As a former client and employee of reachAbility, I write to express my gratitude to the CEO and staff of reachAbility.
In the Spring of 2015, I had been on Income Assistance for about a year. I had been looking for opportunities and applying for jobs for a few months with no results. I attended my first “orientation session” with Employment Support Services at the Department of Community Services’ Halifax Office in June of that year. It was there that I learned about reachAbility for the first time, and the Success 40 employment program sounded like it could be beneficial. I was told by the caseworkers that someone from reachAbility would be reaching out to me, and within a week I got a phone call inviting me to come to reachAbility for an initial meeting.
When I arrived at reachAbility I was pleasantly surprised. I had expected an imposing reception desk, a sterile office with cubicles, and lots more forms to fill out. I was so wrong!
Instead, I walked into a bright open space, with colourful artwork on the walls, plants thriving in front of great big windows, a shelf full of books, bold signs that read “NO BULLY ZONE” and a funny antique mailbox painted with the words: “POST STIGMA” (I love this). I was greeted with a big smile and hello by the first person who saw me walk in the door, and was introduced to the Client Navigator. I waited in the cheerful reception area to meet with one of the Employment Program Coordinators.
In my interview, I was told first and foremost that this was a place of zero judgement, with a zero-tolerance approach to stigma. For reasons I chose to disclose in the interview, this was very important for me to hear – I was all too familiar with the stigma associated with my particular disorders, from which I was still newly in recovery. I carried a lot of insecurity around with me, and I had a lot of concerns: a glaring gap on my resume, my lack of current references, and the limitations my recovery plan put upon the types and hours of work that I would be able to do safely. But the staff at reachAbility addressed all of these concerns, and more – in a way that was both empathetic and refreshingly pragmatic. They were focused on solutions, rather than my “problems.” Everyone I met genuinely wanted to help. I felt like a real person, not a number; respected.
I took the One Step Closer program and found the facilitator’s energy and enthusiasm to be infectious. After that, in the first week of employment programming, I had a much clearer view of what I had to do, and what I had to offer. I was able to tap into resources that I hadn’t known existed, and the staff were always available for support and guidance. After many months of job searching on my own, this was a welcome relief. Not insignificantly, coming to reachAbility’s programs gave structure to my days – like coming to work again. Finding a meaningful job became my job, and I looked forward to it every morning. Perhaps most importantly, I finally felt I had a plan, and I knew the staff at reachAbility were taking concrete steps to help me execute it.
In a few short weeks – after a long time struggling with insecurity and self-doubt – I was beginning to get my confidence back. I had direction, and focus. I felt for the first time in a long time that my future could be a bright one.
The program curricula at reachAbility are unique and forward-thinking, the resources here (from support services to health and wellness to animal therapy to filmmaking…) are rich and varied. Best of all, the staff at reachAbility and CEO Tova Sherman are highly experienced, energetic, incredibly helpful, and genuinely kind.
As a person with lived experience of barriers who has been through “the system” of Income Assistance, I am deeply appreciative of the work that reachAbility is doing. But it is not just as a former client that I write this letter of support. In my work within and outside of reachAbility over the past five years, I have gained professional experience working with vulnerable populations, served as a legal resource person, connected with other nonprofit organizations to address a wide variety of needs – started and graduated from law school, and I now sit on the board of directors.
As a person with some institutional knowledge of the field, I suspend all personal bias when I say that when it comes to free programming for self-awareness, employment, accessible legal assistance, and creative recreational programming all under one roof, I can’t think of a better place to be than reachAbility.