Adult Education and the Career Training Initiative It was 2008 and I had selected the Calgary Drop-In Centre, a local homeless shelter for my COOP (intern) position for a two semester commitment. I was the communication specialist for the Career Training Initiative, one of the team of three of student-staff who ran the program.
The Career Technology Initiative was a full-time 3 week computer based course intended to provide life skills and an updated resume to residents. It was a classroom led course, with 15 hand selected clients who spent their nights at the Drop-In Centre and their days with the instructor. I had watched for a semester as a mature student (and experienced instructor) handled the classroom. Each cohort was unique, but some themes emerged. The Drop-In Centre residents that participated in the program were stable and sober but many had struggled with substance abuse or mental health issues. It seemed like a challenging, but exciting environment to work in so I occasionally stepped in if the instructor was ill.
An accident and an opportunity Early in my second semester working at the Drop-In Centre the new instructor had a skiing accident. It was over the weekend before the first day of the course for a new cohort. He broke his hip, a very serious injury, and my coworker was going to be spending some time in the hospital, and even longer off his feet.
There was only myself and one other COOP student in the office Monday morning to discover our predicament. The initiative was getting a reputation among the clients as a first step to getting a job, so there was a long waiting list which would be further delayed if we did not start that morning. With the pragmatism of 'the show must go on' I spent an hour before class preparing for that day. And did that again everyday for three weeks.
For some participants this was their first exposure to a computer - ever. I was forced to reconsider my assumptions, and cultural knowledge about computers. It was my first direct instructor role, where I had to learn how to command a room while still creating a safe, empathetic space.
I have the Drop-In Centre and their clients to thank for a truly life-changing experience - I found my calling that summer.