to the root of what I was missing – it could change the direction I was going. Either way, I would learn lessons both professionally and personally that I would carry forever.

So I start a week from Monday in a little office at St. Matthew’s United Church. Wish me luck!

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2 Responses to How Jeff Ended Up Working in a Church Basement

  1. Trudie says:

    And I believe both you and they will be the richer for it. Heartfelt congratulations, Jeff.

  2. Lynn Edison says:

    Jeff, your reasons alone for wanting to take this position will have it work amazingly for you. Break a leg! (from Pepe + Lynn)

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